Vikram is nothing like anything attempted in Indian Cinema before. Lokesh Kanagaraj has mapped the progression of an agent represented in the Kamal Haasan starrer Vikram (1986) into a narrative set in modern timeline, integrating the plot development from his own film, Kaithi (released2019). Kanagaraj has thus essentially made this project a sequel to two films, setting up a Liam Neeson-esque franchise.
Filled with major callbacks to Haasan's filmography, the film turns out to be a crowd-pleaser for the actors' fans. But Lokesh does not succumb to the enigma of the star, despite being a fanboy himself. In fact, he gives Haasan only a little screentime lets Fahadh Faasil's character, Amar, own the first half of the movie. With physical agility, Faasil portrays an unhinged law enforcement operative with aplomb. He is magnetic.
Vijay Sethupathi, on the other hand plays Sandhanam, a drug kingpin who gets an incredible introduction sequence. His character seems less meaty on paper and more improvised by Sethupathi himself. Besides being the principal antagonist, is also comedic relief in an otherwise no-nonsense action thriller. As far as Haasan is concerned, he is the pivot amidst the story of chaos. Kanagaraj shows no real urgency in utilising Kamal's physical presence in the first half. Yet, his spiritual presence is pronounced. He expresses emotions and rage with equal ease.
In the post-climax sequence, Suriya's cameo is electrifying. His menace as the dreaded drug lord Rolex will certainly be the highlight of the future project linking Kaithi and Vikram.
Right from the start, Vikram is a thrill-a-minute ride with a battalion of characters. The leisurely-paced first half is led by the search of a protagonist, after a shocking yet brave opening sequence. The screenplay starts as a police procedural and Kanagaraj has made the narrative dense with information linking all stakeholders in the illegal trade of drug peddling. He demands the audience pay attention to the skillfully littered details. No character is minor and no incident is trivial in his larger scheme of things. A major twist in the tale is foreshadowed from afar. Post interval, the suspenseful detective story-telling shifts to a no-holds-barred style of action extravaganza.
Kanagaraj had released Vikram's teaser on November 7, 2020 – a good 18 months before the release of the film's official trailer. The scene in the teaser is not part of the final film, but it captured the essence of the movie. Revisiting the teaser after having watched the film, one understands how innovative Kanagaraj's ideation has been throughout. While revealing nothing about the plot or characters, he skillfully laid out elements that were critical to the story. A mask, hidden armory, influential people from different stratas of power and a gun-slinging Vikram – the teaser had them all. But it also showcased (perhaps) Lokesh's biggest fascination with food – the Biryani. The dish made a brief appearance in the director's Kaithi. It also enjoyed considerable screentime in Vikram. It remains to be seen how curiously he represents biryani in his next few films.
What Kanagaraj has attempted and achieved with Vikram is not something that many filmmakers can envision, let alone execute. Although Haasan returns after a four-year hiatus, this isn't solely his film. All three stars have been woven seamlessly into the story. Music composer Anirudh Ravichander and stunt coordinator Anbariv are jusst as heroic. Arguably, 'Mathuga Mathuga' is perhaps not as captivating as 'Vaathi Coming' of Master (2021). On the whole, though, the soundtrack is a winner, efficiently complimenting the action on screen. Like in Doctor and Beast, the theme music kicking in at the interval block enhances the excitement. The melody of 'Porkanda Singam' juxtaposed with the grunge of 'Once Upon a Time' makes this one of the best albums of recent times. Anirudh is truly a wizard with the power of making movie-watching experiences in theatres superlative.
Anbariv's stunt direction is inventive and remarkable. From a skirmish inside a jail to a John Wick-style action sequence inside a house his sequences feel raw, real and explosive. The use of props (Vikram uses a paperweight in one scene to get rid of a goon) and that of rigged cameras (synced with hand-to-hand combat scenes) results in an action choreography that makes viewers squirm.
This is great time for fans of South Indian cinema. Three recent Indian blockbusters have been non-Bollywood ventures – Pushpa, RRR and KGF 2. Pushpa leaned on Allu Arvind's swag, RRR benefitted from Rajamouli's expansive vision and KGF 2 gained from the anticipation created by KGF Chapter 1. Vikram, however, hinges on not just one star or aspect, whether grand sequences or hero-worship. Kanagaraj brings a gangster drama, great performances and exceptional music to deliver a fantastic cinematic experience.
Interestingly, he was born in the 1986, the same year that Haasan's Vikram released. He developed the saga further, 36 years later. Some other director could, 20 years hence, continue the legacy and develop the story surrounding Vikram's grandchild (who is also named Vikram). With a rare heart condition, he could play a superhero much like Abhimanyu Dassani's character in Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota. Kanagaraj has opened up a whole realm of wonderful possibilities.