Cast: Kiccha Sudeep, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nirup Bhandari, Neetha Ashok
Director: Anup Bhandari
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Writer-director Anup Bhandari, helming his third feature film, puts all his eggs in two baskets in Vikrant Rona. One is represented by the movie’s impressive technical attributes, the other by the star power and screen presence of lead actor Sudeep.
Both of them work just fine but never more than in a wholly superficial manner. One gives Vikrant Rona, a Kannada period action-adventure fantasy with a Hindi version presented by Salman Khan and released nationwide, its sheen. The other ensures that it does not lack in starry poise and insouciance amid the unbridled chaos generated by the script’s conflicting pulls and pressures.
The twisted, overstretched tale blends social tensions, acts of revenge, haunted house scares, supernatural twists and police drama conventions to construct a universe in which secrets tumble out of every nook and cranny. The payoffs from all the scurrying around that the movie does in search of excitement are disappointingly limited.
Vikrant Rona plays out in a sparsely populated place named Kumarattu, where barring one palatial bungalow occupied by a local landlord, every structure, including a police station, is crumbling and shrouded in mystery.
The dense jungle makes for a visually striking setting. Its denizens are a bunch of confused people trapped in a screenplay that expends more energy on dazzling the audience with imagery than on giving the audience relatable material that it can grasp.
If only Vikrant Rona wasn’t as disorienting and disjointed in terms of the way in which it juggles its multiple and confounding components, it might have been a palatable exercise in visceral excess. Since it is mumbo jumbo that holds sway all the way, it is never quite out of the woods.
The overall impact of the superficial gloss – it is considerable and does serve a purpose – is severely undermined by the overly convoluted storyline and the uncontrolled pacing. The film runs ragged over a terrain that evokes wonder and fear but is difficult to decipher and digest.
Sudeep is in his elements. His steady-as-a-rock performance is about the only aspect of Vikrant Rona that is consistent. The actor resorts to measured and stylized methods to play the titular policeman who excels in dodging projectiles no matter from which direction they come at him. He knows his onions irrespective of the layers that he has to unpeel.
It is only when the film has wended its serpentine way to a violent climax that Vikrant Rona lets it rip and turns into a man of unstoppable action forsworn to protecting Kumarattu from the malign designs of ghosts from the past. The movie takes its time – it runs for nearly two and a half hours – to reveal the nature of the ghosts and the secrets of the past. One needs lasting power to sit – and sift – through the obdurate obscurities of the plot.
The plainclothes cop-hero arrives in a village deep inside a forest where an inspector has been decapitated. Vikrant Rona has roots in the hamlet and, therefore, has a stake in its well-being. His return is part of a personal mission.
It isn’t just the inspector before him who has lost his life in inexplicable circumstances. Several children have also been murdered in Kumarattu. Nobody has any clue who the killer could be. Occult practices are blamed for the tragic events.
Another young man, Sanju Gambhira (Nirup Bhandari), has returned after being incommunicado for 28 years. The boy’s father (Madhusudan Rao) is a man who wields a great deal of power around here. The patriarch’s childhood friend Vishwanath Ballal (Ravishankar Gowda), too, has made it back to the village from Mumbai (that is the city that is named in the Hindi dub) for the wedding of his daughter Aparna (Neetha Ashok).
But before the festivities can get underway, Vikrant Rona, unflappable and forever in superhero mode, has a bunch of hurdles to clear. The secrets that he himself nurtures and the ones that he is out to unearth are what the film centres on.
The Mumbai girl, who catches Sanju’s eye and starts what looks like a fling, and her kid brother end up in places that are meant to give them and the audience the heebie-jeebies. One such foray ends in a surprise twist and signals the halfway mark of the film.
What, pray, is Jacqueline Fernandez doing in Vikrant Rona? Not much. A scene and an item number are all that are apportioned to the Bollywood actress. Like everyone else in Vikrant Rona, she is in the film to support Sudeep, who gives her company in a key song-and-dance routine aimed at livening up – and lightening – the tone of the film. Not that it helps.
There is plenty of style on show in Vikrant Rona. The production design is elaborate and often eye-popping. It gives the film an ambitious scale that tends to overwhelm the turgid text. The 3D cinematography by William David (who also lensed Bhandari’s Rangitaranga and Rajaratha) is first-rate. The music (by B. Ajaneesh Loknath) does its bit to leaven the heavy-handed film a bit.
Once the surface glitter wears thin on account of over-indulgence, Vikrant Rona is a veritable slog, an exhausting film that lurches from one thing to another without ever achieving total clarity. Take Sudeep out of the film and it would be a complete washout notwithstanding all the sound and fury that it whips up.
The Hindi version, with an eye firmly on a pan-Indian audience, throws in a cop who speaks with a pronounced Marathi accent and even spouts a line or two in that language. Another man in khaki says he is from Chhapra district, to which the hero responds that his own native place isn’t far from there.
So, neither the film’s location nor the period is something that is easy to figure out. In one scene, the sound of a transistor excites somebody, suggesting that the action is unfolding in a period when a radio was a rarity at least in a place as remote as this.
Eventually, it does not really matter. Vikrant Rona isn’t interested in specificities. It seeks to overwhelm with the scale of its ambition. It falls well short of greatness but never stops trying. Whether one sees the film as a success or a failure depends on how one perceives the film’s persistent pursuit of thrills and shocks.