To be very honest, Bollywood’s history with remakes has been horrible. At best, they redirect you towards the original, which is, of course, better than what you’ve watched. At worst, it’s going to anger you because you can’t enjoy any interesting plot revelations that are definitely done better in the original. There’s no film industry in the world that Bollywood hasn’t reached out to for its official rights, including its own. And when they can’t do it officially, they famously rip off the story and say that it’s merely “inspired” by the original. In this endeavor, the Hindi film industry has produced only two remakes that outdo the original by several miles, and they are “Don” (starring Shah Rukh Khan) and “Agneepath” (starring Hrithik Roshan). Now, after a very, very long time, we have another great remake in our hands, thanks to “Vikram Vedha.”
Directed by Pushkar and Gayatri (and based on their own Tamil film of the same name), “Vikram Vedha” follows a team of cops that specializes in police encounters and is helmed by Vikram (Saif Ali Khan). Their mission is to capture the notorious Vedha (Hrithik Roshan), who is guilty of committing around 16 murders. After getting a tip for a possible lead, Vikram and his team hit a hiding spot and kill many of Vedha’s men. When they find out that one of them was unarmed, they stage the crime scene to make it seem that the unarmed guy was actually armed and fired first, and they move on. While preparing for their next hit, Vedha enters the police station and willingly surrenders. He forces Vikram to sit down with him and listen to a story about punishing the person who gives a kill order or the person who executes said kill order. And although the tale seems unrelated, judging by Vedha’s actions, Vikram realizes that he’s tethered to Vedha now.
From the animated “Vikram Betaal” opening sequence itself, it becomes evident that Pushkar and Gayatri have made a concerted effort to try and outdo the original in every perceivable way. And, in my opinion, they have succeeded. Here’s why. Due to the success of the original “Vikram Vedha” and its reach via the internet and OTT platforms, Pushkar and Gayatri are aware of the fact that they aren’t going to surprise anyone with the film’s plot. They know that those who are lucky enough to have no knowledge about the original’s existence will be dumbfounded by the revelations if they follow the original’s script to the T. But what about the rest? What can they do to attract those who have watched the original, not once but several times? Well, they can take the budget at their disposal (that’s 16 times more than the original), juice up every single department, and shape their directorial decisions around the cinematic prowess of Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The cinematography by P.S. Vinod, the production design by Durgaprasad Mahapatra, the art direction by Anupamey Sawale, the costume design by Neelanchal Ghosh and Darshan Jalan, and the makeup design by Rohit Mahadik are the silent killers (in a good way) of “Vikram Vedha.” Instead of emulating the gritty and borderline washed-out look of the original, Pushkar and Gayatri aim for a pulpy and dynamic appearance. That’s why you notice Vikram’s t-shirt going through various shades of white to a dark gray to signify his descent into disillusionment as he unmasks the real villain. You see that Lucknow isn’t just a name which is mentioned now and then and only recognizable in the establishing shots of the city. But it’s also palpable in the Chikankari embroidery on Vedha’s clothes, Vedha’s favorite “kulcha nihari” (which is an important plot point and a great adaptation of the mutton chop and “parotta” scene from the original), and, of course, the intricate chase sequence through the city’s “gullies” and rooftops that are bubbling with character and history.
Speaking of the action sequences in “Vikram Vedha,” they are not just a major upgrade in comparison to the original but also top-notch stuff in the realm of Bollywood itself. Especially the ones where Vedha has to retrieve a bag of notes from the “Mumbai gang” and the finale. They feel like I am watching something tangible, and I can sense the punches, kicks, and gunshots in my very soul. The rest are guilty of being a little too indulgent with the use of slow-motion. I can’t blame them too much because if I cast someone as beautiful and sculpted as Saif Ali Khan or Hrithik Roshan, I would want everyone in the theater to celebrate this casting decision in high-definition and in slow motion. And since the intention of those scenes isn’t to highlight the fight choreography but to capture every flicker of a reaction on Saif and Hrithik’s expressive faces, that creative choice doesn’t hamper the overall viewing experience. Instead, it emphasizes how much of a physical presence Saif and Hrithik are.
That brings us to the main attractions of “Vikram Vedha”: Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan. Statements like “they knock it out of the park” or “they breathe life into Vikram and Vedha,” respectively, won’t be enough to properly explain Saif and Hrithik’s performances. It’s the way Hrithik keeps his eyes locked on his victims while painting the “bazaar” red with them and how those very eyes transform when he looks at his brother Shatak (Rohit Saraf) or at Vikram. It’s the constant mix of manic anger and joy to mask the sadness that’s eating away at Vedha on Hrithik’s face. It’s the way Saif chips away at Vikram’s confidence and visualizes how hollow his ideals are, in complete contrast with his swaggering demeanor. It’s the tears simmering in Saif’s eyes and becoming one with the blood, sweat, and grime that is a result of the overbearing task on his head. It’s all of this that not only makes “Vikram Vedha” a pleasurable viewing experience but also reminds everyone (who has forgotten) what mainstream Bollywood is all about.
Here’s the thing: Mainstream Bollywood isn’t about “grounded” stories. It is not about CGI-heavy spectacles. It’s certainly not about furthering some kind of stupid agenda or giving us a history lesson. Mainstream Bollywood is and should be about capturing that ever-fleeting magical quality that these larger-than-life stars exude while telling relevant, relatable, and entertaining stories. If done right, the medium close-up shot of a star can elicit more awe than a frame filled with the most expensive CGI and VFX in the world. Because a) it’s what we’ve grown up watching and b) it’s what stars of Hrithik and Saif’s caliber are capable of emulating. And I’m glad that that’s on full display in “Vikram Vedha,” thanks to Pushkar, Gayatri, and P.S. Vinod. Richard Kevin’s editing is jarring, and he could’ve allowed a lot of moments to breathe instead of constantly cutting between different camera angles for no reason. Out of the supporting cast, Sharib Hashmi and Radhika Apte stand out the most, even though everyone’s work is commendable.
In conclusion, please watch the version of “Vikram Vedha” that features Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan first. And then watch the one featuring R. Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi. Yes, that’s right. I recommend you watch the remake before the original for the simple reason that the remake is the superior version. That’s not to say that the original is bad or unwatchable. It’s fantastic in its own right. But the remake is a great example of what a talented directing duo can do with a higher budget and a pair of leads whose pitch is vastly different from that of the leads in the original. Once you are done soaking all that in, please feel free to contemplate the definitions of good and evil. And how it’s not necessary that the people who are professionally synonymous with those virtues are entirely virtuous in nature, especially those who claim to be morally upright.