It may be a remake, but Pushkar and Gayatri's testosterone-fuelled action film Vikram Vedha can stand on its own two feet, thanks in large part to Hrithik Roshan's engaging performance.
The story takes inspiration from the ancient Indian legend of Vikram and Betaal, in which King Vikramaditya faces off against the demon Betaal, who outwits him again and again by entangling him in tales that end in riddles.
Vikram, played by Saif Ali Khan, is a virtuous police officer on the hunt for notorious gangster Vedha (Roshan). Caught up in a game of cat and mouse, each time Vikram gets close to nabbing his target, Vedha offers to tell him stories, which play out as flashbacks of his life.
To further complicate the storyline, Vikram's wife Priya (Radhika Apte) is Vedha's lawyer, which causes a high level of tension in several scenes.
But the film is not the simple battle between good and evil that the trailer would have you believe — there is more to it than meets the eye, and some of the best scenes are those in which the two lead characters face off over questions of morality, justice and the meaning of right and wrong.
The high-octane, occasionally gory drama is fast-paced, offering several twists and turns, and the stylistic slow-motion action scenes are done well, without veering into the monotonous.
The main track, Bande, plays intermittently throughout the film, adding the right amount of grunge and grit to the action scenes. The only dance number, added in an effort to “Bollywood-ise” the film, feels quite out of place and tips into the cringeworthy.
This Bollywood remake stays fairly faithful to the 2017 Tamil film starring R Madhavan as Vikram and Vijay Sethupathi as Vedha. It's almost a shot-for-shot remake — a safe move, given that the south Indian film did very well at the box office. Despite that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Roshan makes for a formidable antagonist in all his dishevelled glory, playing Vedha infinitely better than Sethupathi. He portrays the character with a swagger so impressive you cannot help but root for him.
Khan, on the other hand, pales in comparison to Madhavan's rendition of the character. Even if you see the Hindi film without watching the original, there is a sense of deja vu, as Khan played a similar role in the Netflix series Sacred Games.
Abu Dhabi stands in for Lucknow in the film. Twofour54's backlot in the Khalifa Industrial Zone was set up as the historical Indian city, and Al Wathba Wetland Reserve makes an appearance in a few scenes as well.
Whether or not you've seen the original, Vikram Vedha is certainly worth going to the cinema for, even if it's only to see Roshan in one of the best roles he has played in a while.
Vikram Vedha is in cinemas across the UAE on Friday.