Vikram Movie Review: Big Guns, Little Glory In A Derivative Action Film That’s Obsessed With References

Like how you start talking, only to realise mid-sentence that you no longer remember the point you were making, Vikram needs the crutch of a hundred films from before, and at least a couple from the future, to distract you from the hollowness of the moment that’s actually playing on screen


Cast: Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Suriya

Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram is the God-child of two cinematic universes. You can’t really call it a love-child because some love is missing in the way these universes coalesce into one combined vision. “God-child” is perhaps a better word because it’s the references to Kamal Haasan’s older films along with Lokesh’s own universe that rescues the film, time and again, whenever it forgets what it’s trying to say. Like how you start talking, only to realise mid-sentence that you no longer remember the point you were making, Vikram needs the crutch of a hundred films from before, and at least a couple from the future, to distract you from the hollowness of the moment that’s actually playing on the screen.

It’s disappointing to see one of our most gifted directors go the Marvel way to construct its mass moments around intertextuality. Like a game of connect the dots, it’s not going to be easy for someone to really get Vikram without having watched a specific list of films, the most important one being Kaithi. It borrows Kaithi’s atmosphere, a family of characters, the central MacGuffin, and a truckload of guns and then multiplies everything by 10 to assume lots and lots of a good thing that results in one giant blob of greatness. So we get much bigger guns, much bigger stars, much darker nights, and enough cocaine money to buy two Rocky Bhais.

But in this trade-off, Lokesh forgets the simplicity of the screenplay that made his second film near perfect. At any given point, we knew how far along we were, where we needed to reach, and what it was all about at the end of the…night. Little things like bad network played a big part in building up to a mass moment, just like how the most inane choice of songs added laughs without compromising the tension. But in an ocean of plenty, Lokesh’s clarity is what I missed the most.

I still have no clue how and why the action shifts to a particular place for the big climax. I’m still trying to figure out the relevance of a bugging device that got a lot of importance early on and I’m not really sure why a mother would forget to take her son into a panic room during a crisis. Even if one assumes a second viewing will give you these answers, there’s always the feeling that you’ve already moved on to the next big action set piece, even before you’ve truly understood the point of the previous one.

A lot seems to have been also lost in translation. What, for instance, are we supposed to feel about Vijay Sethupathi’s character Sandhanam? I could barely understand a word of what he was saying. I was equally unsure if I should be laughing at this family man-turned drug-lord or be scared shitless of his meth-powered mega punches even Bhavani would be proud of.

All this doesn’t mean that the film is devoid of high points, even if it is in the form of a reference. For me, the moments that really worked were all tributes to Kamal Haasan’s older films. A little boy with a heart problem was an ingenious subversion of a very funny scene from Panchatanthiram. Updated dialogues from Kuruthipunal and Nayakan lifted seemingly dry scenes to another level. The way the film brings back references to the old Vikram too was done with a certain level of finesse. Yet personally, I think the film’s best action scene was a play on the general idea of the last film you’d expect to get a nod here. Which one? Avvai Shanmugi!

The fact that a major trope from Baasha too gets a hat-tip also adds to the excitement of the fanboy the film’s designed for. Yet one doesn’t understand why the film spent so much time building up to an interval point we could all see coming. It still goes on to give you the big moment you were expecting, even though the secret is already out. But by then, the film has already delved so deep into multi-perspectivity to piece together the life of a “ghost” that you feel exhausted at how little it finally reveals.

Which is why there’s a lot of relief when the film sheds the complex narration of the first half to simply move into action mode. The whys are no longer important as long as the film focuses on how (and how often) the good guys are going to kick some ass. It’s one big medley of action sequences from there on with the only difference being the size of the gun. The boy’s heart problem is meant to be used as a ticking time bomb but this hardly adds any tension to the proceedings. Even the emotional angle adds nothing to give you the feeling that someone we love is in danger. But in terms of a pure adrenaline rush, the punches keep landing and the rain of bullets feels soothing after an excuse for real drama.

Anirudh Ravichander’s music holds it all together here and he makes sure we never overlook the audacity of a man taking on an army. These thrills aren’t exactly earned like it was in Kaithi but it’s certainly a lot of fun. This is also why you have to give it to Lokesh for coming up with the film’s second climax. Without the much-celebrated cameo, you’d be forced to sit up and take notice of the weak screenplay that doesn’t have much to say. It would have felt like an endpoint for a situation we didn’t fully understand featuring a set of people we didn’t care for. By masking this with the promise of even bigger things to come, Vikram owns its incompleteness and leaves you waiting for the whole picture. What more can you write about a film that’s so happy to live in the reflected glory of other films (and its massive star) that it forgets that Vikram is a film too?

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"Vishal Menon: Vishal dropped out of law school to focus on his fondness for film, particularly mainstream Indian cinema. He is a film critic, previously with The Hindu after a stint at Deccan Chronicle and Reuters News. If you thought the book was better than the movie, don’t tell Vishal.."
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