(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?