Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan has returned to the big screen after a four-year hiatus. While he has been publicly active as a television presenter and political party leader, he could not have asked for a better comeback than Vikram, written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.
Kamal and Lokesh kept telling us that there was no connection between Vikram, which came out in 1986, and the new iteration. But that is only half the truth. Lokesh, like his other films, takes material from the cinematic source of Kamal and reinvents it to suit current cinema audience tastes. The spark for the latest Vikram came from Kamal himself. When Lokesh approached the actor about pitching him a film, he referred to a plot idea he originally had for the 1986 film. But at the time, director Rajasekhar felt the story idea was way ahead of its time and focused on a different premise about an off-duty spy who eventually thwarts an airstrike. This Vikram was Kamal’s attempt to make a Bond-like film in Tamil, while culturally and in the context of social and relationships, this Vikram is very ingrained far from the world of Bond.
Left to Kamal, he couldn’t have done the latest Vikram so well. He could have perhaps made a better film than this version about a rogue agent who goes on a killing spree on a personal mission. But this movie wouldn’t have been as entertaining. He would have added layers upon layers to the narrative and constructed some quiet, character-building moments that lent intellectual weight to the film. Lokesh, on the other hand, keeps this film very easy 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 film. However, the film’s background borrows events from Lokesh’s career film Kaithi (2019). The Story: Vikram and his spy team fell out of favor and were hunted down by the government after a covert operation went awry in the 1990s. Kamal and some of his companions have disappeared from the radar and have been in hiding for about 30 years. They no longer cherish 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 of his current life through vignettes from friends and acquaintances. It’s like a distorted memory, everyone seems to have a different idea of who they are. Amar (Fahadh Faasil) runs his own police force, which executes hit men on behalf of the government. He and his team work outside the bounds of the law, which keeps other men in uniform in check. “We have no rules. If you have any, it will break,” says Amar, before taking the case to investigate some high-profile murders.
And there is Vijay Sethupathis Santhanam. One character describes him as a local version of legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar. He is a chef who uses the right raw materials to produce high-quality narcotics. A huge shipment of raw materials goes missing thanks to an honest policeman who works with single-minded determination to rid society of the drug threat.
Where does Vikram, a rogue spy, fit into all this chaos? Fans affectionately call Kamal Andavar (God). And Lokesh is Kamal’s die-hard fan, so he’s put him on a pedestal from where he’s in charge of the little mortal games.
In the first half, Lokesh weaves a very intricate hunt for the missing raw material needed to produce medicines. There are corrupt cops, and there is another group of honest cops, and then there is Santhanam and the gang who are chasing the trail of the drug treasure. Most of it might just go over your head. You would get really impatient to see what’s going on with Vikram? What will he do now? However, Lokesh prefers to slow down. Just before we reach the breaking point, it hits us with the cinematic moment we’ve been waiting for. “Aarambikalangala (we should start),” says Vikram. And that’s the signal that the good part is just beginning.
Lokesh surprises 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 entertaining us for the entire three hours. He’s even given minor characters moments to shine. Sethupathi convinces as a hot-tempered drug addict who speaks so fast that his lips cannot keep up with the speed. Fahadh Faasil’s on-screen presence promises us that something big is afoot and keeps us involved in the story. And there’s a surprising female character who channels her inner bride (Kill Bill) and slaughters a group of men with silverware. The style and coolness she brings to the stage caused a stir in the theater. The gleeful violence, special performances, Kamal’s burst of acting moments in which he effortlessly shifts between melancholy, arrogance and comedy make Vikram a hugely satisfying watch.
Vikram is just the beginning. At its climax, Lokesh teases at least three separate films that could branch off from this one. Ahoo (Suriya!). Ahoo (Karthi!). Achoo (Kamal Haasan!).