To begin with, Vikram Vedha, the Hindi remake of the Tamil movie has quite a few odds stacked against it. The Pushkar-Gayatri directorial venture not only has to compete with Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyan Selvan-1, which released in theatres on the same day, but is likely to be unfairly compared with the Tamil version of the film.
The film will be scrutinised not just for the directors’ handling of the remake, but also to see if Bollywood heavyweights Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan measure up to the high-powered face-off between Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi in the original.
It helps that the directors took a safe route and stuck to the original as much as possible. There are a few minor tweaks here and there but the big twists and turns that keep the story moving at a rapid pace, including the riddles that the gangster Vedha poses to the upright, honest cop Vikram, play out in the same fashion as the original. The milieu however changes completely in the Hindi version. The film is set in Lucknow and Kanpur and you have Hrithik playing a UP bhaiya gangster to Sethupathi’s north Madras goon. The gangster’s favourite culinary snack too changes from Kerala parota/mutton curry to ‘kulcha nihari’.
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Also, ACP Vikram (Saif Ali Khan), and his lawyer wife Priya (Radhika Apte) live in a fancy house and look like a corporate double income couple. The look of the film certainly has transformed. Even the spirited, boozy song in the Tamil version takes place in a small run-down restaurant to a rustic beat but in the Hindi version, Hrithik gets a glitzy, specially choreographed dance and song number with stunning special effects. The upbeat and visually delightful song Alcoholia, has been written by Manoj Muntashir and composed by Vishal and Shekhar, who have also lent their voices to the song along with Snigdhajit Bhowmik and Ananya Chakraborty.
The song is already famous and to be honest lifts the film (for viewers who have seen the original Tamil movie and know where the thriller is headed) a couple of notches. Somehow, the Bollywood version seems larger in scale, more imbued with ‘dabbang and dhamaka’. Hrithik, as the gangster Vedha Betal shows more obvious swag than Sethupathi (the latter was brilliant and it was enough that he sniggered, tittered and made his point in a chilling sadistic manner). It’s not enough for Hrithik to have tousled hair and wear rolled-up jeans to come across as a local Lucknow gangster. But, he is not bad either.
Saif Ali Khan manages to keep himself on a leash and plays the tormented cop who has a Betal on his back very comfortably. He may not be the talented Madhavan but it is Saif’s portrayal, which is equally compelling to keep the viewer invested.
Inspired by the Indian folktale Baital Pachisi, the film tells the story of Vikram, an encounter specialist, who is part of a unit set up to track down and kill Vedha, a notorious gangster. The film opens with a shootout in which a few gangsters are killed and as the police continue to be in pursuit of Vedha, he turns the tables on the police by surrendering himself.
He then tells Vikram three stories to open his eyes about good and bad. This film too probes that well-worn question in Indian cinema from the time mafia don Velu Naikar’s grandson in Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan asks with biting innocence – are you a bad or a good guy?
The director duo use the same Sam C S’ background score to splice up the action and dramatic scenes on the screen. They have also used the same cinematographer PS Vinod, whose shots of Lucknow are evocative and stunning.
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There has been no dearth of cop vs criminal films on the silver screen. Many brilliant films like Ardh Satya have probed the frustration of honest policemen. In Vikram Vedha, you watch Saif’s swagger and lack of guilt at gunning down bad guys slowly crumbling, as he realises good guys can also turn out to be multi-headed demons. Since the original was a hit, there’s not much that can go completely wrong with the Hindi remake. It works except that it seems long at two hours 51 minutes.
But, undeniably, the 2017 Tamil film scores in a different way than the Hindi remake for delivering a hard punch with the utmost simplicity.