The year 2022 has been a spectacular one for Indian cinema. Multiple movies released this year took up considerable space in the cultural zeitgeist, becoming massive nationwide trends. South Indian films continued to take over the Indian cinemascape, with some of the biggest movies of the year coming out of the regional South Indian industries: KGF 2, Ponniyan Selvan, and the global blockbuster RRR.
By all appearances, the Tamil movie Vikram belonged to the same league; audiences acknowledged as much. It boasted some of the most prodigious performers from Indian cinema, like Kamal Hassan and Vijay Sethupathi, showcasing a grand scale of action that was on the same level as KGF 2 or Pushpa. But the movie didn’t gain quite the same cultural foothold as its peers. For all its brilliance, Vikram boasted a very different kind of mastery than RRR or KGF 2. While director S.S. Rajamouli sought to focus on a single grand emotion, Vikram weaved a thrilling, intricate narrative whose merits were found in its pitch-perfect execution.
Somewhere along the way, the movie lost out on the mass appeal that it deserved. But based purely on its cinematic brilliance, Vikram is clearly one of the best Indian movies of 2022. Here’s why.
The Storytelling Genius of Lokesh Kanagaraj
The man behind Vikram, Lokesh Kanagaraj, is a relative newbie in the Tamil film industry, having directed only three other feature films before this. But the young writer-director has quickly proven himself to be a capable storyteller, with a highly particular vision. His stylistic preferences can be noted even in his debut film, Maanagaram, which was a crime thriller with multiple intertwined narratives.
Kanagaraj displayed a deep understanding of this narrative technique in his first movie, starting off at what is practically the second act and using flashbacks to lay out the exposition. Tense dialogues act as the glue in every scene, setting the perfect tone for a crime thriller and elevating a potentially dull experiment into a movie with genuine heart and substance.
Vikram shows the same cinematic signatures in a greatly evolved form. Within the first ten minutes, the movie lays out complex stakes and establishes an entire ensemble of shady characters. The movie then takes the narrative perspective of a black-ops squad that has been enlisted to hunt down a secret group of cop-killing terrorists. While this is happening, the viewer senses a lot going on behind the scenes — they just don’t have the details yet. Vikram moves ahead at a quick pace, but is never incoherent in its storytelling. By the end of the first ten minutes, the viewer is effectively hooked in, and more than likely to trust the hands that shaped the movie.
The Art of the Opening Scene
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of a good opening scene. It separates a good movie from a bad one, and Vikram’s one-minute-long opening scene is nothing short of a masterclass in the way it grips the audience and sets up the intrigue.
Vikram opens as if to the aftermath of a whole other series of events, revealing a massive cache of drugs that is being hidden in a building. It is shown to be the handiwork of a single police officer, who is tensely coordinating with a superior officer over the phone. As is the case with Maanagaram, it is this actor and his dialogues that set the tone for the scene. It is clear that the task comes with great peril; the sense of mortal danger is palpable throughout.
The brief phone call deepens the foundation for this chilling tone. The officer speaks in short, clipped sentences, each of which strengthen the sense of intrigue. It is revealed that only the two participants of the call know about this location. The extreme secrecy appears to be crucial. The viewer gets the sense of powerful forces hovering around. The stakes laid out in the minute-long opening scene casts a shadow over the entire rest of the movie, as all parties involved are in search of this very treasure.
A Cast Full of Heavyweights
The strong writing of Lokesh Kanagaraj notwithstanding, he reeled in some of the most respected acting talents from India to bring Vikram to life. Kanagaraj elected to cast actors who were renowned not just for their stardom, but revered for their acting prowess. At the forefront of the robust cast are three names: Kamal Hassan, Vijay Sethupathi, and Fahadh Faasil. Each of these actors have their own legend associated with them, with Hassan maintaining the biggest repute.
South Indian cinema has a unique tradition where fans give their idols loving nicknames. The veteran icon Hassan is best known by the nickname Ulaganayagan, meaning the ‘universal hero’. According to Times of India, the nickname indicated that he “belonged to the league of global acting talent” and that it “came into existence during a time when fans believed that he would win an Oscar for his acting prowess.”
Sethupathi, on the other hand, experienced a meteoric rise in Tamil cinema after being recognized as a gifted natural. His filmography is full of diverse roles, and he has garnered exceptional reviews for his work, with critics often complimenting his natural instincts and his ability to build unique characterizations for even the most generic roles. Vikram features his most distinctive role yet as a charismatic and ruthless leader of a drug manufacturing gang.
Meanwhile, Faasil plays the leader of the black-ops team in Vikram, and his perspective drives the plot during much of the first half. Faasil has something of a cult following as his filmography is filled with experimental roles. The subtle, dark quality that he brings to his performance functions as a valuable element of Vikram’s overall tone.
The most interesting part about Vikram’s cast is that none of the actors stand out in any exaggerated fashion. Even the leading actors with their outsized mythos serve the story with their distinctive qualities, and supporting characters can appear more nuanced than the lead characters at times.
The Lokesh Cinematic Universe
Building a cinematic universe in the style of the MCU seems like a reasonable extension for Kanagaraj, whose filmmaking style mainly involves elaborate backstories and interwoven narratives. With the release of Vikram, Kanagaraj formally announced his desire to create a cinematic universe of his very own. But he had already kicked off this cinematic universe with his last movie, Kaithi, which seamlessly connected to Vikram as its direct prequel.
This planned cinematic universe has been dubbed the Lokesh Cinematic Universe, stylized at times as the Lokiverse. This is not the first attempt at creating a cinematic universe within Indian cinema; there are a few others currently underway. But the Lokiverse holds the best and most credible chance at becoming a truly organic cinematic universe, one that is also a genuinely admirable body of art. Rather than serving as a mere string to bring this cinematic universe together, Vikram and Kaithi both succeed in elevating themselves on the basis of their interconnected lore. You can watch either of these movies without the other, and still find a complete and satisfying cinematic experience. The fact that there’s more to the story that you can go look up in a different movie is just the icing on the cake.
Vikram has all the markings of a great movie with the promise to deliver more with time. Although Kanagaraj’s stylistic preferences pull him towards intricate cinematic structures, Vikram pitches a perfect balance between complex structure and elements of mass appeal. While RRR managed to win hearts with its unabashed melodrama, Vikram too deserves to be recognized for its cinematic accomplishments.