Long long ago, so long ago there came a movie.
A movie about two guys vying for the same girl.
Then came another movie about two guys again involved in the life of one girl, but somewhere along the line talk about God, Love, Socialism and Capitalism
Then came another movie where there are three guys, not involved with the same girl but create a ripple in each other’s lives.
Then came another movie with five guys, where one other guy’s demise changes their lives.
Then came a movie about three guys who fight for their passion.
Then came a few other movies where the guy played second fiddle for the girl in the movie to find her calling.
The guy, R Madhavan, is one of those few actors to feel so comfortable, confident and secure enough to let someone else share the limelight.
Somehow he has shied away from being a star. Was it reluctance, irreverence or a lack of the proverbial push is a question for another time.
“Vikram-Vedha” plays out like a magic trick.
To use a line from “The Prestige”, my favourite Christopher Nolan movie after “The Dark Knight Rises”,
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.
Act 1 – The Pledge
Pushkar-Gayatri take their time to lay their cards on the table. They are in no hurry.
The police enter the frame. No uniform, no thunderous BGM, no opening song sequence.
The protagonist/antagonist Vikram(Madhavan) saunters in. He shoots. He kills. He says punchlines. He goes back to his life.
Vikram has a lawyer-wife (Shraddha Srinath). They are already a couple when we meet them and we are spared of any dips in storytelling. It is tough to do away with a ‘meet-cute-love’ story when you have the most celebrated romantic hero of the past decade or so.
However, you still have the alluring ‘Yaanji’, a 270-second song picturised on the police-lawyer couple that works better than the hundreds of minutes Tamil cinema usually wastes in the name of romance that eventually sticks out like Sri in Bigg Boss.
Shraddha Srinath picks up from where she left off in ‘Ivan Thanthiran’. Though not a completely fleshed out character, Shraddha does well with what she gets and somehow lightens up the screen whenever she waltzes into it.
Special mention to the writers who decided that the only time any person refers to the ‘chocolate boy’ and his good looks is when the antagonist/protagonist Vedha meets Vikram.
Act 2 – The Turn
Unlike Vikram, Vedha enters the screen with all pomp, splendour and in slow motion.
The music director decides to up the decibels, the camera is focussed upwards, he is an ominous presence.
Vedha is a name that is mentioned in hushed whispers in the police station. A name that instils dread in the mind of a newbie cop. A name the police want to sniff out from his hiding place.
In an anti-climactic fashion, Vedha enters the lion’s den with a Vadai in his hand.
Thus begins the game.
A clever play on the legend of “Vikram-Betal”(A drama that I loved watching on Doordarshan as a kid), Vedha questions Vikram and the audience on the why, how, when, where and what.
Vedha smiles, laughs, shouts, roars, fights, dances and does everything dramatically. There is no place for subtlety in the life of this gangster.
It is also pleasing to note that this gangster has no sad backstory for turning into the dreaded kingpin .
Vedha just wanted to be a gangster. That’s all. We are hence excused of moral science lessons and long life-changing sermons.
Vedha is a gangster. Vikram is a no-nonsense cop.
The policeman is out to clean the streets. The gangster is out to find answers to his questions.
There are a lot of questions.
Some tiring, some exhausting, some beat around the bush, some obvious. But Vikram and Vedha make sure that we join the duo in their quest to finding answers.
Some personal, some existential.
Vikram-Vedha is as much about its supporting actors as it is about the actors playing the titular roles.
Pulli (Kadhir) is an extended cameo, yet competent enough to beg the question as to why the actor from the movie ‘Kirumi’ is still lurking on the sidelines of Tamil cinema.
Chandra (Varalakshmi Sarathkumar), my favourite character in the movie, is another extended cameo that is so unabashedly unapologetic about her character and dialogues that she charms her way in the 10-15 minutes of screentime.
From Vedha’s cronies to Vikram’s colleagues, everyone plays a part in the gradual progression of the movie.
Not a single character is unnecessary or out of place.
Vikram-Vedha is as as enjoyable as it is riveting. It almost hits the right notes always.
Act 3 – The Prestige
It is just not enough to ask the tough questions. The answers shouldn’t be too obvious.
But, there must be enough clues strewn across the movie for the audience to go “Oh… Ada aama la” when the plot unravels.
Vikram-Vedha manages that with aplomb.
On a personal level, I was so happy with my guesses coming out a cropper.
The final sequence is a hoot and the ending is almost perfect.
A cliffhanger of sorts.
It doesn’t mean the movie is without its flaws. The entire movie hinges on the need to accept that the police would give the gangster a patient hearing.
If someone doesn’t buy the central conceit, everything else that follows could be seen as farcical and uneffectively glossy.
But, it is okay. What is cinema if not a willing suspension of disbelief without it turning out to be an assault on our sense and sensibilities?
Vikram-Vedha works just fine on that count.
Pushkar-Gayatri continue to be on my list of favourite directors with this movie.
They made zany and quirky seem cool much before the present crop of directors made irreverence an immensely likeable quality of Tamil Cinema due to its rarity.
Oram Po and Va Quarter Cutting were two of my favourite movies and albums of those respective years.
Sam CS is a revelation. Yes, it is easy to fall into the generic tone while providing the background score for actors who are elevated to be stars. But, there has to be a sense of earnestness in those attempts.
Sam does it with amazing swag. If Vikram is venerated or Vedha is greeted with irreverence and bravado, it is because Sam wants the audience to do so.
PS Vinod does not capture the bylanes of North Madras as something out of the ordinary or exotic or ‘rustic’. It feels like ordinary fitted with a couple of instagram filters from time-to-time. There’s no romanticisation. There’s no trivialising. There is just existence. There is just survival. It is North Madras as we actually know it.
In a nutshell, apart from solid writing and competent performances, Vikram-Vedha is basically a showcase for the most magnetic performer in Tamil Cinema right now.
It is borderline audacious the way he fleets in and out of limelight on his own accord.
He is reinventing the notions of stardom.
In one movie, he is the moustache-twirling policeman and in the next he is the small-time gangster who gets beaten up in a fistfight.
In one movie, he is a puppet and an unwitting accomplice in the hands of his bosses and in the next he is the do-gooder who just wants to earn money in a conscientious manner.
Four years back, I posted this on social media on 01/05/2013 coming out of Udhayam theatre after watching ‘Soodhu Kavvum’.
“You know a star has arrived when his entry is welcomed with thunderous applause and wolf whistles”
Four years later, the star is no more just an actor who finally had the big break.
Tamil Cinema has never seen a star like him. It is still confused as to how and when this happened.
He is Tamil cinema’s most deserving yet unlikely star.
The star that has now been christened “Makkal Selvan” (The Wealth of the Masses).
That star is now Vijay Sethupathi.
Now, THE star is…