Cast: Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
In his fourth directorial outing, Lokesh Kanagaraj gives full rein to the Kamal Haasan fanboy in him even as he blends elements from a film that the superstar headlined three-and-a-half decades ago with components from the crime-infested universe of his own smash hit Kaithi (2019).
The result – released in Hindi as Vikram: Hitlist, Kamal Haasan’s first release in four years – isn’t without its share of flaws but it is never less than exciting: a potent, persuasive medley of genres. The film has it all – espionage, serial killings, vigilantism, a covert police investigation and a drug bust that unleashes mayhem.
Vikramwhich shares its title with a 1986 film in which Kamal Haasan played a secret agent on the trail of an intercontinental ballistic missile that goes missing in transit, revolves around a crusade for a “drug-free world”.
Kanagaraj wrote the script with Kamal Haasan primarily in mind. Vikram: Hitlist does not, however, go overboard with its obeisance to the veteran. The latter, on his part, leaves room for co-actors Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil to share the limelight in a compelling action thriller packed with explosions, chases, gunfights, hyper-heroic acts and all the stuff that the writer-director needs in order to conjure up a cinematic universe of his own.
Kamal Haasan, who has produced the film under his Raj Kamal Films International banner, starts off the proceedings with a musical set piece that is hardly of a piece with the rest of the hi-octane crime drama. No sooner has the song run its course than he disappears for a bit only to resurface in brief flashbacks, leaving the audience wondering what the deal really is.
The deal is that, with Kamal Haasan stepping away from the spotlight, the script carves out space for Fahadh Faasil, in the guise a plainclothes cop who specializes in dangerous undercover operations, to make his presence felt. He, of course, delivers more than just occasional flashes of genius. Faasil’s is a performance of sustained brilliance.
Even when Vijay Sethupathi, playing a dreaded drug lord desperately looking for a shipment that has dropped out of sight, steps in to add another striking dimension to the tale, it is Faasil, delivering a characteristically effortless performance that straddles a wide spectrum of emotions, who steals the thunder.
In its first 20-30 minutes or so, Vikram: Hitlist delivers a somewhat disorienting information overload. As one struggles to grasp the goings-on and the befuddled mind wanders a touch, one does have three actors on the screen who you cannot take your eyes off. However, as the pace of the film settles and the flurry of details gives way to steadier plot exposition, it all begins to fall in place and soar.
A consignment of raw substance shipped for the production of thousands of kilograms of cocaine is whisked away by a brave young policeman in Chennai. A series of murders, including that of Karan (Kamal Haasan), follows. It leaves the city police force groping for answers.
Amar (Faasil), a policeman whos in the shadows and is operating only for top secret missions, is called in to nab a gang of mysterious masked men who are believed to be responsible for the killings. As his probe progresses, the film reveals snatches from the life of the dead Karan, raising a string of questions about the man and his fate.
Masks, assume identities and fate play key roles in Vikram: Hitlist. We are told that Amar’s name might not be his real one. Nobody quite knows what lies behind the face. Even his girlfriend (Gayathrie Shankar) is in the dark about the nature of his job – concealment is a necessary part of who Amar is.
Moreover, it also begins to appear as if the image that the murdered Karan has left the world with – that of an alcoholic womanizer – may only be a smokescreen. It is for the super sleuth Amar to discover the missing pieces and complete the jigsaw puzzle.
Kamal Haasan packs a punch as an action-oriented character who is capable of being mindful of his advancing years and paternal instincts. He is a grandfather to a boy with a worrisome medical condition, a facet of the character that comes to the fore as the film begins to reveal facts of a life and a career that have been off the radar for a long while.
Chandan (Vijay Sethupathi), a drug addict whose mind works markedly faster than his tongue, emerges at the end of Amar’s search. But are the police any closer to solving the serial murder case? And where does a spy who vanished into the cold fit into a running battle between the drug mafia and the anti-narcotics bureau?
Kanagaraj is no hurry to throw light on the whys and wherefores of the actions that the film opens with and the developments that take place in the aftermath. But we stay consistently invested because Vikram: Hitlist is a lively blend of a slow crackle and a frenetic full-steam-ahead rhythm.
Vikram: Hitlist has at least two other ‘stars’ who are at their very best: director of photography Girish Gangadharan and music composer Anirudh. The Angamaly Diaries and Jallikattu The cinematographer lends the film stunning fluidity, while Anirudh comes up with a background score that acquires a life of its own and gushes through the thriller like an unstoppable mountain stream.
Vikram: Hitlist gets a tad repetitive at its business end but the propulsive nature of the action and the quality of the principal performances – a few of the supporting actors, too, get their opportunities, especially Narain whose Kaithi character, Inspector Bejoy, and Vasanthi who plays a housemaid with a secret whose revelation turns out to be one of high points of Vikram: Hitlist.
Kamal Haasan is, as has been already emphasizing, fabulous. Vijay Sethupathi fleshes out an edgy criminal whose frazzled heart and added mind push him in startling directions. Fahadh Faasil sails through his role with such aplomb that one can never have enough of him. How tantalizing is the prospect that the consummate show-stealer will be back to reprise the role – repeatedly hopefully – as the Lokesh Kanagaraj universe expands and moves into the future!