Saturday, July 2, 2022

"It was time..." - Not another review of Vikram

I was five years old when the original Vikram was released.  In the early 90s, I watched the film for the first time on Doordarshan on a Sunday evening.  I was struck by a couple of things.  The coolness of the first half.  And the dumbness of the second half!  After a point, the film seemed to meander aimlessly, with the shoddy graphics in the climax a far cry from the rousing opening sequence where the rocket was captured by the villain.  So, the 1986 film was not one that I was especially fond of.  But the Kamal Hassan fanatic I am, when the first Vikram teaser (for the 2022 version, that is) was released, I somehow felt instinctively that it was going to be a better film.  Something told me – gosh, I sound like Anju in Keladi Kanmani! – that this would be, at the very least, a rollicking ride.  And when I watched the film on the second day of release, my cup of joy began to overflow.

As I mentioned in the title, no, this is not a review of the film.  It is very rare that I feel so much of ‘ownership’ (for the lack of a better term) of a film that I cannot trust myself to do a balanced analysis of a film.  It was because of the delirious state that I found myself in while watching the film.  With writer-director Lokesh Kanagaraj at the helm, it was not surprising to see the film get on with its business from the word, go.  The Pathala Pathala… song was hyped up beyond measure.  But in the actual film, truth to be told, it didn’t do much for me.  It was probably because I was waiting to see Kamal in ‘action’ (pun intended).  The moment where I said to myself, “There’s my Kamal” was the death scene.  The tears, the gesture to the crowd to leave, the easy-chair posture with the grandkid, were all moments where I was struggling to get into the drama of the scene.  Yes, the critics would say that great acting should make the actor fade out and become the character.  And Kamal’s acting in that scene is indeed great.  But I was not a critic (even a wannabe one) watching that scene.  I was a fan admiring his idol’s every move.

The much-celebrated pre-intermission scene made me rue the fact that I was not in a packed theater in Chennai.  I would have enjoyed the whistles and applause as much as the swagger and the action.  In that scene, I actually was enjoying Fahadh Faasil’s acting considerably.  There is a hint of a smile when he says that the Kamal character is not a myth anymore.   And I thought to myself, “This is Kamal’s first major sequence in this film.  And yet, he doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting!”  I was grinning from ear to ear thinking of films where Kamal had shouldered the lion’s share of the burden – in terms of time, thinking, effort, and even finances – and yet the rewards were hardly commensurate to the Himalayan effort put in.  Yet here he was, playing a role in a film where the director, his crew and the stellar ensemble cast were all playing vital roles in essentially creating a celebratory experience for him and his fans.  I was reminded of Sachin Tendulkar on the day of the World Cup final in 2011.  He hadn’t exactly done anything noteworthy on that day except score a couple of lovely boundaries in a short innings.  But after having carried him on his shoulders, Virat Kohli mentioned, rather eloquently and evocatively, that Tendulkar “carried the burden of the nation for 21 years.  It was time we carried him.”

There is a sequence in the second half where Kamal goes into a place of danger to fetch a bottle of milk for his grandson.  The way I was enjoying that action sequence was what convinced me that I should not dare write a review of this film.  You know why?  Had I been in more of a critic mode, I would have questioned the logic of that scene.  Was that milk powder not something that he could have gotten elsewhere?  Instead of taking on the villains, had he shown his gun to a security officer of a nearby supermarket, he could have spared a few broken bones and teeth!  But no, I was in no mood to question the logic of that decision.  Just to hear him say things like, “tough kudukkare” to his grandson, made it worth it.  And is there an Indian actor that can exclaim, “attaboy” with as much attitude as Kamal Hassan?

I must be thankful for the love that Lokesh Kanagaraj exhibits towards not only Kamal but also his body of work.  Apart from the slightly more obvious references to his earlier films, I liked the fact that the makeup of Kalidas Jayaram in the scene where he is tied to a chair evoked a similar scene with Arjun in Kuruthi Punal.  There is a certain grace and finesse that Lokesh displays in weaving in moments that never detract attention from his storytelling yet give fans of Kamal reason after reason to rejoice and relish the man’s return to the big screen.  To paraphrase a line from the title song, Nayagan meendum vandhu vittaan.  And how!

I remember The Hindu review of Nammavar where the critic had written, “Kamal has fought tougher screen battles before.”  That applies here too.  But the difference is that Nammavar, as good a film as it was, was not a commercial success.  Vikram has turned out to be one of the biggest blockbusters of Kamal’s career.  Just like no fan of Sachin really complained about the fact that he scored only 18 in that famous World Cup final, no true follower of Kamal is complaining about the fact that Kamal has “fought tougher screen battles.”  Kohli and company were more than happy to carry Sachin on their shoulders.  Thanks to Lokesh, we can do the same for Kamal.  Because…it is time.

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