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vishwaroopam

(An edited version of this appeared in WTF magazine)

The desired starting point of anything written on this now world famous film is to say whether it is offensive anyway, to anyone or not. Well, to get the token announcement out of the way – it is not. The Vishwaroopam controversy over the past few weeks has operated solely on two ends of the spectrum – either it’s been utterly comical or unbearably sad.

The film too plays like it could have operated on just one end of the spectrum but has its footprints all over the place. That’s not to say it is a bad film by any means or there are no Kamal moments, in acting or writing. There is even the usually alleged narcissism of Kamal early on in the Unnai Kannadha dance sequence when Kamal goes to the mirror and kisses his own reflection – “vaayodu vaai pathithaan“. Or this could just point to the homosexual undertones of the character. The legitimate introduction plays out like one of the best Kamal has ever had in film in a long long time. Possibly ever. It is built up beautifully, even if Pooja Kumar’s deliberately grating Brahmin accent stands in the way at times, there is a Kamal histrionics microcosm packed all over leading up to this moment. And what a moment it is. Entirely worth repeat viewing.

This is followed by the Afghanistan segment of the story that’s probably best shot but also tries to move between a serious human interest story and a mindless spy thriller. There is a moment where he seems to suggest the problems with terrorists brought up as jihadis is that they’ve never had a chance at childhood in their life but that’s probably something that sounded much better on paper and didn’t translate as well on screen. The New York City part of the story moves in brisk pace but how much you buy of it probably depends on your tolerance for some corny writing and few racial and foreign stereotypes as characters. What’s more bothersome here is a little exposition. An act of deception in the charged Afghanistan story is well set up but it comes back as a flashback to painfully knock it into your head. Last week’s Kadal suffered from similar problems. As rewarding and ambitious as that film is, it adulterates with spoken metaphors. But Vishwaroopam isn’t as ambitious. It is happy giving you just the high moments. But that’s a question to two much loved artists of the 80s and 90s, Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan – where did the subtlety go? Why is there a “this the audience will get, this the audience will not” debate going on in the drawing board?

Vishwaroopam is a film that ends up biting off more than it can chew, of which Kamal is probably repeat offender. It tries to find a heart within the terrorists but it also spoils this development with some mickey mouse set pieces involving RAW agents, FBIs and the Indian Prime Minister! It clearly wants to play to the galleries. This is Kamal balancing a tightrope, an activity he seldom succeeds in as we’ve seen in the past few years. There is a deep void from the point of view of terrorists that he wants to go into but also wants to deliver a film that a more wider audience will enjoy. And that way, this is also an incomplete film. The problem is there isn’t much here that would make the wait for a companion piece hard.

This might come across as a negative reaction to the film but the truth is, it is solid entertainment. It also makes you question what it was that offended anyone here and why this had to be briefly banned. It is a well made, well shot action film and that’s all it is. The only question – Why is a man named Kamal Haasan making this?

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24 thoughts on “Vishwaroopam

  1. The Man named Kamal Haasan is making it because when he made a Raajaparvai, we made him go broke. When he made a Marudhanayagam, we made sure it wouldn’t reach us, and finally giving himself one more shot at genuine movie making,when he made a Heyram, we just simply insulted his intelligence. It goes on and on with Aalavandhan and Anbe Sivam probably being the last two attempts where he tried to believe that we were intelligent. Having completely failed him, I don’t think we should ask the question in the first place.

    • Rightly said. It is easy for critics to criticise about Kamal Hassan trying to appeal to the masses, but the masses have little or no brain, but the money. The so called intellectuals watch the movie once in theatre or see it in pirated versions and speak about world class quality. Kamal is trying hard to balance and his attempts have to be appreciated…But I do hope before his career ends that the masses also reach the level to understand his gems. Maybe he can relax a little while he tries his hand on the international stage and go the way of Hey Ram or Anbe Sivam

    • I am not too sure if it is that simplistic, and even from his point of view, he has been balancing commercial features with his ambitious ones quite well but right now looks like one of them has survived. I hope all these money spinning endeavors amount to something more substantial than a Dasa or Vishwaroopam.

  2. I must agree. The kathak dancer was what I truly enjoyed. Like balram naidu and kameshwaran I was left wanting more of him ( sans the brahmin digs)….the production values snd stunts etc were way above the indian norm and kudos to kamal for that…..

  3. No matter what he makes, my mother, a fan of his who feels terrible for what he went through, is totally taking a paal sombu to the theatres. When we get tickets, that is. Despite the fact that she hasn’t particularly liked anything he has made in recent times. I think a lot of people feel this way, and this is the reason the movie is doing SO well.

  4. Great review , spot on except the last paragraph where you are copping out just like KH and MR. I didn’t think it was an entertainer for the very reasons you mentioned above. Jokes felt flat and inappropriate . New York bit was a big joke and embarrassing .great effort on the Afghanistan bit although it was ‘painfully boring’.

  5. Thank you for the review. It resonates with my thinking as well. I personally do not find Vishwaroopam offending anyone. However, at times I wonder whether one has to take into consideration an issue so sensitive amongst the Muslim community in Tamil Nadu. At the moment, the Muslims in TN do face discrimination day-after-day just because they belong to a particular religious group, which is often associated with terrorism.

    So having that in mind, I wonder why Kamal Hassan had to put in scenes that “possibly offend” the Muslims in TN? For example, by claiming that Omar (who represents the leader of the Taliban in real life too) used to live in TN for 2 years, it is like indirectly alleging that some amongst the Muslim community in TN have terrorist associations with the Taliban leader himself! This is factually incorrect, when Kamal had claimed that the story represents real life incidents. Well, even if he were to claim that some parts were imaginary, then still such scenes were insensitive and controversial.

    Just my thoughts. But I loved the movie and the cinematography!

  6. this man kamalhassan,as the name itself suggests, is more of a person confusing himself and ending up with confusing one another. he is besieged with series of thoughts,in an array, one conflicting and contradicting the other, and that is why there is no clarity on whatever he said. only thing that is clear to him is that he is wanted no more here and warned to quit india.
    he says he has no belief in marriage system, after having married twice and living to gether
    he says he has no caste, religion. but in almost all movies there will be a brahmin charecter who would marry inter caste. and this so called secularists, are content to prove their credentials only when they whip up anti hindu sentiments, denigrate hindu customs.. if he has no caste, then why depict brahmins in all his films, and none other charecters have any caste orientation.
    no wonder most of his films are flops. had there not been such publicity and interest generated, this film would have met the same fate.

  7. I have not yet seen the movie. However I am able to understand in which direction the movie has gone. Kamal only has the guts to make these kind of films or other wise Maniratnam can make. All others may not have guts to take this kind of film. Move towards ban the film is a old story but caused lot of injuries and wounds to Kamal, his fans and to citizens rights. Movie should be viewed as a movie and should not be linked to real life. If movie is bad public themselves will refuse it and it would become a failure one commercially. Politicians should not enter in to the rights and freedom of speech, expression and writing. Public never ask any question to politicians while politicians does not honor their commitments made for election. But for votes they try to interfere in every aspect of common man’s freedom through police force and this is not a healthy practice. If every religion, community and caste takes the law on their hand how the country will grow. It is better first let the movie can be released and then let the public can take a decision on it.

  8. His ‘Appu’ character was his best ever – the most objective and sensibly practical depiction of the tormented human mind and the vent it seeks against the perpetrators on the pinnacle of dejection and disillusionment – never having offended anyone or any community – at least not reported so far. All other characters, including the legendary ‘Velu Nayakar’ are merely sensational and whip up communal tensions even if they do so unintentionally, save the recent ‘Vasool Raja, MBBS’ which was a good dig at the present day education system that is rotting in the hands, or is it backyards, of private universities.

  9. Generally speaking movies or films are produced only for entertainment and relaxation purpose.. is there any purpose to involve religion and caste issues in films? if one has no belief in such things well and fine why should they hurt others feeling.. as human beings we should always try to make others happy at least hurt not others.. some of them have null belief in religion and caste some have belief in such things it depends upon their psychological scenario.. none as human beings hart others.. it is not at all a humanistic behavior.. always try to understand others feelings..

  10. Can’t fault his ambition on this one — I suspect he wanted to make a Hollywood-style action movie, but with the breathing space to show how the other side lives — something Hollywood doesn’t often do. At the same time, he didn’t want to compromise on his Indian-ness or Thamizh-ness or whatever else, which isn’t so bad either.

    Trouble is, when it comes time to execute on that ambition, he gets as many things right as wrong. Which is true of the average big-budget summer blockbuster that fills American multiplexes anyway.

  11. Anbe Sivam was acted by Kamal and Directed by Sundar C and we tend to do this again and again assuming he directed Devar magan, Apporva Sagodrargal, Raja Paarvai, Pesum Padam, Michal madana Kama Rajan, Avvai shanmugi and Dasavatharam. His directorial pieces are Hey Ram, Virumaandi, (remake of Wednesday) and now Viswaroopam.
    He is a great actor under good directors but not a great director to direct himself…

    • He did “write” most of those films you mention. And there are a number of similar tropes that appear repeatedly in all these films. And it is an open secret that Kamal dominates over the proceedings over any director giving his inputs in every department (Just read Nayagan chapter in Converstions With Mani Ratnam). So it is not a wrong assumption, hell, it isn’t even an assumption anymore.

      • Regardless of the share of inputs, the fact remains that when he directs he is not able to drive home the message in an acceptable manner to the audience which is evident in the way those films have fare at the box. Of course, there is no argument if one were to fret saying audience has poor taste not being able to appreciate his master pieces, in that case it should not be commercially released. Ultimately kamal cannot be given credit for movies just written by him and director deserves the complete credit or debit as we are arguing in case of visawaroopam. It has been somehow like tendulkar as captain, all class individually but below par outcome in the end as said by the audience. As regards nayagan chapter in hindu it was kamal’s version and one gets better picture when one reads about the rebuttal by the producer who is also a noted director himself. Even by the same all credit cannot be given only kamal in nayagan which most of us are gracious in giving to mani ratnam also which is missing in other cases which shows the thought process and inherent bias.

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