Vikram Vedha, the 2022 Bollywood movie from Indian filmmaking duo Pushkar–Gayathri, is a remake of their 2017 Tamil movie of the same name. While the directors have insisted that the Hindi-language film has its own set of nuances, as a cop and gangster engage in a cat-and-mouse chase across Lucknow, there is not much to tell the Hindi and Tamil versions apart on the surface.
Vikram sees things in black and white, while the dreaded – and going by Hrithik’s roving eyes throughout the movie, slightly deranged, Vedha insists that things exist in shades of grey and there is no clear line between good and evil. Instead, existence is circular with mankind engaging in the futile pursuit of wealth and the subsequent promise of happiness. Before launching into this philosophic diatribe in the final scene, moments ahead of a standoff between Vikram and Vedha, there are several instances in the film where the gangster with a 16-person body count poses questions raising ethical dilemmas in the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force encounter specialist, who has 18 kills to his name.
This helps the directors break the movie into three chapters – Chor Chor, Chor Chorni, and Chor Police (literally translating to “thief thief”, “thief and lady thief”, and “thief and cop”). It helps the film justify Vedha’s actions and raises questions about whether Vikram is in the right while offering glimpses into the gangster’s past and his interpersonal relations. However, what is supposed to be a peek into Vedha’s mind, and a possible exoneration of the criminal with a heart of gold, does not quite come off properly in Vikram Vedha.
Vedha’s own stance about the pursuit of material gains sadly does not dawn on him when he pursues upward mobility, respect, and authority – all of which come from money and power within a society entrenched in corruption and capitalistic values. In Vedha’s walk of life, the man working for a gangster has only one way up – to become a gangster himself. Thus, he gains his boss’ trust and moves from Kanpur to Lucknow, where he forms his own following – the “Vedha gang”.
As his influence grows, Vedha attracts the attention of the UP police, who set up a special task force to handle his gang. Enter Vikram, a man who was physically abused by his cop father as a child, and now prefers to shoot first and ask questions later since he lost his father in the line of duty when a criminal opened fire first. Vikram Vedha does not shy away from showing the truth of Indian policing, where encounters – or extrajudicial killings – are part of the norm, and often they are staged to get rid of criminals. It is an accepted part of the justice system that nobody raises their voices about, except for Vikram’s wife – Priya, played by Radhika Apte, who is a lawyer and believes in the judicial system, Abbas, Vikram’s partner on the force and a friend from their days in the police academy, and Vedha, who realizes that killing the guilty is part of Vikram’s nature.
Vikram, Priya, and Vedha get tangled in a strange triangle, where the lawyer defends the gangster who her husband is trying to catch. In the original, Vikram chances upon Vedha’s location by raiding his tenements, while in the 2022 remake, he spies on his wife to find out where her client is. This allows Pushkar and Gayathri to veer off from their main narrative and focus a bit on the foundations of a marriage between two people in love, but unable to trust each other due to the nature of their jobs.
As the chase continues, Vedha once surrenders to the police, and at another time barely saves himself from being killed, but ends up under arrest. Both times, he gets out but not before posing a riddle to Vikram. The first is whether the trigger or the one giving the order is deserving of punishment when both sides are wrong. The second is whether one should choose loyalty to one’s principles, or loyalty to family when both sides are ethically correct. Vikram’s answers mirror Vedha’s actions, as the movie tries to prove the point that the two are more similar than the cop would care to admit.
The pursuer and the pursued start respecting each other, as the former realizes he is a pawn in a larger game and the latter understands the unshakeable personal ethics of the pursuer. This culminates in the last moral dilemma that the cop now presents to the gangster after Vedha helps Vikram take down his own task force, who had been bribed and corrupted into committing the encounters by one of Vedha’s gang members jealous of his meteoric rise. Vikram asks Vedha whether he should be allowed to walk for saving the cop’s life, or should he reap what he has sowed. If the film is any indication, both Vikram and Vedha know the answer is that the cop won’t back down, which is why the apparent cliffhanger seems more of a foregone solution, unless one was to consider the possibility that Vedha raised enough questions in the cop to shake his own sense of belief.
Pushkar and Gayathri try to transcend the action genre to raise pertinent questions and shine a light on the state of law enforcement in the country. Vikram’s partner Abbas also turns out to be corrupt and the one who was leading the encounters after accepting bribes. However, he only did it to afford his son’s medical treatments. Vedha manages to show Vikram that things might not always be in black and white, but the final standoff begs the question of whether the cop will capitulate to the gangster’s reason, or stand by his core beliefs.
Vikram Vedha then becomes a battle of the wills, not unlike ones seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, between Batman and Joker, or in Michael Mann’s Heat, between Neil McCauley and Lt Vincent Hanna. The first conflict was in the absolute belief in the good in people versus the nihilistic idea that current society imbibes the worst of humanity. The second conflict is between two people whose natures put them at odds with each other. Vikram Vedha follows a similar conflict between the protagonist and antagonist. However, the film trips over itself in its compulsion to show Vedha in a sympathetic light. After all, how can an out-and-out villain pose ethical questions? The automatic assumption is that their sense of morality and ethics is skewed. Thus, Vikram Vedha has Shatak, the gangster’s brother, who tries to get him to walk a straight line. Things come apart when Vikram accidentally kills Shatak in a raid against Vedha’s gang, towards the beginning of the movie. His killing turns out to be orchestrated by Vedha’s enemy from within his gang, but the damage is done. Without his beacon, Roshan’s character turns to darkness to find justice. Vikram, meanwhile, decides to stay on the side of light – since in India, a cop shooting a criminal in cold blood, without trial, is not considered much of a dark act in particular, as the film tries to convey.
Vikram Vedha sets up ethical questions, shows interpersonal relations, and captures the love between Vikram and Priya, Vedha and Shatak, and Shatak and Chanda, his childhood friend-turned-partner. However, this is not a movie that is bound to make you scratch your head over the moralistic view of the world that is portrayed, and neither are the interpersonal relations so deliciously unique as to become standout features in Vikram Vedha’s 2hr 27 mins runtime. What you will walk away with, at the end of the film, is Roshan’s Vedha beating gangsters to a pulp, manning an AK-47 like a lunatic, and assisting Vikram in a guts-and-glory shootout against his STF colleagues. Saif Ali Khan’s Vikram engaging in a fistfight with Vedha is also sure to grab eyeballs, but don’t look too closely, else you might be left wondering why repeated punches to the face from a well-built cop barely leave a cut on Vedha’s face.
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I don’t want to rain on the parade when it comes to Vikram Vedha’s action scenes, however, since the movie slips past a few moments of gory glory. When Vedha understands who the rat is, with Vikram’s help, he walks into a building of gangsters alone and takes them down – resulting in a long sequence of Roshan’s character going to work on several thugs with a knife in his hand. One particular kill, where Vedha stabs a thug repeatedly, on his way to find the traitor, stands out in terms of sheer brutality, but the character’s best execution has to be dragging a man’s neck across the broken shards of his car window, killing him instantly. Bollywood movies love their action but are afraid to show blood, with obvious fears of being censored. Pushkar–Gayathri manage to handle this with considerable artistic courage, and deftness.
The action is otherwise a refreshing change from the run-of-mill scenes we see on movie screens. The first fight Vedha is seen engaging in does not involve sounds of fists landing on bodies or the clash of weapons. Instead, a Bollywood classic plays on the radio, while bad guys go flying in all directions.
Among the songs in the movie, Alcoholia is a well-shot sequence, with Roshan showing off his dancing skills, and the setting includes the correct amount of neon and lights to get the mood right.
If you are expecting the moral dilemmas or Vikram and Vedha’s battle of wills to carry the weight of the film, you are likely to find it lacking. However, when seen as an action entertainer, Vikram Vedha holds its own. Of course, the movie has its series of exaggerations, when Saif Ali Khan’s Vikram visually reconstructs a crime scene, picturing bullet trajectory in his mind, or when the cop turns into Marvel’s Daredevil and shuts his eyes to sharpen his hearing to the degree where he picks up on a factory worker’s voice over the sound of heavy machinery. Even the way Vikram zeroes in on the sound seems like a riff on the former Netflix, and now Disney+ series, starring Charlie Cox as the blind lawyer with superhuman hearing.
At one point, Roshan’s Vedha says that everyone knows there is action coming, but one can enjoy the other moments as well. Vikram Vedha tries to lay out a buffet of hors d’oeuvres through the film’s various aspects, but the real spread is the action the movie brings to the screen.
Keep the moral lessons for an ethics class, and let the punches and bullets fly in Vikram Vedha. It stumbles in trying to impart a lesson, but with its action and smartly written twists, the film succeeds in being thoroughly entertaining.