Synopsis – A tough police officer sets out to track down and kill an equally tough gangster.
My Take – Released in 2017, Vikram Vedha, a Tamil language neo-noir action thriller rooted in Betaal Pachhisi, a popular Indian folktale, was an immediate success both commercially and critically, especially for its refreshing take on the battle between good and evil that was told flamboyantly.
Backed by superlative performances from both R Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi and smart plotting that saw a bad-ass Chennai cop and a wily criminal swap stories rather than bullets, Vikram Vedha ended up being a perfect example of a good time at the cinemas.
Crafting out of the Tamil hit of the same name, for its Hindi remake wife-husband director duo of Gayatri-Pushkar, who also wrote and helmed the original, return to the world they created, not just switching the cast and locations, but by also offering a far more relaxed and enjoyable tale that is longer and rangier, all the while delivering a taut action thriller that perfectly balances the class and mass treatment. It also helps that both Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan are in their finest forms as they make their mutual disdain for the other known.
The film largely works because of its towering lead actors and the bizarre narrative that it’s tight and engaging. Yes, the film pretty much sticks to the blue-print they created for the original, including the way the elements of folklore are weaved in, yet both directors Gayatri-Pushkar deserves praise for how they manage to make the remake stand well on its own.
Set in Lucknow, the story follows Vikram (Saif Ali Khan), a police officer who is clear about his ideas regarding the divide between the good and evil, black and white, police and criminal. As a top-billed officer of a Special Task Force (STF), Vikram has been assigned to find and eliminate Vedha (Hrithik Roshan), a violent gangster who lords over the Lucknow underworld and keeps the law enforcers on their toes, who his team of police officers have been hunting rather brutally.
However, their plans go for a toss when following one of their usual bloody, bullet-spraying operations, Vedha willingly walks into their headquarters and surrenders himself. Unwilling to talk to anyone else during interrogation, Vedha starts narrating stories to Vikram, which slowly start changing the latter’s own set perceptions.
Without a doubt, directors Gayatri-Pushkar step up with the Hindi version, retaining all the commercial elements while adding multiple layers of technical bravura over it. The aerial shots of the city’s narrow lanes, the cinematic magical panning in-between fast-paced shots, and the way they make Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan move in slow motion to add style just give their film-making a fresh upgrade from an already classic attempt last time. Most surprisingly, for a story full of bristling guns and bloody limbs, the film underpins its stylish murder and mayhem with philosophical questions which has no easy answers.
Through three well-knitted, deftly crafted stories, the duo question encounters where the upholders of law snuff life out of innocent citizens, and justify such action as collateral damage for the greater good. Each time, the latter convinces the former to hear a story rooted in his own life. Every story ends in the manner of a fable with a question of moral import centered on good and evil, the nature of crime, policing and culpability, and the dynamics of revenge and justice.
The duo make it a point to leave the story’s flow to the two central characters after establishing them sufficiently. Vikram and Vedha’s parts have been written with a kind of finer detailing that works at so many levels. Like Vedha’s love for Raj Kapoor songs, which has been used in action scenes. It’s impressive how nuanced things like these have been woven into the narrative. The chase and fight sequences are fueled by the raw energy that leaps at you, and the dialogues ensure that an idea and space thought in Tamil don’t sound stilted in Hindi.
Yes, the flaws in writing surface when directors Gayatri-Pushkar have to tie up the stories. It seems in servicing the myth, they lose track of the larger arc of the story that is happening in a real space. It particularly irks in the third act when the motivations of Shatak (Rohit Saraf) and Chanda (Yogita Bihani), demanded a little more clarity, and the real villain of the while piece, a little less predictability.
But I guess nothing matters when Hrithik Roshan steps on the screen exuding a manic energy that takes over the frame each time he’s in it. Instead of playing a Greek god, the actor, attempts an Indian anti-hero in a larger-than-life scenario and consistently delivers, both in terms of performance as well as screen presence. Replacing a role Vijay Sethupathi immortalized was not an easy job, but Hrithik makes the role his own, balancing the extremes of good and bad in him.
Balancing out the other side, Saif Ali Khan does a commendable job of bringing out the conflict within Vikram. He inhabits the character of the tough cop with conviction and exudes the external toughness that defines the man and his mission. In supporting turns, Radhika Apte is wonderfully restrained, Sharib Hashmi is conniving, while Rohit Saraf, Yogita Bihani and Satyadeep Mishra are effective. On the whole, ‘Vikram Vedha’ is an absorbing game of cat-and-mouse that delivers a faithful hero-laden visual spectacle.
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 156 minutes