By: Sarojini Chatterjee
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte
Directed by: Pushkar-Gayathri
To state it simply, Vikram Vedha questions the concept of the police holding up an honest reflection of the good that society holds in most Hindi films. The Vikram who starts off believing he’s essentially doing the right thing in killing criminals, is left with a rattled conviction with every Vedha story. The story gives way to the cultural clarity that a cop and criminal are merely separated by circumstances – in their journeys, they are both doing the right thing.
Folktales have riveted and enchanted audiences for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Why is that? What makes them so enduring? Well, the answer is simple. They continue to hold relevance for society and its problems, wants and needs. The trapping surrounding the same fundamental principles and messages in these stories can be altered to fit the needs of any age.
It highlights concern for cultural translation, with how the culture and language of the past has been transformed into the present. Hence the power of reflecting cultural evolution (immersed in all its culpabilities) with folklores will never go out of style.
Inspired by the popular mythical folklore of Vikram- Betaal and an adaptation of the 2017 Tamil film by the same name, Vikram Vedha proves that while writing a mass entertainer, one doesn’t necessarily need to simplify the depth of characters and demystify storytelling. Director duo Pushkar–Gayathri’s film is a refreshing take on the battle between good and evil, told ostentatiously with absolutely fabulous performances.
Immersed in the subjectivity of good and evil, this film poses the many dilemmas of the folktale through three stories, all ending with a question that urges the harbinger of good to make a choice – every choice strengthening the gray in the character’s morality, but also redefining the audiences’ empathy.
This star-powered celebration of masculinity has turned the intelligent and conscientious king into an honest police officer Vikram (Saif Ali Khan), who understands the workings of the world in black and white. The sharp-witted ghost turns into a feared gangster Vedha (Hrithik Roshan) – he thrashes the rule of law almost on a daily basis, and tests the moral compass of the honest officer by telling him three stories from his life that navigate the gray parts between crime and punishment. In a further advancement, Vikram’s lawyer wife Priya partakes in this battle of manly wills as Vedha’s counsel and weaves a more compelling presence of the moral dilemma. It is crucial to the director duo’s artful scheme that the cop learns from all perspectives, and Hrithik exhibits such sparkling, screen-torching charisma that our sympathies are constantly redistributed.
Nothing about the two hero neo-noir action thriller disproves the impression that India’s best movie ideas are evolving from the south (take KGF, Baahubali, RRR for example), but Pushkar-Gayathri have really made a mark with this ideology. Longer and meatier, the Hindi adaptation is also far more enjoyable in its storytelling, showcasing glamour in every shot.
Instead of playing just a good-looking presence on screen, Hrithik Roshan, for once, attempts an Indian anti-hero in an exaggerated scenario and unswervingly delivers. Depicting charisma in every sequence, he knows he is truly the life of the movie and embraces it. Under the watchful eye of the filmmakers, he almost assumes the figure of a modern-day Betaal.
Saif Ali Khan in a more brooding role provides meat and meaning to the less glamorous parts of the film. He perfectly shoulders the reflection of the bubbling moral dilemma and to his credit, keeps the viewer hooked on the questions of “what is right?” and “who is good?”
Donning the role of Vedha’s lawyer and Vikram’s wife, Radhika Apte is convincing but alas fades away in the hyper masculine storytelling that the movie thrives on.
Fairly new on the block, Yogita Bihani as Chanda is a delight to watch as she turns the wheels of the story around by adding another shade of gray.
Playing a pivotal part in the movie, Rohit Saraf warmly embraces the role of Shatak, the simpler and kinder brother of gangster Vedha. While his character could have been written better and avoided the inessential assault of Chanda, he brings his best to the craft and delivers an enthralling watch.
The ode to Raj Kapoor through selective eternal songs not only adds to the colorful storytelling, but is also an exciting means to recognize the nature vs nurture debate that the master influenced in cinema.
After many ingenious leaps, the finale might seem like a conventional cop-out of every crime thriller story. Yet this riveting narrative engine makes for a smoother ride through the falling bodies; the directors’ cutting and framing, sharp enough in the original Tamil version, is finer here.
Additionally, the mere presence of Hrithik on the big screen after three years is a fabulous experience in itself. Combined with the poised royal charisma of Saif, they bring together a chemistry that is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves viewers spellbound.
As we get enamoured by the flamboyance of this blockbuster, a good question to ask yourself as a viewer would be “Has this movie done justice in the cultural context of the folklore? Has it achieved what it set out to do – teach a lesson?” To answer this, one needs to analyse both sides of this storytelling – the folklore and the film.
For far long, scholars have argued the different set of contrasts regarding the fundamental differences between folklore and movies. Folktales make it easier to share subjective fantasies, freeing the mind from limits of time and space, and dramatizing the ethical significance of ordinary behaviour. Movies uniquely magnify movements to produce stories which are especially potent in exposing societal hypocrisy, problems of criminality in modern society, the influence of politics and the relation between nature and man, the private self and the natural environment – ding more power to share the message of an era in a far better cultural context.
This film embraces the truth that culture is not handed on like a baton in a relay race from one generation to another. As we evolve, culture has to be reproduced. The assumption is that all knowledge is gained and perpetuated by the close association between the human mind, spirit, and body conditioned by the environment of its time. The perfect example being Vikram and Vedha joining forces in the climax to fight the larger evil – the corrupt cops. If not for the established context of the repercussions of decisions made in the early years of both lead characters’ lives, this scene would have merely been a gimmick – but the makers hold themselves responsible and build a cinematic world where loyalties change, or at least evolve for the greater good.
Pushkar-Gayathri’s entertaining remake is in complete possession of the cultural rot they are aiming to expose, all neatly wrapped in weekend spectacle that you can experience with your family. It displays a refreshing battle between the good and the evil and probes the audience to find answers.