Two smart decisions work in favour of Pushkar-Gayatri’s Hindi remake of their Tamil film Vikram Vedha from 2017. The Hindi version, which bears the same title, retains the original screenplay’s single-most attractive quality: slyness.

The Tamil version of Vikram Vedha started out as a regular cop-versus-gangster movie before moving into a debate about moral relativism. Inspired by the Betalpachisi folk tales, Vikram Vedha was built around three conversations between the police officer Vikram and the gangster Vedha. Both have a long list of kills to their names. What is the difference anyway, Vedha wonders – a question that ricochets through the flashback-laden structure before taking the narrative into a wholly unexpected direction. The remake replicates the original film’s beats, if to a somewhat more muted degree.

The second clever choice is the handling of the actor tasked with stepping into the gargantuan shoes of Vijay Sethupathi, who brilliantly played Vedha in the Tamil production. Knowing well that Sethupathi is irreplaceable, Pushkar-Gayatri have moulded the Hindi-language Vedha around Hrithik Roshan, who brings immense star power to the role along with a newfound ease before the camera.

Roshan has never been this relaxed, not even in War (2019), where his undercover agent left audiences in thrall to his presence. For Vikram Vedha, Roshan sheds the kilos, acquires an age-appropriate scruffiness and never makes the mistake of trying to imitate Sethupathi.

The heavy lifting is left to a bulked-up Saif Ali Khan as Vikram. As a member of a special task force in Uttar Pradesh, Vikram is an expert in dressing up extra-judicial executions. Vikram and his team know exactly how to manipulate a crime scene to make so-called encounters look like retaliatory killings. Vikram’s rationale for his actions is muddled by Vedha’s counter-narrative.

Saif Ali Khan in Vikram Vedha. Courtesy YNot Studios/T-Series/ Reliance Entertainment/Friday Filmworks/Jio Studios.

The cast includes Sudhanva Deshpande as Vikram’s boss, Satyadeep Mishra as Vikram’s colleague, Sharib Hashmi as Vedha’s associate, Rohit Saraf as Vedha’s brother Shatak and Yogita Bihani as Shatak’s lover. Radhika Apte plays Vikram’s wife Priya, a lawyer who is representing Vedha. I’m merely a go-between, Priya complains at one point, which pretty much sums up her place in a film that revolves around two strong-willed men on a collision course.

Despite being a faithful remake, there are times when Vikram Vedha feels like it has lost a few shades while being put through the photocopier. The source film’s grunginess makes way for bright lighting, choreographed action sequences and slow-motion views of Khan and Roshan striding across the screen.

Also eroded in the journey from Tamil to Hindi is the trust reposed in audiences to keep following the complex contours of the good-versus-evil debate. The often-banal Hindi dialogue by BA Fida and Manoj Muntashir, which is overlaid by deafening background music, is more concerned with rolling out punchlines than raising doubts about what we think we know about crime and punishment.

The Hindi version is powered by the innate cleverness of the original concept, Pushkar-Gayatri’s filmmaking chops, and Hrithik Roshan’s effortless cool. Saif Ali Khan brings a nervy quality to his portrayal of Vikram, while Radhika Apte makes her handful of scenes count. But this two-hander was always meant to be a solo act.

If the Tamil film was a Vijay Sethupathi show, the Hindi remake is a Hrithik Roshan joint. Roshan’s full-tilt glam adds a fourth line of inquiry to Vedha’s conscience-pricking triptych. Do we believe Vedha because of what he is saying or because of the movie star who is doing the asking? Like Vedha’s other dilemmas, this question too has a self-evident reply.

Vikram Vedha (2022).

Also read:

Why the Tamil hit ‘Vikram Vedha’ has been remade in Hindi

Why we’re going to be seeing much more of web series ‘Suzhal’ creators Pushkar-Gayatri