I cannot but begin reviewing the movie without clearing the obvious, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can justify the umbrage and consequent banning of the movie in three states. Vishwaroopam, at its best, is a thriller that passes muster above the mediocre and would have been forgotten easily had it not been for the hoopla over its release.
Vishwanathan is an effeminate Kathak teacher in New York, whose wife, a nuclear oncologist, works in a “deep oncology” research lab. She employs a detective to find some fault in her loving husband so she can divorce him and live with her boss. What she ends up doing instead is unintentionally break Vishwanathan’s cover- he is not a Hindu, not a dance teacher, not effeminate and is difficult to categorize as a hero or a villain- in short he is Kamal. The film then goes into flashback mode, with Kamal being re introduced as a Tamil speaking jehadi who is taken under by Omar (Rahul Bose) and trained in jehad in Afghanistan. Here on, the film meanders into the past and the present, unveiling a Cesium bomb meant to irradiate whole of New York and Kamal being the only hero capable of preventing the catastrophe.
Vishwaroopam begins promisingly. Kamal is brilliantly nuanced as the kathak dance teacher, in his element. The story introduces characters swiftly, drawing you into the proceedings with a slight dash of humor that is very unlike a typical Tamil film. A burst of exuberant action accelerates the pace and sets in an intriguing thriller that keeps you guessing whats next. The scene shifts to Afghanistan as flash back begins and all the interest ne gathered is squandered away mercilessly as scene after scene the pace of the movie goes slug like. Things go from bad to worse post interval as most of the suspense is revealed and Kamal gets back to his over the top Dashavtaram mode, culminating in one of the most lackluster fizzle out of a climax in recent times.
To be fair, Vishwaroopam is abundantly better than Kamals last outing Dasavataram. For one, there is no compulsory donning of a gaziliion prosthetic aided looks by the veteran. There is a story that is for some time atleast told with earnestness and sans any gimmickry or pretend smartness. The action sequences are energetic and neat- to match them to Hollywood standards is a tad exaggeration for the American war machinery was CGI, and most of Kamal’s afghan antics were body doubles retouched by photoshop evidently visible in the scenes. Yet the stunts are fun to watch and decently carried out. Yet, one cannot help but feel disappointed at the overall product.
Kamal has been of late on an over ambitious streak- Vishwaroopam is no less in ambition- the entire movie is set in NYC and Afghanistan- the movie tries to merge the idea of terrorism with a simple espionage saga, over indulgence is written all over the directorial style, the movie cries out for some better chopping, especially the jehad portions that are long drawn and end up pointless. Most importantly, like all recent Kamal films, this is an all Kamal show. The film begins with him and ends with him. Period.
Rest of the cast is decent in whatever little part they get to play. Shekhar, having seen him personally, is not actually acting, rather just being himself. He on screen is no different form he talking to me in his office. Rahul Bose’s Omar is an interesting opportunity let gone, simply because Kamal can’t let anyone else tower. The two heroines justify their presence, one with perennially dilated pupils and the other with an orgasmic expression even when in front of a nuclear bomb. Kamal on the other hand, goes from brilliance to absurdity in the span of three hours. He begins as a believable secret agent, only to renegade to the usual smarter-than-everyone- on –the –planet Tamil hero who can tell the FBI where the bomb is, get it located, find the Nigerian carrying it, and prevent radiation by getting his wife to place a microwave over it. And yes, also in the between of this all, say sweet nothings to his wife. The standard Tamil film fare also finds place with a moronic FBI, stupid looking firangs, and funny looking Afghanis hamming it up with glee. As the film meanders into mediocrity post interval, one only wished for once Director Kamal would let go of his show off and choose some simple story telling instead.
And that brings us to the story itself and the raging controversy over it. The real strength of Vishwaroopam is the fact that it merges the issue of branding terrorism with faith and religion very beautifully. If Muslims are shown as terrorists all along, there is also the Muslim Kamal who is out to eradicate terror. If the Muslim Nigerian is shown praying as he sets down to detonate the nuke, the Muslim Kamal is also shown offering Namaz before entering the Nigerian’s house to kill him. If Americans are shown as aggressors, American soldiers are shown repenting killing innocent women in the line of fire. Pakistan and ISI find a mention too. Only problem is, none of this is made into a focal point or a running theme. Each of this is incidental, or a ploy to play to the gallery, making it all come undone in the end. One only wishes Vishwaroopam took a stronger stance, made a harder point, for as it stands right now, it is just a token over smart comment on the global menace.
Shortening the running time by at least half an hour and some better music can save the film from absolute dismissal at the ticket counters- something that the ban has ensured might not happen for people are flocking to see the Universal Hero in action. Ban aside, Vishwaroopam is a film that is desperately trying to be universal in its appeal and look. Slo-mo’s in long trench coats with NYC skyline for background does not make a good espionage thriller. The Kamal of Mahanadi is lost forever perhaps. Till that returns, Vishwaroopam is all we have to settle for.
PS: the movie ends with a “coming soon Vishwaroopam 2 “warning. I cringe at the thought; while I am sure the Tamil Nadu Govt must have already passed its banning too.