Vikram Veda is truly one of the best films that was churned out from the masala factory of Bollywood in the recent times. It is far from pretentious and yet making for compelling viewing. Directors Pushkar and Gayathri appear to have repeated the magic of their 2017 Tamil super hit. Its script is akin to what Salim-Javed had in Deewar. The ethical conflict between good and evil is often so marked and clear that it is a no-brainer and thus a condescending statement emanating from either hypocrisy, luxury or lack of a holistic view. The dividing line is well shown physically and figuratively in the stick that divides the protagonist and the antagonist. However, the virtue of this narrative is that the line between good and evil blurs and slowly becomes a circle and you come to notice that life is not so much about clear and easy choices but challenges and often decisions made by circumstances.
Vikram (Saif Ali Khan) is the quintessential police officer who brags about his encounters (18). However, he is required to eat humble pie when faced with a noted criminal Veda (Hrithik Roshan). He has 15 murders to his credit. The entire 159-minute retelling of the 2017 Tamil film, starring Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi, is not the eternal conflict between good and evil or the simplistic Tom-and-Jerry conundrum.
At every conflict point where Vikram and Veda meet, Veda has a story to tell and an ethical dilemma with different shades of grey. Be it the puppeteer vs the puppet, the saviour vs the criminal, the honest vs the traitor, the challenge is about identifying the fault line. At one stage, a character in the film mouths with a declaratory note that nothing is a coincidence, everything is by design. The age-old conflict, therefore, between law in the garb of good, and crime as the epitome of evil stand in refractive spaces.
There is the typical connection between poverty, crime, organised crime and lawlessness on the one hand reflected in the growth of Veda in the world of crime. On the other is the conscience keeping law enforcing agency mouthing platitudes of morality and good character but ingeniously sleeping with the enemy.
Notwithstanding the movie’s 159-minute run, it must be said to the credit of the editor (Richard Kevin) that he keeps it crisp. The story written by Gayatri and Pushkar, and dialogues by Benazir Ali Fida and Manoj Muntashir will keep you engrossed and involved.
Right down from the yesteryear’s movies like Ganga Jamuna through Deewar, Ram Lakhan etc the cop-criminal drama has invariably favoured the erring cop over the sanitised criminal. Our cinema has also over the years created an interesting undercurrent sympathising with the criminal and perceiving him as a victim of circumstances.
The famous theory that society creates crime and the criminal only commits it is increasingly oblivious to the increasing population of easy chair moralists. All that and thereabouts is exposed. Deftly and without moral compulsions, this, perhaps, is Vikram Veda’s primary strength. Actors like Radhika Apte as a lawyer and Vikram’s wife, Yogita Bihani as Chanda essay minor roles with purpose. Rohit Saraf as Shatak gives you an endearing screen presence.
As the title suggests, the film revolves around the two principal characters — Vikram and Veda. It revolves around Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan. For a good part, it is Saif whose character is built and established, while the whistles and catcalls signal the arrival of bad boy Hrithik Roshan. It must be said to the credit of Saif Ali Khan that he does not repeat the standard Khaki angry gun wielding moralistic cop. On the other hand, he is suave, beefy, artistically articulate in his occupation of the cop space.
Hrithik takes off from where he left Agnipath. If it is all grace and timing at Mausam hai alcoholia, the rest is an entire repertoire from anger to tears, concern to muscle he is not just a visual delight, but that facet of bad that stops short of evil though a shelf filled with trophies in crime.
Whatever may be the varied perceptions ranging from outright bias to the star to the sympathy for the underdog but truly it is Hrithik who snatches if not steals the thunder of an extremely studied performance by Saif. Perhaps to be fair to both, it must be said that the winner is neither Saif nor Hrithik, it is the script.
The film offers enough and more not only to the audience that loves its masala but also to those who understand the craft of cinema and more importantly are willing to see that life is not black and white....