Dissecting Sudeep’s Vikrant Rona: The good, the bad and the Rangitaranga universe

Kannada superstar Sudeep had said that his latest movie Vikrant Rona had the potential to become a franchise. But, what he didn’t say is that Vikrant Rona was the extension of a cinematic universe that director Anup Bhandari started building about seven years ago. Anup’s first film Rangitaranga made a splash in Karnataka as everyone embraced the director’s mystery thriller set against the visually rich background of coastal Karnataka.

The source of Rangitaranga’s mystery stemmed from the culture of the area. It seemed novel at the time as mainstream films had not really explored the region in terms of the lifestyle, social and cultural beliefs as this film did. The bhootha culture, the spirit worship, was the beating heart of the movie. In the film, Anup had designed the drama in a way that the narration gave a duality to ‘bhootha.’ The ‘bhootha’ in the film was both the saviour and tormentor. People who worshipped the ‘bhootha’ also feared it. The colourful face painting and the eye-catching regal costumes of those who performed ‘bhootha aradhana’ gave the film a great visual background and added to the whole experience of learning about a rich, and diverse culture.

Rangitaranga was set against the backdrop of a fictional village called Kamarottu. And it followed the serial killings of pregnant women in the village. And of course, by the end of the movie, the mystery gets resolved, good people live and bad people die. And that’s that or at least that’s what we thought.

Anup gave hardly any clues about Vikrant Rona’s connection with Rangitaranga. Even the trailer did not help the audience to make the connection, except for verses, ‘Gara Gara Gara Gara Pir Nalkuri Netthara’, mouthed by Sudeep’s character. And these verses were part of the chorus of ‘Dennana Dennana’ from RangiTaranga.

The connection between Rangitaranga and Vikrant Rona may not have hit the audience until they watched the movie, and found out that this film was also set in Kamarottu. And the events in Vikrant Rona happen many years before the events of Rangitaranga.

Vikrant Rona is a period piece, a key driver character in the movie complains about ditching the car as fuel prices have skyrocketed to Rs 6 per litre. And it’s clever of Anup to expand his first movie, which was a hit with the masses, into a small cinematic universe. But, the movie would have benefited from solid writing that was as immersive as the 3D format.

Logically, there are several loopholes in the movie but none are as glaring as the ones concerning the film’s themes. Kamarottu is shaken by a series of child murders. In the very opening moments of the movie, we see the body of a young child hanging from a tree. It’s unsettling and makes us immediately care about the other young child, who’s alive and full of life, in the same scene. And Anup successfully takes hold of our attention only to gradually lose us with a series of half-baked red herrings, which undercuts the interest in drama. As we anxiously wait for the killer to strike again, and hope that Vikrant Rona will protect the children, we are taken down the rabbit hole of a murder investigation.

Vikrant Rona arrives in Kamarottu as a replacement for a dead cop or that’s what Anup wants us to believe for his big final reveal. But, to ensure an engrossing climax, Anup plays fast and loose with the themes, conflicts, emotions and the characters that he introduces to us at the beginning of the story.

A still picture from Vikrant Rona.

For example, Vikrant Rona comes across as a daredevil cop, who has no skin in the game. We think he comes to Kamarottu to unravel the mystery, end the reign of bad guys, perform an impersonal act of vengeance, bring peace to the village and ride off into the sunset. A mythical hero, just like he’s presented in the opening moments of the movie. But, later we find out it’s not the case. Vikrant Rona’s presence in Kamarottu is as personal as it comes.

The final meltdown of Vikrant Rona also makes us difficult to believe given that this character had us buying into his devil-may-care attitude. And Anup can’t get away by saying that was part of building up to the big reveal. Why? It’s because we couldn’t feel the pain of Vikrant Rona when he came face to face with his trauma. Remember the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, when a running fan transports Benjamin Willard to the battlefields of Vietnam? The fan reminds him of choppers sweeping across the jungles of Vietnam and wreaking havoc. Or take the example of Saket Ram from Hey Ram, he loses his mind hearing his wife scream after spotting a lizard behind the closed doors of a bathroom. Because his mind triggers the memory of a traumatic incident that happened to him behind closed doors in Bengal. Once the trauma sets in, it’s hard to switch off.

And Anup does not indicate the trauma that Vikrant Rona is suffering, so the big reveal before the other big reveal makes it hard for us to connect. The emotional punch is not as devastating as it was supposed to be.

The mainstay of Vikrant Rona is its production design and the filmmakers have done a swell job amping up the visual experience with the 3D element. The 3D format adds more depth to the visual style of the movie and keeps us invested when the narration doesn’t. And the climax fight is the most memorable sequence of the movie, which helps us to return home with a sense of satisfaction.

The filmmakers have done a brilliant job of composing the final battle by making it as difficult and painful as possible for Vikrant Rona. Every punch, every tumble down the roof, and every stab hits home. The visceral experience of that scene is immersive. We only wish that the filmmakers had extended the same energy throughout the narration.

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