Once Upon a Time in Kollywood… & Hollywood
Vikram and Top Gun Have More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Back in the day, 1986 to be precise, Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) took the world’s collective breath away when he flew his F14A Tomcat. Back home in Madras, Commander Arun Kumar Vikram (Kamal Haasan) was kicking ass as a RAW agent in a movie way ahead of its time.
36 years and two generations later, fans were crying: Pathala Pathala—we want more. Fast-forward to 2022, both Vikram and Maverick continue to wow audiences with, no surprises there, Vikram and Top Gun Maverick respectively. If the 1986 flicks were a ride into the danger zone, the 2022 flicks will blow your mind 100 times over.
Over the years, like red wine, both Tom Cruise and Kamal Haasan have refined their art form to perfection with passion for cinema, love for the craft, and dedication to their profession. They are no longer stars but legends. What else does one call someone who refuses to use special effects and flies his own fighter jets? Or someone who is not just a world class actor but also a playback singer, producer, director, lyricist, screenwriter, politician, poet, makeup artist, classical dancer … phew … and much more?
Top Gun Maverick has everything from, of course, Tom Cruise, the soundtrack, the fighter jets, the aviator camaraderie, and surprise, surprise, Iceman. From the opening credits to the beach volleyball scene, to the fastest motorcycle in the world—Kawasaki—it’s a trip down memory lane and yet stands on its own
with a crisp, no-nonsense screenplay and tongue-in-cheek dialogues. It is best enjoyed if you revisit the 1986 classic and learn why Maverick still carries the guilt of Goose’s death and, all pun intended, how the chickens will come home to Roost(er), or how Penny (Jennifer Connelly) fits into the picture.
In the same vein, Vikram is a sequel to director Lokesh Kanagaraj’s 2019 hit Kaithi and best enjoyed if you’ve watched the latter (read my review of Kaithi here). Vikram is a complex film with parallel narratives that demand a certain attention to detail. If that wasn’t enough, you must know what transpired in Kaithi to connect the dots. But once you’ve crossed that hurdle, you are so hooked to Lokesh’s universe that you almost forget this is a Kamal Haasan film; what with Fahadh Faasil taking centre-stage in the first half, Agent Tina surprising you in the second, before the legend himself takes over the reins with a befitting climax that continues to surprise.
The icing on the cake is that both these flicks pay ample tributes with references and Easter-eggs to the legends and yet stand on their own. If Tom Cruise lets the fresh blood of aviators do the talking, Kamal is almost absent in the first half (and yet present like a… er… ghost). Maverick‘s soundtrack pays tributes to the original with numbers like the Top Gun Anthem, Danger Zone and Great Balls of Fire. While Vikram orchestrates fantastic fight sequences around retro Tamil numbers that invite hoots and whistles from the audience; Kamal recites the lyrics of the original Vikram; and watch out for Kuruthipunal, Vetri Vizha, and other Easter-eggs.
If Top Gun Maverick has meta references to Tom Cruise’s life with dialogues like:
“Your fame precedes you.”
Vikram has Fahadh Faasil telling Kamal:
“Big fan of your work, sir!”.
Legends like Kamal Haasan and Tom Cruise are a rare breed. A breed that not just entertains but also respects their audience as an intelligent, thinking audience; a breed that refuses to compromise on any aspect of film-making; a breed that strives hard to continue the cinematic legacy of their predecessors.
For those Gen Zs or millennials who were born late, fret not, Kamal Haasan continues to rock audiences with his acting chops like Vikram, which in-turn will entice you to watch his oeuvre—Nayagan, Guna, Pushpak, Sadma, Salangai Oli, Anbe Sivam, and many more. Or Tom Cruise’s A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, or the first Mission Impossible.
When Admiral Cain tells Maverick:
“Outstanding effort. But you don’t get promoted. You are not retiring. And no matter how hard you try; you refuse to die.”
Or when Vikram tells his grandson:
“We are immortals.”
Both these statements ring true for the men themselves. They don’t always get their due, will never retire, and cinema has already immortalized them.
Fanboys are not complaining.