Written by talented husband-wife team Pushkar-Gayathri, it is a remake of a hit Tamil film
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, Rohit Saraf, Yogita Bihani, Sharib Hashmi, Satyadeep Misra
Showing in theatres
Bollywood can rejoice. It has finally got what it has been yearning for – a bona-fide hit starring one of its favorite superstars.
Written and directed by the very talented husband-wife duo, Pushkar-Gayathri, Vikram Vedha stars Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan and will bring much-needed cheer to Bollywood. But wrapped in this Dussehra-Diwali gift is a nightmare and a message for Bollywood that has been in the throes of an identity crisis for a while now.
Vikram Vedha is a remake of Pushkar-Gayathri’s 2017 hit Tamil film of the same name, but it’s not a Hindi film with southern tadka. It’s a Bollywood hit made by Tollywood.
Except for the film’s dialogue and songs, most of the film’s crew is drawn from the Tamil film industry – the cinematographer (P.S. Vinod), editor (Richard Kevin A.) and background score (Sam S.C.).
The film has southern cinematic swag, but its setting, actors, characters, dialogue, plot twists, politics, all carry desi, Bollywood flavour. And Hrithik Roshan lights up the screen like few other actors can.
Vikram Vedha is not just as good as the original, in several respects it’s bigger, better. Except for one thing.
In the Tamil version, which starred Vijay Sethupathi as Vedha and R. Madhavan as Vikram, both were actors of equal heft and merit. Though Sethupathi would outshine Madhavan at times, the film belonged to both.
But in the Hindi version, Saif Ali Khan plays Vikram as a single-note character who seems to be sulking for not getting the more exciting role.
Roshan, on the other hand, plays Vedha with naughty confidence that is so sparkling, so sexy that it’s impossible to look at anything else when he is on the screen.
Hrithik Roshan walks away with the film, with a smile and a bounce in his step.
To a remake-addicted Bollywood, Vikram Vedha offers a fabulous template of how to do it, if you must. But there’s a depressing note attached to it.
Vikram Vedha, like most commercial films made in South India, is a Men’s Special, with two seats reserved for women.
The film is set in Uttar Pradesh. And like the Tamil original, its story is based on the 11th-century Sanskrit story book, Baital Pachisi (25 Stories of Baital), about King Vikramaditya who is tasked to capture a vetal (a pishach, spirit that hangs upside-down from a tree). Vikram captures the vetal and carries him on his shoulders on the condition that the vetal will tell him a story followed by a question. If the king knows the answer but doesn’t speak, his head will explode, and if he speaks, the vetal will return to the tree to hang upside down.
After we get this concept via animation, we meet Vikram (Saif Ali Khan), a proud cop in Lucknow. He heads a special task force assigned to wipe out a gang led by Vedha Betaal (Hrithik Roshan).
In a fast-paced introductory scene, we meet his team as they are preparing to rush off to an encounter that may or may not take them to the elusive Vedha.
Lots of information is thrown at us at a dizzying speed that doesn’t seem important but, since the film’s screenplay is plotted like a treasure hunt, all tit-bits are keys to unlocking the larger mystery that lies at the center of this thriller.
Vikram’s teammates seem to be prospering. One has paid off a loan, another has bought a swanky new bike and Vikram’s boss plans to restore his haveli to its original splendor.
Vikram’s bestie is his team-mate Abbas (Satyadeep Misra) who maintains a morose look throughout. That could be because of his young son’s congenital breathing issue, or because he knows no other expression except looking constipated.
Vikram, who lives with his lawyer wife, Priya (Radhika Apte), wears his honesty like he wears his white T-shirts that show off his biceps: tight and proudly bulging in places.
He claims that he has 18 encounter killings to his credit, and operates with the belief that a line separates good from bad, truth from lies. And since he is on the good side, he can do no wrong. Not even when he manipulates a crime scene, nor when he plants a gun in a victim’s hand.
After the encounter comes a tip-off about Vedha Betaal’s whereabouts.
As Vedha Betaal enters Vikram Vedha, the film which till now felt like a usual, set-in-UP chor-police drama, acquires a starry twinkle and I swear, it felt as if the screen expanded to accommodate Hrithik Roshan.
Accused of 16 murders, Vedha begins telling Vikram a story, followed by a question.
There’s flashback to Kanpur 13 years ago, where we meet Bablu Bhaiyya (Sharib Hashmi) and Shatak (Rohit Saraf).
Two more meetings, two more stories follow, each with clues, a philosophical question and a moral lesson. We meet an innocent brother who is assassinated, a best friend who is a victim of intrigue. There’s a greedy girlfriend, a gang war and a lawyer who puts her client’s interest before her husband’s tantrum.
All the stories are meant to unlock the truth about two murders and to make Vikram question his belief about what is satya. But every time Vikram opens his mouth to answer the question, Vedha disappears.
Vikram keeps chasing Vedha, guns go thain-thain, bodies pile up, and as the line that separates good from evil begins to blur, Vikram Vedha acquires a touch of noir.
Pushkar-Gayathri’s Vikram Vedha is a sincere adaptation of their Tamil film and an entertaining, intelligent remake.
The film’s story is the same, but the Hindi version has some new plot twists that give it freshness and nice flavors of Lucknow-Kanpur.
The duo, who recently made Suzhal: The Vortex, a stunning eight-part series on Amazon about a police investigation into a disappearance, have injected lots of politics in their sharp, intelligent screenplay. There’s meaning in all the choices they have made about the names of characters, food, shops and location. The film even toys with things controversial, but moves on before it can draw the censors’ attention.
We see tanneries in Kanpur, in Lucknow we drive past Mayawati’s haathi park, visit biryani shops, eat kulcha-nihari. There are bags of cash and MLAs are being transported.
The film’s dialogue, written with Awadhi-Kanpuriya wit by Benazir Ali Fida and Manoj Muntashir, are fun and fabulous: “Marenge kan pe, giroge Japan mein”. And most are assigned to its two lead actors.
Saif Ali Khan is charming but only adequate. He gets the job done, but in a way that is neither delightful nor very satisfactory.
In the Tamil version, Madhavan played the part of Vikram as if he’s the hero of the film. Saif plays the same role as second-fiddle to the hero.
As a cop who can join all the dots by frowning mildly and concentrating hard, he looks dukhi and stiff, almost as if he decided that he will carry just one emotion in this film, in mind and body. And since this one requires rigidity of morals, it’s going to be rigidity all along.
Hrithik Roshan, thankfully, brings his A-game to Vikram Vedha.
Unlike in his last film, War, where his gorgeousness was enhanced and engaged, here his Vedha is all shabby.
We see crow’s feet, thinning hair, and a big beard covers most of his face. He often looks sweaty, unkempt. But, Roshan uses all this to add to Vedha’s gangster vibe. And it seems, the more messy he is, the more powerful he gets as an actor.
All of Roshan’s Vedha and his emotions reside on Roshan’s face.
With a smile sometimes, at times with simmering eyes, he conveys love, rage, sorrow, and changes the film’s mood and temperature at will. Even in Vishal-Shekhar’s Alcoholia song, Hrithik doesn’t just display his usual dancing magic. He acts and adds oomph to Vedha as only he can.