An Jo on Vikram Vedha

Finally, I got to watching VIKRAM VEDAA: And it’s been an interesting watch for sure, but falling well-short of the gargantuan expectations I had thanks to the reviews and chatter on blogs.
The directors use the folk-lore of King Vikramaditya and Betaal and loosely base the template of their film on the concept of ‘BETAAL PACHISE’, where the ‘vampire’ spins stories and asks the king questions based on morality and ethics of the characters involved. [What should have this character done? Was the decision right?] Here, it’s a cocky-cop against a wily-fox of a gangster and it’s the gangster’s Betaal that talks of stories in his life and the characters involved in those stories and the perspective of morality that folks not belonging to the under-world – especially the cops – use in judging them; mainly, the character of Vikramaditya infused in R. Madhavan’s cop-character.

The film begins with a fantastic introduction of Madhavan’s Vikram, an ‘encounter-specialist’ who not only does encounters as a ‘job’ but also takes pride in it, acts cocky and gives the explanations of a ‘Chitragupt’, keeping track of people who did ‘what’ in their lives and who deserve ‘what’!

He lives by the mantra that he knows who is a criminal and who’s innocent by just looking at their eyes and shooting the ‘deserved’ point-blank, and is also able to sleep peace-fully at night and be able to get it up as per the demands of the missus: Into this juncture comes the Betaal in the form of a dreaded gangster, Vedha whose reputation, literally, precedes him. [Almost as if a cue to the fact that the writers/directors are bedding this product on a mythology, they make it sure that Betaal or Vedha is introduced showering him with mythology: The established cops tell a rookie cop about how Vedhaa jumped from a building in a busy market-locale and slashed another don’s neck with a sickle since ‘vertical’ assault was the only option available thanks to the fact that the rival Don was always surrounded by his body-guards.] During his first ‘intro-shot’, Vedaa walks blatantly, as though he is at some Lakme fashion-week show, amongst cops who are, ironically, getting a massive battalion ready to ‘encounter’ this very same gangster! He just walks along, munching on a ‘chakli’ [at least, that’s what I thought it was], and throws the left-over to ‘police-dogs.’ [Come to think of it, it’s literally at the end of the movie that you realize the importance of this scene where one throws ‘left-overs’ to ‘police’ dogs.] He then surrenders himself in front of a dozen cops, and has his first ‘story-telling’ session with Vikram. Vedaa also wickedly uses Vikram’s wife, Priya, an enthusiastic start-up lawyer, that nose-ring beauty Shraddha Srinath from Kannada films, as a ‘channel’ so that she can ‘enlighten’ Vikram when he’s stuck in the future about this ‘weird’ relationship between a cop and a gangster.

I wouldn’t want to reveal much about the story-line; but suffice it to say that the directors take us, the audience in parallel with the journey of a cop who ‘thinks’ he’s in absolute control of everything to a phase where he starts doubting himself, his wife, his fellow-cops, and everything that forms a part of his life, to a phase where he actually ‘chit-chats’ with the gangster and has a laugh. Stylistically, the directors reveal that through costumes; the cop goes along from wearing a pristine white-shirt—and the ‘villain; wears a black shirt and a black jean—during their first meeting; and by the time they are well into their 3rd chapter, the cop is wearing grey T-shirts while Vedhaa keeps switching sartorially between black and white. In the end, the movie ‘resolves’ itself by making Vikram realize that the lines are not ‘clear-cut’ as one expects and wants to be: Grey always scores over black and white; and all your friends might not be your friends; while all your enemies might not be your enemies.

There are a few reasons why I have been left a little under-whelmed by this movie: One, the movie bears a stark resemblance to Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra’s brilliant ‘AKS’ starring Amitabh and Manoj. This Tom and Jerry game of a cop-crook story has been explored far more ‘aesthetically’ and way before in July 2000, with stunning performances by Bachchan followed by Manoj Bajpayee. In the first encounter between Vikram and Vedhaa, I was struck by the similarities between AKS and VV, by that goose-bumps inducing exchange shot in close-up by a revolving camera between Bachchan and Bajpai: Look at how Bachchan’s Manu Verma dismisses off Bajpayee’s Raghavan as a ‘Raakshas’ [what/who is Betaal but a raakshas] and then, very cleverly, just as Vedhaa has Vikram’s wife appointed as his lawyer, Raghavan in AKS uses Bachchan’s wife, Supriya [Nandita Das] as a bait, emotionally, to further ‘complicate’ that ‘unwanted’ relationship between a cop and a criminal. Raghavan tries to convince Manu Verma that Manu Verma has a percentage of Raghavan in him, but is subdued thanks to societal and legal laws and diktats:
‘समाज को अपना यह चेरा देखना गवारा ही नही है| सारे क़ायदे क़ानून हटा दो, पूरी आज़ादी दे दो, तो हर मनु वर्मा राघवन बन सकता है| क्योंको हर मनु वर्मा राघवन बनना चाहता है|

Here, Vedhaa is trying to convince Vikram of the blurring lines between legality and illegality, morality and immorality, and there, Raghavan is trying to tell the same to Manu Verma about the ‘façade’ of righteousness: Take all the laws out and every so-called ‘clean’ Manu Verma has a hidden Raghavan in him ready to unleash all evil for the sake of survival. Interestingly, it’s the same concept that’s used in Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT of 2008! Joker wants to conduct a ‘social’ experiment

to reveal that ‘innocent civilians’ are the same as ‘scum-bags’ without the masks of laws and societal-morality on. ‘AKS’ later-on, veers into supernatural realm: However, the basic concept of lines blurring between what’s good and evil, what’s morality, what’s ethics, is the common thread running through these three movies.

There are many individual moments in VV that are superior to the cinematic product as a whole. For example, that fine scene when Vikram realizes that the lines have truly blurred and he gets a ‘Giftu’ a sprocket chain for his Dad’s ’78 Bullet, and in-turn, Vedhaa gets to know the name of a back-stabber. At that point in time, through a song, the directors brilliantly convey the concept of the God and the Devil coming together through a song and via Madhavan’s smile when he’s finally able to ride a bike that belonged to his father, that was, alas, marked useless due to unavailability of legacy parts. Or the umpteen scenes when Vikram wants to get rid of Vedhaa but is stopped due to practical circumstances.

Coming to performances, this is a Madhavan performance for the decade, ALL THE WAY. He is stunning; absolutely outstanding in his rendition of a character that starts off as a cocky cop to a confused-being to being a sceptic of himself and the world and the concepts of morality and ethics in general: With that salt-and-pepper stubble, he nails brilliantly the state of a mind littered with those crests of confusions and those troughs of so-called answers aided by whiskey and Vedaa’s talks. This is not an award-worthy performance, but a performance deserving bloody multiple awards. Hats-off! [All the pre-paid talk-time awards like Pee, Starless awards, please stay away.]

Setupathy is good as always: Unfortunately, I felt, the directors/writers let him down. He is made to be a ‘buffoon’ in the end sitting and dialoging with Vikram with some weird ‘comedy.’ It is again the Setupathy of yore that you are seeing. He is reliving the same stuff. When you start off a character with such a mythic and heroic background, you don’t suddenly reduce him to a ‘pally’ type of guy: Just not done. I mean, yes, Betaal himself comes off as a joker more and a devil less when he hangs on to Vikramaditya, but he was built up that way. He has that spark in him, in a brief encounter with Shraddha’s Priya, he talks of the fondness for his brother holding back his tears; or the scene where he drunkenly boasts that his brother was in the action protecting him. Alas, such scenes are dampened in effect due to the parody at the end between Vikram aur Betaal.

This is a finely made movie. However, it’s up-to the audience to decide whether it’s a master-piece or not: To me, having seen AKS, it really doesn’t measure up-to it: But still, it’s worth checking out. Once, sure as hell.

9 Responses to “An Jo on Vikram Vedha”

  1. This ,along with Angamaly Diaries, are the two best movies I have seen this year..I also found Madhavan far superior both as a role and as a performance to Sethupathy.

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  2. The similarity with AKS is quite eerie. I think VV is more commercial while AKS is not that commercial.

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  3. Not that I was ever watching this film but I opened the page and kept reading, great write up! Watched the scene from Aks, a film I never got into back then but should give it a go now.

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    • AKS is a great movie and was way ahead of its time. Mehra got a little ambitious and carried away last post-interval and the climactic portions but it was a genuine outlier in 2000 during the days of naach-gaana with the advent of HR.

      You have to catch it; but do so on a fine HD print. It’s shawdows, silhouttes and the eerie background are to die for.

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  4. Excellent write-up, An Jo, thanks for sharing — I will have to re-visit it once I watch this film; it’s been my most awaited Tamil film but I have not yet found a subtitled version… did you by any chance watch a subtitled print?

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    • Thanks Q.

      I watched it on einthusan where it had sub-titles. I don’t understand the language so of course I can’t watch un-sub-titled movies.

      Of course the quality of sub-titles is not that great but still we can work through it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Watched it on Hotstar – Hindi dubbed .I have to say that the dubbing is very well done ( as against KGF dubbing ).
    The movie is a good masala movie but there are a million holes and coincidences in the movie,The way Madhvan connects the dots and solves the puzzle while repairing his bike is just three much, and why would he stop everything and agree to listen to the stories??

    But all that is forgiven because the screenplay is so tight/ no songs that one does not get bored at all.
    Madhvan is very good, and his wife is so hot !!
    The Vedha guy is average – I wish they had Mohan Lal or Rana Duggabatti in that role.

    AnJo – your review makes me revisit Aks again .

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    • I liked it more than you ..I started 3-4 weeks ago but abandoned it because there was slow motion action (I detest such movies)..But with talk of remaking, I watched it and found it quite good.

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