It goes without saying that a quality screenplay is vital to any good movie. And it’s especially true in the crowded sphere of crime thrillers. Just look at some of the genre’s very best films. They’re all marked by truly great screenplays. I wouldn’t dare put “Vikram Vedha” up there with the likes of “Chinatown”, “Mean Streets”, or “No Country for Old Men”. But it’s a prime example of a movie elevated and driven by an exceptional screenplay.
“Vikram Vedha” is written and directed by the husband and wife filmmaking duo Pushkar–Gayathri. The movie is a Hindi-language remake of the couple’s own 2017 Tamil feature of the same name. Fans of the genre will have no trouble recognizing the many marks of a classic crime thriller: shady cops, mob bosses, dirty-dealings, and double-crosses. It’s part mystery, part action flick, part neo-noir, even a bit of a police procedural.
Clearly those are a lot of different ingredients. But Pushkar–Gayathri’s screenplay wrangles and weaves them together in a twisty, intelligent, and thoroughly compelling feature. I haven’t seen the 2017 original so there was no temptation to compare. Instead, it was a treat to go in blind and have a fresh experience with the story. Sure I was excited by the handful of exhilarating action scenes, the pulsating Sam C.S. score, and cinematographer P. S. Vinod’s dynamic camera. But it always came back to the screenplay, and its clever story structure, crisp pacing, and rich dialogue. It all makes the nearly 160-minute running time fly by.
On screen, the story is led by two remarkably strong performances. Saif Ali Khan brings a steely grit to Vikram, a dedicated cop and member of a special task force aimed at taking down organized crime. Hrithik Roshan, oozing charisma, plays Vedha, a notorious gangster who Vikram’s team has made their priority. The problem is Vedha has vanished, forced underground and completely off their radar.
We learn early on that Vikram’s hands aren’t entirely clean. During a raid on one of Vedha’s hideouts, he guns down an unarmed henchman. But rather than reporting it, Vikram plants a gun and makes up a story to avoid an inquiry. “To clean filth, someone has to get their hands dirty,” he reasons to his boss and best friend Abbas (Satyadeep Mishra).
Then things take a turn. When intelligence reports a siting of Vedha, Vikram and his team begin setting up a plan to apprehend him. But they’re stunned when their most wanted target nonchalantly strolls into the police station and surrenders. Why would he come out of hiding? Why would he turn himself in? He won’t say a word until Vikram comes to interrogate him. Suddenly Vedha is ready to talk. “Shall I tell you a story sir?” he asks with a devious grin.
This begins a brilliantly written and well-acted chess match between Vikram and Vedha that plays out for the rest of film. Chunks of the story are told through flashbacks which Pushkar–Gayathri nicely utilize to fill in key details. We learn that Vedha has had a hand in sixteen murders and worked for a powerful heroin smuggler named Parshuram Pandey (Govind Pandey). But we also see another side of Vedha – one that shows his love for his little brother, Shatak (Rohit Saraf) and his efforts to keep Shatak out of the criminal lifestyle. This interesting complexity makes Vedha as much of a mystery to us as he is the Vikram.
Of course a showdown is all but inevitable, yet Pushkar–Gayathri’s keen plotting ensure the journey there is full of unexpected twists and turns. Several good supporting characters add layers to the narrative, including Vikram’s lawyer wife Priya (a really good Radhika Apte), Vedha’s arch-rival Babloo (Sharib Hashmi), and Shatak’s childhood friend Chanda (Yogita Bihani). And of course there are the bursts of action, full of stylish flourishes and driven by two Bollywood stars with wattage to spare. Put it all together and it’s hard not to be swept away by this rousing combination of savvy storytelling and popcorn spectacle. “Vikram Vedha” is now showing in select theaters.
If it arrives on Netflix, I might check it out. My mother is starting to enjoy some Bollywood content on Netflix.
Amazon carries a lot of Bollywood. I’m really glad to see it, although it’s a bummer because it’s taking the place of physical releases.
I didn’t know this was directed by a husband and wife duo. That’s pretty unusual. I’m curious to check this out based on your good review, Keith. I also like Radhika Apte whom I have seen in a few things.
Hey Ruth! Oh you definitely should. I’m a pretty big fan of it. And I like Apte too. She was terrific in A Call to Spy.
I doubt I’ll see it, loved RRR but the other half was a bit put off by the Bollywood vibe, i.e the singing and dancing!
They have their own unique vibe for sure. This is much more of a straight crime thriller.
Do check out Paatal Lok (mini-series) on Prime Video. Noir crime drama with true to life representation of Indian society. It’s a must watch.
p.s. i) No singing/dancing routine.
ii) Best Indian movies are from Malayalam film industry (Kerala).
Sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll definitely give it a look.