The 2022, Sudeep starer, “Vikrant Rona,” once again makes you ponder whether there is a widespread acceptability for the genre till now, or there still exists some dysphoria about it in the masses. The Indian film industry has always been a bit skeptical about entering the realm of adventure and fantasy thrillers, as they are unsure about its general acceptability. Even when it comes to making a perfect potboiler, the first go-to genre for any filmmaker is either a romantic drama or a comedy. The 2015 magnum opus, “Bahubali,” probably broke that stigma, and instilled a belief in the filmmakers that even a fantasy adventure can strike a chord with the audience if backed up by a strong narrative. The Kannada industry then went on to excavate the Kolar Mines, in the hope of finding something authentic, and they, too, struck gold. “KGF” reinstated the belief that an adventure action drama does work, and in addition to that, it also established the fact that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a period piece in order to do that.
In 2016, “Mohanjodaro,” directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, failed miserably, and the 2017 adventure comedy, “Jagga Jasoos,” joined the club too, but there was a bleak hope as the latter had its intent in the right place. In my personal opinion, the film had a great deal of potential, but due to some unfortunate executional blunders, it tanked, and once again, the thought of acceptability and cost-effectiveness loomed over us, after the consecutive failures. In 2018, a film made its way to the big screen that added an extremely authentic tinge of horror to the adventure/fantasy genre. “Tumbbad” opened the floodgates of possibilities. It made us realize that we don’t have to look up to the William Keighleys and the James Camerons of the world for inspiration when we have a rich reserve of stories embedded in our own culture that, for some reason, we have been reluctant to use. The best thing about folktales and mythology is that, if you have reservations about creating a period piece, then it could be molded into any shape and form, and a personified version of it would hold relevance in the contemporary world too.
“Vikrant Rona,” written and directed by Anup Bhandari and co-written by John Mahendran, is set in the fictional land of Kamarottu village. There had been a lot of strange things happening in the sparsely populated village. 16 children had been killed and were found hanging in the forest area. Everybody was scared to go out after dark, especially near the Kamarottu House. A police officer named Suresh Krishna was making some discoveries and progress, but his headless body was found hanging in the well near the Kamarottu house. A new police officer took charge the very next day of the incident. The dauntless police officer, sporting a beard and a cigar, possessed quintessential characteristics that oozed out style and vigor, arrived in the village with his daughter, Guddi, a.k.a. Geethanjali Rona, and took charge of matters. He kept everybody under the radar, as he wanted to find some loophole, some irregularity in the pattern that his predecessors had missed, which would lead him to solve the mystery. Aparna Ballal, a.k.a. Panna, had also come to the village, with her father, Vishwanath, twin brother Munna, and her mother. Vishwanath wanted to get her daughter married in the village itself, keeping up with the tradition. Before Vishawanath’s family moved to the city, they were very close to the Gambhira family.
Janardhan Gambhira, an old acquaintance of the Ballal family, who was no less than an elder brother to Vishwanath, stayed in the village. Janardhan was known for his bad temper. His son, Sanju, a.k.a. Sanjeev Gambhira, returns to his village after 28 years, but isn’t allowed to enter the house, as Janardhan still holds a lot of resentment against him. The victims that are found always have a distinctive mask-like painting done on their faces. People said that it was the “Brahmarakshasa” who was responsible for the killings. In Hindu mythology, a “Brahma Rakshasa” was actually a brahmin who had misused his knowledge and committed sinful acts that, in turn, brought a curse upon him. “Vikrant Rona” knew that there was more to it. He knew that there was somebody who was orchestrating these events and conveniently putting the folklore of the “rakshasa” to cover his or her identity.
The backdrop of folklore adds a much-needed tenacity to the whole narrative. The makers not only pick up references from Hindu mythology but also amalgamate it with the American comic character, The Phantom. Satanic rituals, a dark mythological character, and the setting of a remote village add to the murkiness and horror. Massy entertainers frequently focus on their protagonists’ introductory sequences and try to capitalize on his (a gender-specific pronoun is used intentionally because female protagonists are still uncommon in massy entertainers) real-life fan base. For the entry scene to create an uproar in the theaters, it is essential to understand how to build up a “hero-defining” moment. “Vikrant Rona” is able to pull it off, all credit to the screen presence of its protagonist. Sudeep is convincing for most parts, but the convenience and the ease with which he single-handedly deals with the adverse situation become hard to digest and to overlook, but I guess it is an aspect that you have to inevitably accept and resign to when watching a massy entertainer.
Another strong aspect of the film is its background score, composed by B. Ajaneesh Loknath, that makes good use of folk beats and tantalizes you in the process. The visual effects by Akhilesh Kumar, Firefly Suresh, and Prashant Thakur, combined with the cinematography by William David, are able to startle you more than marvel you. The makers have said that the use of special effects in the film is its USP, which is why probably many scenes are included just for the sake of it, which at times feels unnecessary as it impedes the screenplay and breaks its momentum. The songs make use of unique choreography and music, but it cannot be denied that they look a bit forced-fitted in the scheme of things, especially because a suspense thriller demands a tight narrative that keeps you on edge at all times.
There had been a lot of talk about the climax sequence of the film and how it had been shot over a period of approximately 15 days. Maybe it is a little over the top, and at times conveniently favoring and making things easier for the protagonist, but there is no denying that it provides a cinematically enriching experience. Personally, I think it would have made the narrative more believable if the protagonist was not made into this supreme, infallible, and unparalleled human being, and some amount of struggle, flaw, or weakness would have been taken into consideration. It adds depth to the character, and while the end result remains the same, it adds a tinge of realism in the process.
The film doesn’t give much importance to its female characters, but it provides great respite to me as, unlike its predecessors, it doesn’t demean or objectify them blatantly. Though the film heavily banks upon the visual effects and the action sequences for a larger-than-life cinematic experience, the backbone of the film is its effective background score. The story takes inspiration from mythology and tries to portray the realities of an unjust society, but till the end, it all feels scattered as it tries to do a bit too much and add uncooked angles that could have been avoided completely. The film tries to ride high on adrenaline but in the process meddles with a lot of things that it doesn’t know how to handle or where to take exactly.
“Vikrant Rona” has its loopholes and weak points, but the amalgamation of suspense and horror keeps you on edge and makes it an entertaining watch, if not a very convincing and intriguing one.