Vikram Vedha: playing carrom without a board

Some filmmakers are happy performing superficial gimmicks and manage to fool a section of the audience that there’s some depth to their work. Karthik Subbaraj demonstrated this in Iraivi. Now it’s Pushkar-Gayathri’s turn in Vikram Vedha.

The only interesting aspect of this film is how its screenplay mimics the structure of the skeletal story of Vikramaditya and Betaal. The film opens with an animated sequence of Betaal asking Vikramaditya if he wants to hear a story. And it ends with the same animated sequence, suggesting that the entire film is a story that Betaal has narrated with the final question of who should be the one to die — Vikram or Vedha? But my question is why do I care? And why should one of them die? Haven’t you heard of the word — “forgiveness”?

Where is the moral dilemma?

The film thinks it’s showing us complicated moral dilemmas and acts as if it’s exploring the grey area between good and evil. Madhavan is a good cop (white) who wants to rid the city of criminals. Now how do you make him “grey”? Simple. Make him shoot an “innocent” guy during an encounter. Vijay Sethupathi is a gangster (black). Now how do you make him grey? Simple. Give him a brother and show him having affection for him by playing with soap bubbles.

Films like Kutrame Thandanai and Oru Kidaiyin Karunai Manu handled themes of morality in a far superior way. Vikram Vedha is the usual Tamil film that’s simply using the word “morality” to sound intellectual. If Vikram Vedha is indeed about morality, then I’d like to say with a serious face that Englishkaaran was about women empowerment.

Is it really a thriller?

When I was in fifth standard I wrote my first mystery. I had planned the story such that someone commits suicide but the detective finds out it’s actually a murder. But how do I do that, I thought. And then an idea struck me as I bit into my fountain pen. The guy, who supposedly shot himself, will have the gun in his right hand, but he’s actually a left-handed person. The detective will deduce from it that someone planted the gun in his hand. Voila! I remember smiling to myself with glee as I finished writing that story in cursive handwriting.

In Vikram Vedha, when I saw Varalakshmi Sarathkumar, stuffing her mouth with food using her left hand, an alarm sounded in my head. “Oh please… don’t tell me you’re going to…” And then, in another scene, Vedha asks her, “Hey! Are you still eating with your left hand?” And then I saw what I feared — Varalakshmi lying dead on the ground with a gun in her right hand! I see people claiming that Vikram Vedha is one of the best suspense thrillers in recent times. I want to read the suspense stories fifth grade kids are writing today. I’m sure it’ll be better.

Does Vikram Vedha have a great screenplay?

I’m sure you’ve watched The Prestige. It had a great screenplay.

How come people love this film then? Simple. Vijay Sethupathi.

The only reason for the film’s popularity (to the extent that itisprashanth calls it one of Tamil cinema’s 50 best films of all time) is the excellent acting by Vijay Sethupathi. The one big takeaway for me from Vikram Vedha is that a thinking actor can stand in front of your cardboard script and his shadow can hide all the gaping holes.

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The few moments in the film that I truly admired, I learnt later were improvised by Vijay Sethupathi. (Like the moment he takes to enjoy the rain and the climactic moment when he finds it funny that everyone’s fallen to the ground). He has a certain unpredictability of movement and expression that makes it riveting to watch him on screen. If the film feels a bit engaging it’s because you’re not sure what he’s going to do next. It has nothing to do with the script.

North Madras — a playground for cops and criminals

The crowded flats from North Madras seem to be quite an obsession with Tamil filmmakers and with the advent of drone cameras, they’re having a lot of fun shooting aerial views of it. But what they fail to see is that these flats house real people, who’re alive and breathing and have a life. Instead, they see these flats as a physical space where cops and criminals like to play running and catching. These flats have kids who go around breaking glass bottles and trying to stab cops with it. These kids also run around carrying packets of weed in schoolbags. And these kids need saviours like Madhavan to rescue them and put them in “homes” where they will be taught how to become dutiful citizens.

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I studied in a school which had students from all parts of Chennai. As far as I remember, all of us engaged in mischief, irrespective of the area we came from or the marks we bore on our foreheads. Sadly filmmakers, who’re lazy writers, like to reuse the existing stereotype that North Madras folks are all shabby rowdies. It’s sadder that we’re offended when Shahrukh Khan portrays a Tamilian eating noodles with curd but if every other North Madras guy is unshaven and peddles weed, we don’t mind.

When I mentioned this to a friend, he said that more filmmakers from North Madras, like Pa Ranjith, should step forth to correct this stereotype. I beg to differ. A great filmmaker is a sensitive one — someone who can empathise with humans, regardless of their backgrounds. Satyajit Ray was born and brought up in the city but he managed to make Pather Panchali that’s set in the villages. When he shot Aparajito in Varanasi, he spent several days there before the shoot, simply observing its life and making notes, which you can read in his book Deep Focus. A good filmmaker will have an observant eye and a conscience that can discern the truth. What we need is not more Pa Ranjiths, but more sensitive filmmakers.

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