It should be mentioned upfront that “Vikram” (the 2022 one, not to be confused with the 1986 of the same name that also featured Kamal Haasan) is a sequel to “Kaithi.” It’s tough to say how your viewing will be impacted if you go into the film with or without watching “Kaithi.” There’s a fair chance that you’ll be way too interested in Vikram/Karnan (Kamal Haasan), Santhanam (Vijay Sethupathi), and Amar’s (Fahadh Faasil) journeys to care about the connection between the two Lokesh Kanagaraj films. On the off chance that you don’t, you’ll undoubtedly be lost in the second half of the movie because there’s so much happening. So, to be on the safe side, if you haven’t watched “Kaithi,” do so and then watch “Vikram.” If you have watched “Kaithi,” re-watch it and then walk into this film, because “Kaithi” is such a brilliant movie. “Vikram,” though, is ambitious and, hence, messy.
Written and directed by Kanagaraj, the film starts off on a bizarre (yes, bizarre is the right word) note with Karnan dancing to Pathala Pathala, getting drunk and crashing his car into a tree, and then getting kidnapped by a bunch of masked goons. Led by Police Chief Jose (Chemban Vinod Jose), a team of police officers prepare to barge into the room where Karnan has been kept hostage. But things escalate too quickly for anybody to react appropriately. Karnan is stabbed through the heart. The goons call it a declaration of war against the system and apparently blow up Karnan to bits. Two other similar killings, those of Prapanjan (Kalidas Jayaram) and Stephen Raj (Hareesh Peradi), force Jose to bring in Amar and crack the case. While the death of Karnan leads him into a web of lies and deceit, following Raj and Prapanjan’s trail leads him to, you guessed it, crime boss Santhanam.
Simply from a writing point of view, the first half of the film is more coherent than the second half. There’s a clear goal in sight for the protagonist (Amar), i.e., finding the truth behind Vikram/Karnan. The theme of perception versus reality also works really well when Kanagaraj focuses on Vikram and Amar. Amar is essentially like the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), willing to take any form or shape to get his job done. He isn’t supposed to be driven by emotions, but he clearly is. He paints himself as a breaker of rules, but he’s driven by a strict set of moral principles that he doesn’t waver from. Without giving away too much, Vikram isn’t who he pretends to be in front of everybody. So, one learning about the other in such an intimate manner in order to crack a crime case feels interesting. However, then Santhanam comes into the picture and disbalances that whole equation between Vikram and Amar.
Here’s the thing: both Vikram and Amar are fundamentally gray characters. They have to be, because, through them, Kanagaraj is talking about the police protecting corrupt politicians, partaking in unlawful activities for a percentage of the cut, and how the definition of protesting against such atrocities changes according to who is in power. Santhanam is devoid of such complexities. He is an out-and-out symbol of villainy. His antics are so over-the-top that they are, at times, comical. Gravity-defying punches aren’t uncommon in Kollywood. But taking a drug (like Bradley Cooper did in “Limitless”) and becoming an unstoppable machine of violence just doesn’t fit. And when you see his connection with Vikram and Amar going from tangential to contrived, you can’t help but wonder why he’s in the movie at all. Weren’t Vikram and Amar enough to make a complex film? Did Kanagaraj have to introduce Santhanam and make things convoluted? We’ll never know.
Since the narrative is confusing, the technical departments echo that confusion. Right up until the interval point, the film runs like a well-oiled machine. Girish Gangadharan’s cinematography, Philomin Ra’s editing, and, of course, Anirudh Ravichander’s score work in tandem with each other, maintaining the balance between the analytical detective story and the pulse-pounding action. After the interval, the look of the film stays consistent, but the feel? Not so much. And the biggest reason behind that is the action. You see, before the interval, the masked vigilante stays anonymous, thereby allowing the stunt person to do everything they are capable of doing. That leads to uncut fight sequences with some of the most dynamic camera movements my eyes have ever seen. When the character can’t hide behind a mask, they resort to the use of cuts, and that hugely diminishes the film’s quality. So much so that by the time the final round of fisticuffs and gunplay begins, you’ll probably be looking for the exit door.
The one thing that will keep you from heading for the said exit door is the acting department. Promotional materials for the movie have insinuated that “Vikram” is Kamal Haasan’s film. Which the film is, and there is no doubt about that. But it’s also Fahadh Faasil’s film. The entire first half belongs solely to Faasil. Then Haasan comes to dominate the second half. By now, you can imagine that Vijay Sethupathi is an odd fit in every single way you want to look at his character and his character’s journey. That exposes the movie’s design flaw: the writing. There’s a weird lack of punch that’s usually synonymous with Kanagaraj’s movies. Therefore, no matter how hard or how well the actors try to emote, the writing and direction fail them. The decision to put Haasan, Sethupathi, and Faasil in the same frame is ambitious. And that’s exactly why a lot more thought should’ve been put into their characters to truly make their performances flourish.
Side note: out of all the YouTuber cameos that are happening nowadays, the film has the best one as it features the Village Cooking Channel.
In conclusion, is “Vikram” worth a watch? Yes, definitely. Even if it’s half enjoyable and half trashy, ultimately, that’s Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, and Fahadh Faasil on the big screen. You have to see it to believe it. Additionally, Lokesh Kanagaraj is building a cinematic universe here. So, if you are a fan of “Kaithi,” you are going to appreciate how he expands upon that story and get excited about the potential return of Dilli (Karthi). And, as if that’s not enough, Kanagaraj drops a haymaker of a Suriya cameo that’s so good, it will make you root for this franchise. The few things that Kanagaraj needs to keep in mind, going forward, is prioritizing craft, story, and character over the image of the star. Swinging for the fences is commendable. But if the substance is no good, no amount of style is going to motivate audiences to invest in a franchise, a form of storytelling that is way beyond its saturation point.
“Vikram” is a 2022 Indian Drama Thriller film directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.