I was talking to a few friends about Vikram Vedha after the teaser dropped. One of them quipped that he was half-expecting that Hrithik would break into a dance. While I laughed at the timing and the cleverness, I couldn't help but wonder if a hunk like Hrithik could do justice to the gravitas and an air of reckless nonchalance that Vijay Sethupathi brought to the original. Another one referred to a particular scene where Vedha (VJS) while escaping from the police quips in the film, "Vayasaaiduchu?" (I'm getting old). He said that one can't do justice to the age that Vijay Sethupathi played in the Tamil version. Needless to say, I was becoming more and more sceptical.
But my doubts were put to rest when I saw the Alcoholia song. More than the dance (which was as fantastic as ever), I was floored by the madness that he showed in his eyes. It looked like his eyes had feet of their own and danced on their own! This song hit the final nail in the coffin and I decided to watch (t)his madness on the big screen.
Vikram Vedha is the story of a back-and-forth between the dreaded gangster Vedha (Hrithik Roshan) and Vikram (Saif Ali Khan). Vikram is an honest, straightforward police officer who prides himself on sleeping like a baby despite killing a lot of people (ahem... encounter specialist) - It's because he knows for a fact that the people he had killed are criminals and deserve to die. He believes that criminals got their comeuppance for their crimes. To him, the entire world is black and white, right and wrong. He along with a special team of officers is on the hunt for Vedha and would do anything to lay his hands on him and deliver the fate that he deserves. But when Vikram finally meets Vedha, his moral compass is re-calibrated as he starts to rewind and replay the events that had happened up until the latter's arrest. What follows is a delicious game of moral dilemmas with Vedha - wise to see that the world is not all black or all white but beautiful with shades of grey - spinning story after story which would keep Vikram's and the audience's heads reeling.
There are few changes to the screenplay and even those don't affect the overall structure - the one that reminds us of the Vikram-Betal. The writing is spot on. Except for certain issues, (which I will come to later) the writing is taut and without any flab. The layering in writing is brilliant. Take for instance the darkening of the shirts' colours that Vikram wears after each narration by Vedha. From bright whites to brown and to finally black, Vikram watches his entire outlook towards world change.
The writing retains a lot of the dark humour from the original as well. My favourite scene is when Raj Kapoor's Kisi Ke Muskurahaton pe plays in the background while Vedha takes the goons out. The best part was the buildup to the action sequence where Vedha says, "Hum be action karne hi aaye hain. Gaana khatam ho jaane do na?" (I know this is an action block. But let's listen to the song first!) This kind of comedy was refreshing to see in a Hindi film. What was even more surprising is that the audience was in splits during this scene. Vedha has his mass moment as the song ends with his silhouette glowing in the evening sun. I loved how the colour palette took a more deep blue as compared to the sepia-ish tone of the original. This made the world of Vikram and Vedha a lot murkier and more sinister.
The main cast couldn't be better chosen. Saif Ali Khan as the uptight, upright (to a large extent) and straight-jacketed Vikram sells his characters with effortless ease. Priya (Radhika Apte) almost sleepwalks through this role. It shows her maturity as an actor who can do any role with absolute ease. To be honest, I wasn't sure if Hrithik will be able to pull off a calm, calculated, and yet evil Vedha. I thought Saif was more equipped to play that role. Hrithik shut my cynical thoughts and other cynical fans with his impeccable performance. Right from the spot-on accent to the madness that he shows in his eyes is testimony to his versatility. His softer side when with his brother Shatak (a pleasing Rohit Saraf) is reminiscent of his performance in Agneepath.
The supporting cast, however, isn't very convincing. Their writing and the subsequent performances are lukewarm at best. The inciting incidents that egg the plot on are needed grittier performances from the supporting cast. For example, the character of Babloo played by Sharib Hashmi was perfunctory at best. It is probably my bias towards the original. But the way Vivek Prasanna portrayed Ravi with all the frustration and the jealousy, spewing venom even moments before his death, loomed large over Sharib Hashmi's performance and I wasn't very happy. Even the treacherous superior to Vikram played by Sudhanva Deshpande was not convincing.
The music by Sam C.S. makes up for the shortcomings in the writing. The decision to retain the original theme music made the mass moments even massier. Except for the Alcoholia song that has Hrithik acting and dancing simultaneously, no other songs stick. They're generic at best. However, the background score is phenomenal and pitches up the mass moments phenomenally well.
With some flaws in the casting and acting department, Vikram Vedha is a darker, grittier film with a lot of the humour stripped off from the original. The darker shades are a lot of fun as well with Hrithik proving his mettle as a versatile actor in even darker roles. Whether you have watched the original or not, do watch it on the big screen - if not for anyone, go for Hrithik.