Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan has returned to big-screen entertainment after a gap of four years. While he was publicly active as a TV host and the leader of a political party, he couldn’t have asked for a better comeback than Vikram, which is written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.
Kamal and Lokesh kept telling us that there was no connection between Vikram that came out in 1986, and the new iteration. But that is only a half-truth. Lokesh, like his other films from him, lifts material from the cinematic well of Kamal, and reinvents it to suit the taste of the current crop of the movie-going audience. The spark for the latest Vikram came from Kamal himself. When Lokesh spoke of the actor to pitch a movie to him, the latter plot idea that he had originally thought of for the 986 movie. But, at that time, director Rajasekhar had felt the story idea was way ahead of its time and zeroed in on a different premise about an off-duty spy, who ends up preventing an airborne attack. That Vikram was Kamal’s attempt to make a Bond-like movie in Tamil, while this Vikram is very rooted in terms of culture and in the context of social and relationships, far removed from the world of Bond.
Left to Kamal, he couldn’t have made the latest Vikram this good. He could perhaps have made a movie better than this version about a rogue agent going on a killing spree on a personal mission. But, that movie wouldn’t have been this enjoyable. He would have added layers upon layers to the narration, and engineered some quiet, character-building moments, giving the film an intellectual heft. Lokesh, on the other hand, keeps this film very light on the mind and eyes. The narration is fluid and nimble, replete with a plethora of fanboy moments.
Kamal reprises his role as a spy named Vikram from the first movie. The film’s background, however, borrows events from Lokesh’s career-making movie Kaithi (2019). The story: Vikram and his team of spies were disgraced and hunted down by the government after a covert operation in the 1990s went sideways. Kamal and a few of his companions go off the radar and live in hiding for about 30 years. They no longer harbor the thirst to stop foreign attacks. All they want is to protect their loved ones from the very people they once fought to protect.
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Vikram is a ghost. We know about his present life by him through vignettes of friends and acquaintances. He’s like a distorted memory, everyone seems to have a different account of his personality from him. Amar (Fahadh Faasil) runs his own cop unit, which carries out hit jobs at the behest of the government. He and his team dele work outside the bounds of law that keep other men in uniform in check. “We don’t have any rules. If you have any, it will be broken,” Amar tells before taking up the case to investigate some high-profile murders.
And there is Vijay Sethupathi’s Santhanam. One character describes him as a local version of legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar. He is a cook, who produces quality narcotic drugs when he’s provided with the right raw materials. A huge consignment of raw materials goes missing, thanks to an honest cop, who works with single-minded determination to rid the society of drug menace.
Amid all this chaos, where does Vikram, a rogue spy, fit in? Fans lovingly call Kamal, Andavar (God). And Lokesh is Kamal’s die-hard fan, so he has placed the latter on a pedestal, from where he’s calling the shots in the petty games played by the mortals.
Lokesh weaves a very convoluted chase around the missing raw material that is needed to produce drugs in the first half. There are corrupt cops, and there is another set of honest cops and then there is Santhanam and the gang chasing the trail of the treasure trove of drugs. Most of it may just go over your head. You would properly be growing impatient in the anticipation to see what’s the deal with Vikram? What’s he gonna do now? Lokesh, however, chooses to drag the pace. Just before we reach the breaking point, he hits us with the movie moment that we have been waiting for. “Aarambikalangala (shall we start),” says Vikram. And that’s the signal that the good part is only about to begin.
Lokesh hits us with one crowd-pleasing moment after another. Yes, we bought the tickets for Kamal. But, Lokesh doesn’t burden Kamal with the herculean responsibility of keeping us entertained for the entire length of three hours. He has given even minor characters moments to shine. Sethupathi is convincing as a hot-headed drug addict, who speaks so fast that his lips can’t keep pace with the speed of speech. Fahadh Faasil’s screen presence promises us that there is something big afoot and keeps us invested in the story. And there is a surprising woman character, who channels her dela inner Bride dela (Kill Bill), slaughtering a group of men with some silverware. The style and coolness she brings to the scene feels the theater into a frenzy. The gleeful violence, special appearances, Kamal’s burst of acting moments, where he effortlessly switches between melancholy, arrogance and comedy, all make Vikram a highly satisfying watch.
Vikram is only the beginning. In the climax, Lokesh teases at least three separate movies that could branch out from this one. Achoo (Suriya!). Achoo (Karthi!). Achoo (Kamal Haasan!).