All progress of humanity can be attributed to 2 factors – storytelling and questioning. Storytelling is how knowledge was passed across generations before the invention of record keeping techniques. The primordial W’s (Who, what, where, when and why) are what propelled humans from the darkness of caves to the well-lit skyscrapers. Vikram Vedha deftly uses these 2 tropes to build an engrossing narrative.
‘Oru kadha sollata sir (shall I tell you a story sir)?’ asks Vedha (Vijay Setupathi), the wanted fugitive to Vikram (R. Madhavan) the cop. What follows is the shattering of the underlying beliefs that Vikram lives by. It is a nourish retelling of the Vikraam-Betaal folklore. Like the tale, this movie revolves around the ‘stories’ narrated by Vedha and the answers that Vikram seeks.
The interrogation Scene- Lines are drawn(?)
When Vikram and Vedha first meet, the backstory of Vikram is established. We know his work as an encounter cop, his teammates, his love story, his like for bikes and scotch and more importantly we know of his beliefs. Vedha on the other hand is an enigma, a ‘ghost’ fabricated from hearsay. The movie is preparing us to expect a ruthless villain which is accentuated by his brilliantly executed ‘surrender’ scene. It reminds one of Raymond Reddington’s surrender that kicks of the hugely successful TV show Blacklist. So, when they finally meet on the opposite ends of the interrogation room table, the lines are virtually drawn. There is a cop and there is a criminal, the good and the bad, one dressed in white the other in black. Vikram literally marks this line at the start of the questioning. ‘Indha pakkam naan, andha pakkam nee’.
That is when the tables metaphorically turn, for it is not Vikram who is asking the questions but Vedha. Each of Vedha’s stories and the follow up question is a pound of hammer on the foundation of Vikram’s beliefs.
Belief Number 1: There are no in-betweens.
Vikram inherits this life lesson from his father. A simplistic way of looking at things, in black and white, right, and wrong, criminals and cops – the last one becomes his chosen profession. It does not matter that his father himself was a digression to this rule. A good police officer who would take the corporal punishment at home little too seriously. Vedha is Vikram’s introduction to the world of in-betweens. Tinges of grey start appearing on the colour palette. The line starts to blur.
Belief 2: Ability to identify a criminal
You should be able to look into the eyes of a person and tell if he is a criminal or not. This is the lullaby that helps Vikram drift to a peaceful sleep every night. The extra judicial killings he and his team engage in, needs a backward rationalization. He passes it on with pride to the new joiner in his team. And yet he fails to see the ‘criminals’ he is surrounded by. He is not able to identify the sins committed by his close friend Simon even after he as much as confesses during his ‘sins of the father’ speech. Vikram, like Vedha says ‘Is a horse with blinders’ who pulls his ‘station’ wagon without any questions. His senior’s acres of farm, the ‘single payment’ bike taken by his team mate never register as a red flag in his head. This is a cop whose job involves looking for clues, but he does not give a second thought about the digressions of his fellow cops.
The characters in Vedha’s stories help him realize the fallacy of his belief. When answering Vedha’s 2nd question he inadvertently arrives at the conclusion that ‘Puli is an innocent’. What he could not see in Puli’s eyes, what Simon knew and hence hesitated. Eyes could answer everything, only if the eyes were asked. Vikram’s equine vision is slowly restored to detect grey in the visible spectrum.
Vedha piggy backs on Vikram and guides him through this muddled maze where cops and criminals exist not as good or bad, but players in a money-making game. The line is not merely blurred but is at vanishing point. Beneath the black or white exterior, there is predator and there is prey. Vikram must find out who is which, lest his head explodes with the questions galore. The folklore spread over the standard serving of criminal-cop drama makes for an interesting bite. The movie itself remains in the in-between territory of good and excellent.