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Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram is a massive underutilisation of the brilliant actor that Kamal Haasan is

Vikram is devoid of Kamal-isms. Though the actor-politician seemingly adapts himself to the Lokesh Kanagaraj cinematic universe, the James Bond-esque film doesn't live up to the hype

  • S Subhakeerthana

Last Updated: 05.22 PM, Jun 06, 2022

Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram is a massive underutilisation of the brilliant actor that Kamal Haasan is
A collage of Kamal Haasan's stills from Vikram; Lokesh Kanagaraj

Kamal Haasan hasn't had a release since 2018. We saw him last in Vishwaroopam 2, which fetched mixed reviews. Naturally, the expectations were sky-high for Vikram, which hit the screens on June 3. For those who wanted to have a good time in the theatres, I am sure, Vikram would have made for a good watch. And, there are fans like me, who were waiting to experience a 'Kamal Haasan film' after four years, and for those, Vikram is a disappointment.

Kamal Haasan has spoilt us with fantastic films like Varumayin Niram Sivappu (1980), Moondram Pirai (1982), Michael Madana Kamarajan (1990), Apoorva Sagotharargal (1989), Nayakan (1987), Mahanadhi (1994) and so on. He has set a certain benchmark. So, anything that doesn't meet that expected level of experience certainly is a letdown. Vikram takes its time to reveal itself and borrows a lot from the Kaithi universe—a truckload of guns, goons, darker nights, drunken characters, some terrific stunt sequences, and solid theatrical moments. Kamal Haasan is as pure as an action hero and his character goes on a mission to see a drug-free society, someday.

In the initial scenes, Karnan (Kamal Haasan) gets killed. But that's not what it is. Lokesh shows him as a mysterious person and an alcoholic; also, a doting grandfather and a womaniser. Undercover cop Amar (Fahadh Faasil) investigates the rest of the proceedings. Soon, the kingpin of a drug network, Santhanam (Vijay Sethupathi), comes into the picture. Though you don't understand much of what he speaks, the effort Vijay Sethupathi has put in is evident, especially in the climactic sequences. The actor has quirky body language; he's seen with three wives and golden teeth.

In his fourth outing as a director, Lokesh Kanagaraj had quite a lot of expectations resting on him, owing to the mammoth success of Maanagaram and Kaithi. He's one of those new-gen directors, whose films have been exhaustively decoded, paving the way for his own Cinematic Universe. Lokesh Kanagaraj writes his characters and scenes in a specific way, and they bear the definitive stamp of his style all over. The initial novelty of the action sequences in Vikram wears off after a point. Kaithi worked without the filmmaker trying much. But I can't say the same for Vikram. The film doesn't bring the same kind of cinematic experience that Lokesh Kanagaraj offered in Kaithi.

Karnan is fiercely protective of his grandson, but they barely spend time together. You don't understand why he feels so much for the child. You just get a couple of scenes where Karnan boils milk for the little one. Also, there's a shot that features the child resting close to Karnan's chest. Thus, as an audience, you don't feel invested in the emotional scenes of Vikram. Lokesh Kanagaraj tries hard to squeeze your tear ducts, but it hardly works.

Some scenes feel distant and disconnected, but it is amazing how a legend like Kamal Haasan chose to reinvent himself, as an actor, with Vikram. And, he remarkably succeeds in the attempt. But, what's heartbreaking is that he gracefully lets Fahadh Faasil and Vijay Sethupathi shine throughout the film. You don't see Kamal Haasan dominate in the first half. He is one of the actors, or rather, a 'ghost'. But, he is back with a bang in the interval. Until then, it's a full-on Fahadh Faasil show. The rest of the story shows how Karnan IS ALSO THE VIKRAM. Otherwise, there’s not much of a story, to grab hold of.

Generally, the women characters in Kamal Haasan films get a good space. Take Sathi Leelavathi, for instance, despite Kamal Haasan's presence, there was ample space for Heera Rajagopal, Kalpana and Kovai Sarala. They were such well-written characters. Even in a commercial film like Thevar Magan, Gautami and Revathy's presence was felt. I'd say Vikram is a strange film that way. (Gayathrie Shankar looked great, but there's nothing more to her role). I despise Lokesh Kanagaraj for not writing strong roles for women. I had the same problem while watching his earlier outings, Kaithi and Master.

There's a Nayagan reference in Vikram, besides the other few references to the 1986-film (directed by Rajashekar). There are superb actors like Santhana Bharathi and Elango Kumaravel, and watch out for the scenes involving them with Kamal Haasan.

I quite liked Agent Tina (Vaasanthi), as well. She went all guns blazing in Vikram and is quite a revelation. But, besides that, I felt the film had a lot of forgettable characters. The screenplay is overloaded with action. Just that, and nothing else. Lokesh Kanagaraj creates that particular hit of adrenaline with the action heightened to such a grand scale. But it begs the question—at what/whose cost?

The awe factor, one usually finds in a Kamal Haasan film, was missing in Vikram. It was there, of course, in Dasavatharam, Thoongavanam and Uttama Villain. Say, a remake film like Papanasam had a 'Kamal touch', which, I felt, was missing in Vikram. No doubt, the man returns to form in this ambitious Lokesh Kanagaraj project. But, still, something was missing, which I can't put into words. Vikram looks slick, and has everything from a foot-tapping opening kuththu number, and action, to thrills and humour, but lacks organic emotions.

While the background score was largely satisfying, Pathala Pathala was not placed properly in Vikram. What a delightful sight it was to witness a super energetic Kamal Haasan dance, on the big screen. But, the problem was that the chartbuster seemed forced-fit into the narrative. Even before the song could finish, the film started, which I felt was a bit abrupt.

Kamal Haasan can make an ordinary film look extraordinary. Imagine, Vikram has the MAN HIMSELF and still looks bland. It is apparent that he had a blast playing Karnan/Vikram. The actor in him still pushes his boundaries and is experimenting with different genres, even after spending six decades in cinema. But, when will Kamal Haasan get the film he deserves?

Lokesh Kanagaraj is such a visual raconteur. Every single thing in his films is specifically designed. And, nothing happens by accident. The whole thing put together is quite amazing to watch. But, anyone could have been Karnan in Vikram. Say, any good-looking actor. But, why would you need KAMAL HAASAN for it? Vikram, which runs close to three hours, is riveting in parts, but it could have been much more. 

There’s a crucial scene in which Karnan aka Vikram explains whatever he does is a statement of valour. I think the same holds good for Kamal Haasan himself. He has done 230 plus films. And, by shouldering Vikram, he has made a statement that he's still a brave actor. After all, "once a lion, always a lion!"