Vishwaroopam, a case of much ado about nothing

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Wish someone had gifted Kamal Haasan’s editor on ‘Vishwaroopam’, Mahesh Narayanan a pair of scissors. Narayanan would have found it handy to re-edit the meandering Afghanistan scenes in the first half of the ambitiously mounted film. Not only that would have given this international spy thriller that much-needed element – speed, it would have also made the lavishly mounted Afghan portion look less like a documentary (replete with sub-titles) on the life inside the Al-Qaeda.

In a nutshell, ‘Vishwaroopam’ is the story of a Muslim RAW agent who has spent time as a covert in the Al-Qaeda, who helps the US avert a `cesium bomb’ terror plot on New York. Kamal plays the agent who is undercover as a Hindu Kathak dance exponent (Vishwanath) in NYC.

The film has run into objections from Muslim organisations who have protested against the depiction of members of the community in the film. The Tamilnadu government, for reasons best known to it, banned the film, with other centres like Bangalore and Hyderabad delaying the screening at its theatres. My guess is that when more Muslims actually see the film, they would find the objections raised ridiculous because the villainous Muslims are all members of the Al-Qaeda. And a ‘good’ Indian Muslim is shown fighting the terrorists.

One of the objections raised is about the name Umar for the villain played by Rahul Bose. Umar bin-al-Khattab is the name of the second Khalifa in Islam and a revered figure. Wonder whether Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who was accused of providing shelter to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda terrorists too was asked to change his name by those protesting against ‘Vishwaroopam’.

Like in most of his films, ‘Vishwaroopam’ revolves around Kamal, who has also written, produced and directed it. The film has action of international class, some top-notch cinematography and yes, a lot of blood and gore. But an edge-of-the-seat thriller, it is not. The film is too slow and hardly the kind to inspire you to chew your nails. Yes, as a director, Kamal does bring in some special moments like the pathos of the young suicide bomber who has to do as his stone-hearted bosses order, or the grief of the woman when the wrong man is hanged at a kangaroo court in Afghanistan. But the film does not quite challenge Kamal the actor and the only part where he excels in is as the Kathak dancer, with graceful movements that would have made the choreographer Pt Birju Maharaj proud.

To give Kamal credit, cinematically, he takes us where few filmmakers have dared to in the recent past, bringing to life the story of a troubled land. It is a treat watching two extremely versatile actors – Kamal and Rahul Bose – sharing screen space. But Kamal the director falls below expectations. The film packs a punch only in parts, the climax is weak, with Kamal shortchanging the viewer with the promise of dealing with Umar only in Vishwaroopam 2. Much like counter-terrorism agencies, Kamal says there is still some work left to do.

The glamour element of the film is Pooja Kumar whose incessant tam-brahm chatter is presumably meant to amuse and I could see a number of Brahmin uncles in the hall, including my father, nod in approval. The rest of the cast, including Shekhar Kapur and Andrea Jeremiah are merely props in the Kamal army.

At the theatre in Hyderabad where I saw the movie, I found a significant number of youngsters who had travelled from Chennai just to watch Ulaganayagan in action. Perhaps that explained the loud cheer and whistles with which his entry on screen was greeted, the kind usually reserved for Rajinikanth. Kamal’s transformation from the effeminate Kathak dancer to a terrific fighter was the highlight of the film, with the fans reacting with shouts of ‘Thalaiva’.

At one point in the film, Pooja Kumar asks Kamal “Nee nallavana kettavana” (Are you a good man or a bad man?), inviting a knowing laughter from the Nayagan-aware audience. Kamal would be waiting with bated breath to hear from the Madras High court on Monday when they declare as ‘nalla’ (good) or ‘ketta’ (bad) his depiction of Muslims in ‘Vishwaroopam’.

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