All of mankind’s evolution can be attributed to two factors – storytelling and questioning. Long before information was stored in the clouds and data farms, knowledge was passed on through story telling. ‘How to set a trap for the predator’, ‘Which areas of the forest are not to be ventured into’ and the like. Questioning in form of the primordial Ws (who, what, where, when and why) guided humanity through the forests into the concrete jungles. Pushkar-Gayathri’s Vikram Vedha uses storytelling and questioning in its narrative to create an immensely watchable version of the gangster-cop trope.
‘Oru kadha sollata sir (shall I tell you a story sir)?’ asks Vedha (Vijay Setupathi), the wanted fugitive, of Vikram (R. Madhavan) the cop. What follows is the noirish retelling of the Vikram-Betaal folklore. Like the tale, this movie revolves around the ‘stories’ narrated by Vedha and the answers that Vikram seeks. While the Vikram of the folklore was forced to answer the questions and let his head explode into thousand pieces, the Vikram in this story needs to find the answers to keep his sanity.
Vikram, one half of the eponymous title is introduced as the good guy. The north of the moral compass who points and shoots at ‘deserving’ criminals. In a ‘hero paadam’ he would be the messiah saving the day. In this universe, he is a horse with blinkers, comfortable in a self-made straitjacket of black and white, oblivious to the empire of grey in his immediate vicinity. Vedha, the ‘bad’ guy, gets the typical big hero entry. He is almost a ghost fabricated from folklore, his appearance preceded by apocryphal tales. His slow-motion introduction as he waltzes into the police station lives up to those tales. It is only when we enter the world of his stories that we realize that the Vedha of those tales is partly truth and partly fiction.
The screenplay draws the lines between them even before they meet. Vikram demarcates this line literally in his ‘Indha pakkam naan, andha pakkam nee’ lecture on morality. Vikram inherits this life lesson from his father. A simplistic way of looking at things, in black and white, right and wrong, criminals and cops. It is the lullaby that helps him sleep peacefully after a day of encounter killings. The naïve sweetness of this lullaby gets shattered by the Dappan Koothu of Vedha’s travails with reality. Post his meeting with Vedha, tinges of grey start appearing in Vikram’s confined colour palette. The lines start to blur.
Vedha piggybacks on Vikram (in one scene, literally so) and guides him through this muddled maze where cops and criminals exist not as good or bad, but as players in a dirty game. Vedha is also like the Krishna to Vikram’s Arjuna, becoming the guide in the battlefield, prodding him to see the evil in his kin (fellow cops) and take up arms against them. Their journey also introduces a load of interesting characters: the scheming senior cop, the shrewd mafia boss (both sort of mentors to the protagonists), the innocent collateral and the conflicted friend. There are also two female characters, limited to the periphery of the male-dominated proceedings, but strong nonetheless.
Mainstream entertainers have often been derided as mindless and masala, perhaps for good reason. Vikram Vedha is a template on how to make a mainstream entertainer that has the action and the whistle-worthy moments, yet does not shove a ‘leave your brains at home’ disclaimer at the audience’s face. The movie works on the surface as a gangster-cop action drama. It becomes a more enriching experience if you notice the light and shadow play associated with noir or the frames positioning Vikram and Vedha (first in stark contrast opposite each other, at each other’s back towards the mid-point and taking cover next to each other during the climactic fight). Without the dilution of adjectives like mindless or masala, Vikram Vedha is an entertainer in the truest sense.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.