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Your World. Your Stories. Everyday.

METEA MEDIA

Your World. Your Stories. Everyday.

METEA MEDIA

The cult classic ‘Vikram Vedha’ challenges conventional morality with striking shades of gray

Betaal+recites+the+tale+of+VikramVedha+to+Vikramaditya
Dhiya Ashlyn D.S.
Betaal recites the tale of VikramVedha to Vikramaditya

Moral ambiguity is too often thrown around as a way to easily introduce nuance to any character. It may increase audience engagement if they are kept unaware of who is “good” and who is “evil,” but too much might do the opposite. 2017’s Vikram Vedha rides that fine line between portraying shades of gray without blending them to incomprehension.

The story revolves around Vikram who is an honest police officer who believes in a binary morality. He uses law to justify his killings; his victims are all crooks, thieves, and criminals. On the other hand, Vedha is a cunning gangster who is morally complex; he believes that labeling people as purely “good” and “bad” is impossible due to the nuances presented by his experiences. When Vikram finds himself on a mission to capture Vedha, a renowned criminal at the time, things get personal very quickly.

The movie draws from a popular Indian television series, “Vikram Aur Betaal,” which describes the story of renowned King Vikramaditya on his quest to capture the ghost Betaal. Legend has it that as he was transporting the ghost, King Vikramaditya was obliged to listen to the stories Betaal would tell him. At the end of every story, Betaal would pose a question to Vikramaditya, and if the answer did not satisfy the spirit, there were dire consequences. Vikram and Vedha introduce a modern-retelling of this fable: a world where King Vikram is now an upstanding police officer, Vikram, and Betaal the Spirit is Vedha the gangster.

The articulation of the movie is noteworthy – the viewers follow Vikram as he uses all resources at his disposal to track and bring down Vedha. Vikram ends up face-to-face with Vedha on three occasions, but Vedha manages to weasel his way out each time, leaving Vikram on a rampage for answers.

The first time Vedha gets caught, he willingly surrenders to enter a conversation with Vikram. All other times, his surrenders are used as a phenomenal storytelling device with the purpose to slowly pull back the naive lens Vikram sees people’s actions through. The flashbacks Vedha tells of his upbringing and family, broken up into three acts for each time Vikram “catches” him, serve as a brilliant framing device for establishing how gray things can get.

The first time Vedha is caught, he points out that in an ideal world, the choice between persecuting someone who is “good” and someone who is “evil” is a relatively easy one to make. However, Vedha reveals the shades of gray that come into existence when categorizing people by using a binary morality. In their second encounter, Vedha shares his experiences with choosing between sentiment and duty and the backlash that came with the choice he made. The third act explains Vedha’s downfall and the betrayals he faced.

Each act of this sub-story ends with a rhetorical question that is posed to Vikram; these questions cause the audience to question whether our own moral compass is capable enough to judge others accurately. The answers to each question help Vikram on his current mission, physically capturing Vedha, and spiritually ascending to post-conventional morality.

Vedha’s character is incredibly interesting, but he does not have much of an arc beyond his rise to influence. His role is to facilitate Vikram’s character development. He is aware of the duty his circumstances gave him, and he fulfills it with finesse. As Vedha helps Vikram realize the many moral qualms that exist, Vedha gains an ally with whom he punishes the real wrongdoers and avenges his brother’s death. While his character does not change, how he affects Vikram’s decisions, and eventually his worldview, creates one of the best duo-character dynamics in a Tamil-language film.

Directors Gayatri and Pushkar included several scenes in between the three main interactions between the titular characters. These scenes centered around side characters are a trope in Indian action thrillers, and would normally over-clutter a film and take away from the coherency, but not here.

The fact that Vikram’s wife, Priya, is assigned her first big case as a lawyer to defend Vedha, creates fractures in their relationship. When asked to give up her case to let her husband succeed, she questions Vikram on why he couldn’t do the same for her. Neither back down, and we see Vikram ignore his responsibilities as a human being for the sake of his job again. He uses the information his wife has on Vedha and tracks him down. This creates more tension between Priya and Vikram’s relationship. However, the next time Priya meets with her Vedha, he asks her to do him a favor: to help her husband when he is confused. Priya eventually realizes that she has become a carrier pigeon for Vikram and Vedha.

Gayatri and Pushkar managed to ensure that all subplots simultaneously stand on their own and support the main storyline by connecting to the same themes of complicated morality.

Being a gangster-flick, a beyond oversaturated genre in Indian cinema, the film shares many of the same overdone traits. It glorifies violence, utilizes John-Wick style elevations, and overuses the “cool” factor, especially with a little too many slo-mo shots. Yet, for a film that sounds so cliche and basic on paper, the complex writing and satisfying screenplay carry it to heights that its spiritual successors still struggle to reach.

Basing an entire story on moral ambiguity is not easy. When filmmakers choose to step between black and white, they must decide on what they’re trying to do. While its commentary on moral duality is inconclusive, as the movie ends on a final question without an answer, every new shade of gray it introduces acts as another nuanced layer, without turning into an indiscernible mess, and that is a feat of its own.

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About the Contributors
Dhiya is a sophomore and a reporter for The Stampede. She enjoys creative writing, music, art, and spending time with friends. She is also a classical dancer and spends an unnecessary amount of time daydreaming about and watching Tamil cinema.
Ven is the Multimedia editor, and this is his senior year at Metea. He loves movies, music, and anything that tells a great story. In his natural habitat, he can be found intently homeworking, randomly ranting, spending time with friends, and doing other things people do.

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