It’s a fable without a moral. It’s a tale with twists. It’s good versus bad. But you’ll never know who’s who. Madhava and Vijay Sethupathy bring all of their star power into a riveting story of grey morals and easy gore.
The Vikram/Betal Structure
The film begins with an animation narrative of the Vikram/Bethal (Vedhalam, in Tamil), an anthology of 25 short stories collated by Somadeva in the 11th century. The narrative ends with the ghost/spirit jumping on to Vikram’s back and delivering the punch:
‘Shall I tell you a story…’
Vikram Vedha is not a story with a three act structure. Typically, every time a character makes a decision that alters him in a significant way, that marks the end of an act, and the beginning of the next.
The beauty of the Vikram/Bethal tales is that each story is a single act. The movie therefore shifts gears every time Vedha, the antagonist (?) launches into a flashback, ending in a Catch 22 that Vikram is forced to answer.
The whole premise is beautiful, and quite well done. Every time Vikram answers, a clue unravels and the narrative moves forward.
New Madhavan, Same Old Sethupathy
Don’t get me wrong, it’s Vijay Sethupathy’s entrance that gets the wolf-whistles and the claps. It’s the little details in his north Madras slang that makes the audience smile.
But Vijay Sethupathy has played himself for far too long. Even in ‘Kavan’, where he plays a media professional, it’s only in places where he changes track from normal Tamil to the Madras Bashai (local lingo) that the audience wakes up and pays attention.
There’s so much more to him than just the fact that he’s as relatable as a friendly neighbourhood smart alec.
Among the 9 short films he acted in, in 2010, ‘Wind’ was by far the best. It had Vijay Sethupathy, a dead body, and a cell phone. and it was one of the most gripping fifteen minutes of my life.
Madhavan wasn’t kidding when he said he took a break from acting to reinvent himself. First ‘Irudhi suttru’, and now Vikram Vedha. His performance in flawless (his diction, not so much), and he simply eats up the scene.
On Shraddha and Varalaxmi
Shraddha delivers a brilliant, but undersold performance. She has barely a few scenes to establish her presence, as someone who’s very much in love with her husband, Madhavan, but is also willing to pummel him to make her point.
Her Kannadiga roots are worth exploring. She’s a few short films old, and her recent film ‘Project Alamelamma’ (Kannada) promises to be a mad caper of a movie, where she adds both oomph and gravitas.
Kollywood (Tamil cinema, FYI) will do well to write her well. She’s NOT the filmy girl next door. She’s as real as it gets.
Varalaxmi is actor/politician Sarathkumar’s daughter. She debuted with STR in Poda-Podi (2012), a movie that was wrong at many levels. She was completely atypical and comfortable in her skin though. She makes her presence felt in this one too, despite the fact that she’s barely in it for a couple of minutes.
Hey, Pushkar-Gayathri! What’s Next?!
This director duo, who also write their films are a little Coen-esque in the choice of their stories. There’s no moral, or a theme, but there’s a plot, and it flows seamlessly from one act to another. Consider ‘Va’, a movie that makes serious fun of itself, without a care about what others (audience) will think.
Vikram Vedha is by far one of the best Tamil films to have released this year. And if their previous movies are any indication, they’re on a very steep learning curve. I’d gladly swipe my card for one of their movies. Anytime.