Kamal Haasan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’

The movie was a mainstream commercial venture that did great business at Box Office – obviously it wasn’t made to evoke parallels to Kamal’s critical works like Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam and Uttama Villain to name a few.

The movie has a formula too it but Kamal does create a niche as usual and he dons multiple hats in terms of being the actor, director, producer, writer and singer. As is his wont nowadays, Kamal is seldom happy just being an actor in the movie.

Kamal uses cinema as a medium to voice his views regarding key social themes that swirl around us and he has always been fascinated with historical themes and political movements. Of course he has vowed to never ever step into the shoes of a politician. He has found a unique niche to contribute to society and we should admire him for that – just occasionally though we would like to see more of Kamal the actor than everything else (Papanasam a.ka. Drishyam was a perfect example of this).

The movie scored big time at Box Office and became a poster boy for ‘freedom of expression’ – it drove a frenzied response from the fans who wanted to demonstrate their love and affection for the ‘ulaganayagan’ (universal hero).

I enjoyed the movie but as I mentioned earlier we have finer movies from Kamal that represent better his oeuvre. Still it was a technically outstanding movie with the production values matching Hollywood standards.

What worked for me –

The ‘transformation’ sceneIt shakes you up for sure – the core sequence is 18 seconds in real-time and 9 victims (Kamal’s show of gore and violence is a signature statement in many movies including Thevar Magan and Virumaandi). So in the space between two water drops falling from a leaking pipe, Kamal, the effeminate Kathak dancer morphs into Kamal, the RAW agent.

Even he couldn’t resist the value of the sequence so we are shown it all over again in ‘slo-mo’. We have to applaud the creativity that drives it – masala movie action sequences have been repetitive and unreal so this one wakes you up. It serves as a key transition point as the story picks up pace and we know that ulaganayagan means action, after all there is only so much that we can enjoy following the track of a coy and ‘chamathu’ classical dancer.

The Kathak sequence – Unnai Kaanadhu Naan Illaye – Kamal lives his dream of working with legendary Birju Maharaj. He sings and dances the composition as well (an intelligent comment attributed to him is that the song recording is played in the scene for it is not possible in real life to sing a song and dance Kathak at the same time). It is classical piece but has a popular tone to it and we have the beautiful Andrea in the sequence. (She does little else in the movie though).

The Afghan scenes – It is a different country but it is still the Indian sub-continent. The universal human desires shine through – a mother who would prefer to have his son grow up to be a doctor, a caring lady doctor who serves in the tough terrain, and the pain and suffering of common people who have lost control on their lives (an Afghan lady narrates her angst against a litany of actors who have ruined the ordinary lives)

Stunning visuals and audio – In sum they add to the feel that made people mention that the production values are top-notch and the movie looks like a slick Hollywood production. At INR 100 crores (approx), the film was a big budget one and it reflects in the way we are treated to wide-angle views of the mountainous terrain and the sophisticated action sequences particularly the air attacks.

What didn’t work for me

Needless ribbing of the ‘Tam-Brahm’ profile – The controversial sequence of showing a Brahmin girl tasting Chicken was a needless jab. It didn’t contribute to anything to the story or establishing the character of the actress. It is a wanton distraction – it becomes a genuine crib since it seems to have been done in past movies as well. Is there some super-intelligent need to stereotype such oddities that we are not aware of? We may not get any answers any time soon on this one.

The leading ladies storylinePooja Kumar is shown to be a good-looking bimbo and the key characters make her look like a ‘deer caught in the headlights’ for most of the movie. However in few minutes she transforms into a super-competent Nuclear Oncologist who finally saves the day – Faraday Shield et al. The consistency goes for a toss and most of the stuff she speaks is gobbledygook for the average audience.

Andrea just has no real role in the movie – a nice opening song, smart one-liners on anyone around to address and a single scene of stitching up Kamal’s wounded arm sums up her show. We wouldn’t have missed her much in the narrative anyways.

Accents and the overall screenplay – Well it is realistic to expect accents when non-Tamilians have to speak their lines. It might be artistic as well but it makes it difficult to catch many dialogues – Rahul Bose in the second-half of the movie is reduced to a curt 1 liners and stares n grunts thanks to his husky voice.

This distracted us in a movie like Hey Ram as well. Possibly subtitles would have helped. Am sure realism in a commercial movie could have been accommodated in a better way so as to ensure that the viewer was not left baffled in understanding key dialogues due to ‘accent trouble’.

Finally am not sure why we need the Indian Prime Minister to validate and certify our heroes. It is irritating and one cringes to hear the condescending accolades. (Prakash Raj did a similar corny act in Abhiyum Naanum – a Punjabi son-in-law gains acceptance in his eyes because the PM relies on his advice).

Overall, still worth a watch and possible catch up again as a re-run of the TV. Vishwaroopam II is expected to be released as well – possibly it will address the flaws we saw in the storytelling of the first installment.

Credit: Punit Paranjpe Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: Punit Paranjpe
Courtesy: Getty Images
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