“Vikram Vedha” Review: Saif Ali Khan is an improvement over the original Vikram. Hrithik Roshan is able to pull off the feat by utilizing his fame and charisma.
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Rohit Saraf, Radhika Apte, and Yogita Bihani.
Director: Pushkar and Gayatri
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)
No matter how much style and swagger a remake has, it is still a remake. As long as you put that notion out of your mind and adjust your expectations accordingly, Vikram Vedha, Pushkar, and Gayatri’s remake of their own 2017 Tamil smash hit of the same name is a meaty mass entertainer that packs quite a punch.
The film’s directing duo, working with a script that has proven profitable in the past and betting on a pair of Bollywood stars who give credible performances, reaps the financial benefits of their shrewdly assembled assets.
They were able to make a movie that not only has the potential to draw in large audiences by making subtle changes to the story, switching up the setting dramatically, and using Hindi dialogue that veers between conversational and philosophical.
In a battle of attrition full of intrigue and energy, Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan play the roles of the police officer and the criminal, respectively, and a slew of supporting characters orbit the hero and the antagonist, engaging in penetrating mind games. The two male leads, in particular, give standout performances amidst the orchestral hubbub.
As the actors bring to life characters lifted from a centuries-old folktale and transplanted to modern-day Lucknow, the script’s out-of-the-ordinary situations and questions of ethics and emotions help them transcend the stereotypical nature of the two men (one a policeman, the other an urban brigand; one on the side of good, the other against it).
The sly and slippery Vedha (Roshan), who rules the Lucknow underworld and keeps the law enforcers on their toes, is the target of a special task force and operation led by SSP Vikram (Khan).
A few thugs are killed at the beginning of Vikram Vedha, setting off a chain reaction of violent confrontations between the Special Task Force and the vengeful Vedha. When the dreaded Vedha surrenders to the police, it looks like the violent period will soon come to an end.
That was just the first step in a series of surprises from Vedha. He is planning something the police haven’t thought of yet. Priya, a lawyer played by Radhika Apte and also Vikram’s wife, is one of his aces in the hole. This recipe for marital strife—a woman doing her job while her husband is busy with his own—adds a layer to the story that occasionally pulls it away from the hustle and bustle of the police station and deposits it within the walls of domesticity.
Three times throughout the course of the story told in flashbacks that stem from the convoluted, drawn-out tales Vedha tells Vikram, the police officer comes dangerously close to finally putting an end to the criminal’s career (or at least outsmarting him).
Time and time again, the latter successfully persuade the former to listen to a tale with personal significance to him. Each tale concludes with a morally significant inquiry into such themes as good and evil, crime and punishment, police accountability, and the nature of justice and retribution.
Taking cues from the Indian folktale Baital Pachisi, in which King Vikramaditya tries to apprehend a cunning demon who keeps baffling him with riddles the answers to which will decide their fate, Vikram Vedha sets his story in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.
Like Chennai did for the original Vikram Vedha, Lucknow’s historic buildings play an important role in the film simply as a physical setting, lending the film a distinct visual texture.
Vedha presents the police officer with a moral conundrum on three separate occasions, each of which challenges his conviction that he has never killed an innocent person during the course of his career as a law enforcement officer.
If you’ve seen the Tamil original, you should know that this is essentially a line-for-line recreation of that film, though it runs about 20 minutes longer thanks to the addition of Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi as the leads. This drastically reduces the film’s capacity to shock and startle its audience. Even if you know nothing about the story, Vikram Vedha is full of unexpected turns and surprises.
Couple directors Pushkar and Gayatri, possibly Asia’s only directing duo, would be wise to leave well enough alone. They rely on the same Sam C.S. composition of music as a backdrop to support the on-screen action, but also on the work of the film’s director of photography (P.S. Vinod) and editor (Richard Kevin).
However, while the cinematographer will need to make substantial changes to account for the film’s new setting and the reworked production design, the editor will not have to do much beyond what he already knows. However, being well-versed in Vikram Vedha does not diminish its value.
The fast-paced crime drama, set in Lucknow, provides a strikingly evocative backdrop, and the new cast of actors gives Vikram Vedha its own unique color scheme. Despite how long it is, you never get the impression that it’s dragging. That’s a feat attributable as much to the technical staff as the authors (the directors themselves).
Saif Ali Khan is a much better Vikram if we must make the invidious comparison. He convincingly assumes the persona of the hardened police officer, displaying the stoic demeanor that characterizes both him and his job.
Hrithik Roshan, who wisely avoids trying to emulate Vijay Sethupathi’s performance, makes excellent use of his star power and screen presence to give his all in the role. Almost no one can top Vijay Sethupathi’s level of greatness. Roshan’s success can be attributed to the fact that he does not even try.
The film’s supporting cast feels the effects of having two major Bollywood stars driving the film. However, Radhika Apte, who replaces Shraddha Srinath as Vikram’s lawyer-wife, Satyadeep Mishra as Vikram’s police academy classmate SSP Abbas Ali (who takes the place of Simon in the Tamil film), and Sharib Hashmi as Vedha’s enemy-turned-friend-turned-enemy Babloo all contribute to the film’s success.
Vedha’s younger brother Rohit and the girl in his life Yogita Bihani don’t seem to make as big of an impression as Kathir and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar did in the 2017 film. However, these are minor flaws in an otherwise impressive action thriller that knows exactly where it’s going and gets there with style.