Friday 30 September 2022

"Vikram Vedha" (Guardian 30/09/22)

Vikram Vedha

Dir: Pushkar & Gayatri. With: Saif Ali Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Radhika Apte, Yogita Bihani. 156 mins. Cert: 15

2017’s Tamil hit Vikram Vedha was a twisty, semi-subversive thriller that set a bad-ass Chennai cop and a wily criminal to swapping stories rather than blows or bullets; mashing up mythological, procedural and rhetorical elements, it circled fresh genre territory before a dead-end payoff in an abandoned factory. Its makers, the married narrative strategists billed as Pushkar-Gayatri, now relocate to Lucknow for a Hindi remake with major Bollywood stars. Nothing about VV v2.0 refutes the idea India’s best movie ideas are bubbling up from the South, but the filmmakers have taken the money and really run with it. Longer and rangier, this version is also far more relaxed and enjoyable in its taletelling, scattering swag with every plot swerve.

Replacing lived-in original leads Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi, who looked like they’d prefer a chinwag over indulging in sustained fisticuffs, we get Saif Ali Khan (as lawman Vikram) and Hrithik Roshan (Vedha, the hood): visibly ready to rumble and nifty dramatic players who make their mutual interrogations zip and zing. In a further upgrade, Radhika Apte’s sceptical air makes Vikram’s lawyer wife Priya – entering this battle of manly wills as Vedha’s counsel – a more forceful presence. It’s crucial to Pushkar-Gayatri’s mischievous project that the cop gets it from all sides, and Roshan – easily Bollywood’s most improved – displays such phosphorescent, screen-torching charisma our sympathies are regularly redistributed.

The finale hasn’t been overhauled, exactly: after the inventive leaps to get us there, it still feels like the conclusion of a more conventional, even derivative crime story. Yet souping up the narrative engine makes for a smoother ride through the falling bodies; the directors’ cutting and framing, sharp enough first time out, is only more so here. The prominence of Vikram’s motorcycle seems a tell: like their debatable hero, Pushkar-Gayatri are keen tinkerers, and there’s genuine pleasure in watching a Saturday-night spectacle where all the nuts, bolts and pistons are operating more or less as they should. A likely hit for an industry that sorely needs one – and a story that bears, even improves with, repetition.

Vikram Vedha is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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