Vikram Vedha review – swaggering Bollywood remake of Tamil crime caper

Vikram Vedha was a Tamil hit in 2017, a twisty, semi-subversive thriller in which a bad-ass Chennai cop and a wily criminal swap stories rather than blows or bullets. Mashing up mythological, procedural and rhetorical elements, it circled fresh genre territory before a dead-end payoff in an abandoned factory. Its makers, the married narrative strategists billed as Pushkar-Gayatri, now relocate to Lucknow for a Hindi remake with major Bollywood stars. Nothing about VV 2.0 refutes the idea that India’s best movie ideas are bubbling up from the south, but Pushkar-Gayatri have taken the money and really run with it. Longer and rangier, this version is also far more relaxed and enjoyable in its tale-telling, scattering swag with every plot swerve.

Replacing lived-in original leads Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi, who looked as if they would prefer a chinwag to sustained fisticuffs, we get Saif Ali Khan (as the cop Vikram) and Hrithik Roshan (Vedha, the hood): both visibly ready to rumble and nifty dramatic players who make their mutual interrogations zip and zing. In a further upgrade, Radhika Apte’s sceptical air makes Vikram’s lawyer wife Priya – entering this battle of manly wills as Vedha’s counsel – a more forceful presence. It is crucial to Pushkar-Gayatri’s mischievous project that the cop gets it from all sides, and Roshan displays such phosphorescent, screen-torching charisma that our sympathies are regularly redistributed.

The finale has not been overhauled, exactly: after the inventive leaps to get us there, it still feels like the conclusion of a conventional crime story. Yet souping up the narrative engine makes for a smoother ride through the falling bodies; the directors’ cutting and framing, sharp enough first time out, is more so here. Pushkar-Gayatri are keen tinkerers, and there is genuine pleasure in watching a Saturday-night spectacle where all the nuts, bolts and pistons are operating more or less as they should. A likely hit for an industry that sorely needs one – and a story that bears, and even improves with, repetition.

• Vikram Vedha is released on 30 September in cinemas.