Clearly, Lokesh Kanagaraj isn’t one to make a film and forget about it. It’s well-known by now—especially after Lokesh himself published a statement on the eve of Vikram’s release—that the Kamal Haasan-film shares its universe with the filmmaker’s second, Kaithi. Set after the events of Kaithi, you see Bejoy (Narain) making an extended appearance, even as some other faces from Kaithi step in and out as well.
You learn that their boss is Sandhanam (Vijay Sethupathi, playing a drug-addled, quirky boss). I liked that Sethupathi experiments with his look and dialogue delivery in this film. As for the Lokesh filmography links, there’s quite a bit from Kaithi, including the protagonist being called the Ghost. I also found it hard not to think of Master given that you see Karnan (Kamal) getting hammered for much of the first half, even though Vikram doesn’t belong in the same universe.
Vikram’s first half is a fascinating exercise, marked by surprisingly swift appearances from Kamal Haasan, playing Karnan (and later, Vikram). Lokesh may have called a lot of attention to his admiration for Kamal Haasan (he called this film a ‘fanboy sambavam’), but well into an hour of the film, I was pleasantly surprised that there was no real urgency in utilising Kamal’s physical presence. I say ‘physical’ because his spiritual presence is smattered all over the film until the interval reveal.
Lokesh takes his time to introduce you to the world, to the motivations and fears of Sandhanam, to the ruthlessness and romance of Amar. It’s fair, I think, to say that his vision here isn’t as diluted as in Master. In fact, so much does Lokesh revels in these multi-starrers that for much of this film, it feels almost like Amar were the protagonist, even as he digs into the case of the police murders. Fahadh Faasil gets ample screen time to express himself, and I enjoyed that even his relationship with Gayathrie, as hurried as it is, feels fresh.
Kamal, of course, comes in with flourish, charisma, and quirk. Most importantly, he seems to be having a lot of fun in this film. In particular, his return to action territory is enjoyable and it is much credit to his energy reserves that I bought every set-piece he’s a part of. I enjoyed the attempts to create unique set-pieces in this film. One stunt sequence happens in silence, for instance. In another, there’s the beautiful idea of a man forced to kill many men in order to be able to feed a baby. The actor’s Americanised English still seems to come in the way of organic dialogue delivery, and his Chennai Thamizh, which seemed par for the course in the pre-Ranjith era, feels a tad exaggerated now. I also didn’t care for what seemed to be a passing dig at a dwarf.
In this film with as many impressive action blocks involving Kamal Haasan, my most favorite is one that doesn’t involve him. It features a woman, who gets a Tarantinoesque announcement of her identity. The violence is all tastefully shot and inventively choreographed, but after a while, it began ringing a bit hollow. For lack of it, even though Vikram stands against the idea that this could be a revenge story, it’s hard to see it as anything but that. The line about drugs affecting society rings fairly cursory too. Some other ideas too don’t affect as they should—like a toilet flush resulting in a bomb blast, like the resuscitation of a baby…
It’s perhaps the influence of The Dark Knight on a generation of filmmakers and filmgoers that it’s impossible not to think of the film when you see echoes elsewhere. In Vikram, for instance, there is a dialogue about masks being needed to do good. Characters wear a bit too much makeup to disguise themselves. And there’s even a dutiful government officer who loses his spouse and steps into the dark side. But where the English film, despite being about all the action, was a thorough dissection of humanity, of the sacrifice it takes to do good, of the interdependency of good and evil, Vikram is largely content to capture the carnage. It looks good, but I’m not sure it feels as good as a Kaithi did.
And yet, Vikram’s merits lie in how Lokesh refuses to have succumbed to the temptation of making a film that sings paeans for the superstar. Who knows, the filmmaker might well go on to realise his vision of creating a series of films connected to each other and occurring in the same universe—films that may bring into the fold more stars like Suriya and provide a platform in which they can play characters they couldn’t otherwise.
The future seems full of possibilities and that’s my most heartening takeaway from Vikram. If, however, you went all binary on me, and posed a variation of the question that was asked so famously to Velu Naicker—and in this film, to Vikram: “Vikram nalla padama ketta padama?” I’d have to take a page from their book and respond with a rather vague answer. Much like the morality of both characters, I’ll have to say it lies somewhere in between, and much like those two men, the film does tilt towards the good.
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Fahadh Faasil, Vijay Sethupathi, Gayathrie