Six Years of Vikram Vedha – What worked for the south, didn’t for the rest
Comparisons are odious, and yet it’s inevitable in the human minds.
More so when the process takes over between a movie that hit the marquee in 2017 and a remake that arrived five years later.
The original arrived on July 21, 2017 (exactly six years ago) without much hype and turned out to be a sleeper hit. The audience loved the face-off between the then 47-year-old R. Madhavan essaying a much younger principled cop and 39-year-old Vijay Sethupathi playing a much-older and dreaded gangster. Accolades poured in and so did the money as the movie collected Rs.60 crore on a budget of Rs.11 crore.
Cut to 2022, and the same director duo of Pushkar and Gayathri, sought to recreate the magic with a Hindi version, that was a frame-to-frame copy of the original, barring the location. If the original delved into the North Chennai world of crime, the original moved to Lucknow and Kanpur. When the team announced that Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan would essay the protagonist and antagonist (not in the strictest sense), there was a collective groan from film aficionados, including self, who would have preferred actors and not stars to lead the way. The movie arrived in September 2022 and couldn’t recover its Rs.170 crore budget. So, what went wrong with the remake? Was it needed? Did the casting let the script down? Afterall, gangster stories have had a good fan following in the Hindi belt for as long as one can remember.
Over the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and watched the Hindi version on Jio Cinema, the movie being the platform’s first big OTT release, after it had cornered the World Cup Soccer and IPL rights. The Ambani family was flexing their financial muscle. Once the movie got over, my first reaction was, how and why did the movie not hit the bullseye? For starters, both the lead actors were more than competent, though Saif Ali Khan was at a disadvantage over Madhavan, whose effervescent boyish charm gave his tough cop act another dimension. The Pataudi scion too is charming, but the boyishness seems to have deserted him now (not surprising as he’s crossed 50). On the other hand, Hritihik Roshan packed away his Greek God physique to play Vedha in his own way, never once attempting to mimic Sethupathi. Hrithik was in his elements with that ‘Uttar Pradesh ka Bhaiyya’ gait and accent (a tad underdone) though it was his ability to impart a certain casual apathy to the character that made his version of Vedha both irritating and irresistible.
Now, if you are wondering where this comparison is going, that’s precisely what one couldn’t figure out. For a long time after finishing the movie, I kept thinking that I was missing something. And then it struck! In the Tamil version, the supporting cast was hand-picked for the roles, where you had the excellent Kathir and the sharp Varalakshmi Saratkumar portraying Vedha’s ill-fated brother and his older girlfriend. These characters turned into mere props in Hindi with actors, who brought nothing to the mix. In fact, Rohit Saraf appeared apologetic while lecturing his older brother, unlike Kathir who reflected authority on top of the respect he felt for Vedha. As for Yogita Bihani, who played Chanda, the less said the better. She looked right out of an item number and all the feistiness that Varalakshmi portrayed in the original was conspicuously missing.
But that’s not all. In the original Harish Peradi brought a sense of menace as the gang leader while Vivek Prasanna as the devious Ravi, who is on a mission to ruin Vedha was more than competent, holding their own against the bigger stars. In the Hindi version, while Sharib Hashmi was delicious as the Ravi-equivalent (Babloo), the same cannot be said about Govind Pandey as gangster boss Parasuram Pandey. To say the role was meek would be an understatement as the actor could do nothing much beyond twirling his moustache and looking like a 1970s Bollywood don whose only intention in life was to leer at the hero’s comely sister. And get beaten to pulp at some point in the narrative. Here, the character has shades, which went missing in the Hindi version, possibly because only black and white sells. There’s no scope for character nuances, which left most of the scenes between Vedha and Parasuram flat. This is where Peradi and Sethupathi made a lasting impact – their love-hate relationship, their mutual respect that finally results in a bloodbath where the gangs kill each other.
Even the leading lady (if one could use the term for what was largely a nondescript role) portrayals left much to be desired. Shraddha Shrinath matched Madhavan as the lawyer wife who ends up appearing on behalf of her husband’s arch enemy. She had oomph, self-esteem and anger in the right proportion, using it to good effect to counter Maddy’s charms. The role was essayed by Radhika Apte, who does have a good body of work to show but was mostly one-note in the Hindi version. For most part, she looked like a helpless person whom the rest of the cast push around. Nowhere did she appear to have a mind of her own, often whimpering when she should be angry as hell. Once again, was it the acting or did the directors change the persona to suit the audience?
There were other actors who came out second best in the Hindi version. Satyadeep Mishra as Abbas appeared a cinematic necessity whereas the original Simon was much more flesh-and-blood as the cop who honestly believes that his corrupt deeds were the cause of his son’s health issues and suffering. All-in-all, one would say the remake was watchable and could have been more so, if the directors had stuck to their original idea and brought in powerful actors in the supporting roles. Imagine a Pankaj Tripathi playing the corrupt gangster for whom Vedha works? Or a Vijay Verma playing the role of Abbas, who’s torn apart by conscience? True these roles are small, but knowing the actors, one is sure they’d have played the parts – had it been true to the original version.
While we may need superheroes to save the universe, Hindi cinema needs to be saved by the excellent character actors. As, it is they that provide the real acting chutzpah to a superstar helmed Bollywood blockbuster. If you’ve doubts, watch SRK battle John Abraham in Pathaan!