“Oru kadha sollata sir?” Double-hero subjects featuring two popular actors are risky business, they require twice the hype, twice the “mass” and twice the out-of-character film references to appeal to both sets of fans. Though this template could potentially create a box-office blockbuster, it comes at the expense of story execution. Vikram Vedha is an anomaly that dispels this stereotype, simply because its two heroes are directors Pushkar and Gayathri. Their story is supported by a stellar cast and crew with two significant pillars being R Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi, who play Vikram and Vedha respectively. Through the use of thought-provoking narratives and compelling characters, Vikram Vedha redefines Tamil commercial cinema.
The film opens with a short animated segment depicting the legend of King Vikramadhityan and the vedhaalam, from which it derives its main characters and their respective characteristics. Vikram is portrayed as a skilful police officer known for his candour. However, this is accompanied by two major flaws that go hand-in-hand: overconfidence and ignorance. In the words of Vedha, Vikram is a “kadivaallam konda kuthirai” (horse with blinders) who lives in his black-and-white world, blissfully unaware of the grey space. He’s overconfident of his intuition and often jumps to conclusions without thorough research. The concrete border he’s established between a criminal and an innocent person leaves him reassured in the belief that he’s only murdered criminals. This complacency hinders him from investigating beyond his current knowledge.
Prior to Vedha’s introduction, there’s a brief scene where someone describes him as a nefarious hoodlum. Even his grand introduction, half an hour into the film, hints at the same, but this turns out to be untrue. Vedha is an unconventional gangster in every way. Firstly, it is not physical strength but intelligence that is his forte. Moreover, the hint of sarcasm he carries (perhaps this aspect was derived from Vijay Sethupathi’s own personality) makes him a rather mellow and amiable gangster. The film doesn’t brood over the details of Vedha’s illicit activities, nor does it go to great lengths to justify his livelihood. Instead, it attempts to humanise his character by employing an emotional lens to explore his relationship with his younger brother, Pulli (Kathir).
Pushkar and Gayathri symbolise their protagonists’ development using colours. When Vikram and Vedha first meet, in the iconic interrogation room scene, they are dressed in opposing colours, the former in white and the latter in black. In a relatively unclichéd film, it appears too trivial to assume that white and black merely represent good and evil (also, despite being a criminal, Vedha isn’t exactly shaped as a villain). Instead, this may be reflective of both their knowledge of their surroundings as well as their self-awareness. Black cannot be stained whereas white is like blank parchment. Vedha, like his counterpart from the legend, is prudent and understands the implications of his actions whereas Vikram puts blind faith in his decisions and refrains from reflecting on his actions.
Vedha speaks in riddles, systematically revealing new pieces of the unsolved puzzle and challenging Vikram’s moral judgment through a series of flashback stories. Vedha’s character arc does not undergo any changes per se; new details are merely unravelled over the course of the story. It is Vikram’s character that has a thorough progression, which is induced by Vedha’s tests of morality. In the beginning, Vikram reluctantly listens to Vedha’s stories but remains undeterred. With time, Vedha is able to debase the other’s mind and uses him to uncover a certain mystery. In essence, Vikram is just the weapon, as mentioned in the film. Unbeknownst to him, his trigger is controlled by various characters at different times. The colour of his shirt corresponds to how he becomes self-aware and reclaims his command; it goes from white to a light brown (slightly tainted); in the climax, he’s wearing dark grey (notice that it becomes black).
The intensity of violence in the film is quite diluted but this doesn’t compromise its impact. Furthermore, in certain scenes the tone of the background music transitions from serious to quirky and satirical. Juxtaposing the humorous satirical tune (reflective of Vedha’s character) with some trivial fight scenes makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. Overall, Sam CS’s songs and background score are a huge asset and he succeeds in creating the necessary ambience for each scene.
There are only two women in the world of Vikram Vedha: Priya (Shraddha Srinath) and Chandra (Varalaxmi). As Priya explicitly acknowledges in the film, they are only minor players in the overall game. Nevertheless, these characters are still embedded within the plot and are not forced into the script. Despite their limited screen time, both ladies manage to leave an impact, since they’re written with a touch of realism and are given a voice. Although Priya is first introduced as Vikram’s wife, we are given a brief glimpse into her career, which is actually connected to the plot. Another notable scene is when Chandra is overcome by a momentary impulse of greed and steals the money left in her possession with a well thought-out strategy. This sequence was quite convincing: after all, most people would certainly be tempted by a large sum of money sitting in their home. While these two characters don’t exactly come across as powerful, when compared to the Kollywood commercial heroine standards, this pair is vastly superior.
Of all the characters in Vikram Vedha, the most intriguing by far is Ravi, brilliantly played by the versatile yet extremely underrated Vivek Prasanna. Ravi fits the character trope of the underdog who has the probability of either being a loyal supporter or going in search of their own personal glory. “Dharmamum dhrogamum ondre,” a line written by Vignesh Shivan from the song “Karuppu Vellai” is best fit for his predicament. What exactly is dharmam (righteousness)? Is it set in stone, or does it vary by time, place and person? Ravi is eagerly waiting next in line to rule when his prospective stature is abruptly snatched by Vedha. From Ravi’s perspective, his dharmam would be to regain what he believes is his rightful position but in the process he would have to betray (dhrogam) Vedha, thereby interconnecting the two ideas.
Presentation and execution are crucial for a well-made film. In Vikram Vedha, the devil is in the details. Every character plays into the story and the film keeps the audience engaged up until the last cliffhanger. Pushkar and Gayathri skilfully plant clues needed to uncover the mystery right from the start of the film and anyone intently watching the film would’ve been able to fit the pieces together. However, being a commercial film, they take the general audience into account and neatly reveal the story in a visually appealing manner.
The entire story revolves around morality and perspective, prompting the question: do villains truly exist? If so, what separates good and evil? For instance, is murder under the pretence of work categorised as good or evil? It all comes down to perspective. Everyone is the main character and presumably the hero of their own story. So by this logic, if someone is the villain of your story, then aren’t you the villain of theirs?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.