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Director: Kamal Haasan
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Pooja Kumar, Jaideep Ahlawat, Nasser, Andreah Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur
“My God has four hands,” a distraught Indian woman, with a thick American accent, tries to explain to an Afro-American policewoman who is interrogating her. The black woman smirks, “Oh, so how do you crucify him?” “We do not crucify him, we dump him in the sea,” replies Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), who happens to be a nuclear oncologist trained in the US. This is when Kamal Haasan’s “controversial” directorial venture Vishwaroopam hits rock-bottom.
It is difficult to zero in on an adjective that describes Vishwaroopam. The film sure looks slick, with Hollywood-style stunts and car chases, but ‘racy’ somehow doesn’t fit the bill. ‘Drab’ would be an unfair word to use, because the opening sequences that has Haasan dancing to the tunes of Unnai Kaanathu Naan as Viswanath aka Wiz, the effeminate Kathak instructor, are just beautiful.
The film opens in New York, when Nirupama confides in her psychologist that her marriage to Wiz was one of convenience; to go to the US and pursue her PhD. She develops a liking for her boss Deep (Samrat Chakrabarti) and sends a private detective to tail her husband in the hope of uncovering some secrets about him, which would make her feel a little less guilty. But as soon as the detective finds out that Wiz is a Muslim, he is killed.
Enter Omar Qureshi (Rahul Bose), an Afghani Al-Qaeda jihadi and his associate Saleem (played to perfection by Jaideep Ahlawat of Gangs of Wasseypur fame). They identify Wiz as Wizam Kashmiri, an undercover RAW agent, whom they befriended at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan without knowing his real identity. This takes us almost 10 years back, to Afghanistan, where women who do not cover their heads are detested, where bullets are sold by the kilo, where children are expected to grow up to become jihadis, and where, quite unfortunately for the viewer, everyone speaks in Arabic. From this point on, the film drags and pulls us into a maze of events that go back and forth in time, without making much sense but a little later into the film we figure out that the terrorists are devising a plan to accumulate radioactive substances from oncology devices to trigger a blast in New York. Yes, that answers the question as to why Nirupama is a nuclear oncologist and why Wiz gets married to her.
Haasan is wonderful as the Kathak master and is quite convincing as the spy, too. But there are a lot of unconvincing factors in the movie, where Haasan the director fails. The most striking is the sudden transformation of Nirupama into a Tamil ponnu (woman), who deems it her responsibility to save her husband’s life, as soon as Wiz chops off his locks and reveals that he is a super cool spy. This husband-wife angle, which is mocked throughout the first half, turns into something sacrosanct during the second half, bringing in some unwanted melodrama.
The next is the disappointing background score, which pops up at the unlikeliest of places and is missing from the most important scenes. Also, every time the film goes back in time, the characters freeze and the camera encircles them. After the first few times this happens, these time transitions become predictable and by the end, the viewer is bored.
In terms of acting, Haasan is undoubtedly the best, followed by Nasser, who speaks nothing but Arabic all through his screen time, and Jaideep Ahlawat, especially in the military camp scenes. Shekhar Kapur and Adreah Jeremiah appear as Wiz’s associates and do not have not much to do. Rahul Bose’s portrayal of Omar is impressive in the flashback, but the character gets reduced to a mere caricature when he reaches New York, with stereotyped appendages like fake eyeball, lost voice and limp.
On the technical front, too, the film disappoints, given that it was made on a Rs 97-crore budget. Apart from a few good individual shots, the cinematography lacks consistency. And the film ends abruptly, (caution: spoilers ahead) with Haasan saying either Omar or he has to die for the game to end, making an obvious hint at a sequel.
And as for all the hue and cry about whether the movie should be banned for its anti-Muslim content, it is just another overambitious jihadi story, which hardly even makes a statement.
A tighter script, a little less melodrama, better background music and a clearer climax would have made Vishwaroopam more watchable.