I usually don’t watch Tamil movies, but when I do I watch with the lead of the movie at its premiere. So I like to think. For some freak accident of nature (or good fortune of a friend being in the movie sound business) caused me to get vip passes to the premiere in LA, and the rather unlikely twist of fate enabled me to get a buddy-cop photo with the great Kamal Hassan, I figure the least I could do to is close the loop with a quick review of the movie. First, I feel bad for the guy – he’s a legend in his own right, yet he looked tired and defeated and in the fight of his life, not unlike his character in the movie itself. Mr Hassan, in the premiere, made a heartfelt speech about the movie and his passion for the art and his misfortune that it incited the Muslim community in India to such extent. After all, Mr Hassan has spent in excess of 100 crores on this endeavor, and the window for the movie to be successful is apparently short given the impending release of Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. However, on the contrary, I think that the movie will fare better than he expects not because it is exceptional, but because controversy creates curiosity, and curiosity generates full houses.
As for Vishwaroopam, the first half was engrossing and delightful. The chirpy feminine agent-in-disguise house-husband cum dance teacher was perfectly executed by Mr Hassan. Despite the decades, Mr Hassan has not lost his knack for playing the weirdo unpredictable characters with such finesse that you could actually enjoy the instant without trying to guess the usually obvious ending. The opening song and dance sequence was delectable and reminds us of why we always liked Mr Hassan. I was also pleasantly surprised that the plot was not revealed in large swaths through big confessions in typical Indian style, but rather unraveled gradually over the hour through disparate clues which essentially enabled viewers to mentally piece the threads together. The playful loathe and misgivings between Vish, the main character, and his wife, were also entertaining.
However, once the action sequences started and the revelation was made that Vish was a Jason Borne-esque human killing machine trying to stop the next attack in NYC, the story took a rather straight line towards the expected result with some interspersed flashbacks from Vish aka Wizam’s past. Some of the action sequences were well choreographed, but the gun fights were mostly second grade. The second half of the movie started with the back story about the infiltration of Wizam into a terrorist camp run by Omar, the villain terrorist leader with close ties to Osama. Once you get over the absolute ridiculousness that there are Tamil-speaking terrorists in Afghanistan, you notice that the movie slowly sinks into the quicksand of the tedious detail of the interactions between the two characters with barely any substantive story-telling. I do have to point out that even during this slow flashback, the true nature of Wizam’s background and mission is not revealed, so it does leave a small element of suspense towards the final quarter when all is made clear in another flashback. I think this part of the movie could have been condensed or a more interesting subplot could have easily been incorporated. Back in the present world, Omar has assembled a large crew right in the center of NYC and is on course to detonating a nuclear device. The assembly of the nuclear device itself is a interesting sub-story that involves Wizam’s wife and her line of work. The hero of course through his cunning, sees through the several diversions and locates the bomb and prevents the city from being cratered. The rest of the back story and the final confrontation with the villain are conveniently left for Part 2. The ending also had a lot of potential, but it was anti-climactic that it ended with a sneeze instead of a bang.
Throughout the movie, Mr Hassan’s character is portrayed as a devout Muslim despite him hunting and killing other apparently brainwashed Muslims in droves. This was an interesting change from the norm for I can’t remember a single movie where an Indian action hero was anything but Hindu. I even mentioned this in the two interviews that I gave that night. The portrayal of terrorists as unscrupulous and vengeful middle-eastern Muslims is no different than what we would expect in any Hollywood movie. I did not note anything in the film that was any more controversial or offensive than the hundreds of similarly themed movies and shows that originate in the US. In fact, I believe Mr Hassan went beyond his call of duty by humanizing the families and feelings of even those hardened terrorists.
Rahul Bose does a good job as the villain, Sekhar Kapur plays the hero’s superior comrade and tags along the entire story without contributing much. The two leading ladies – Pooja Kumar and Andrea Jeremiah do a decent job supporting the main man. There are a few somewhat goofy titbits like the FBI’s ineptitude, the comedic interrogations, and the “faraday shield”, and there are a few parts that are too drawn out and boring, but overall the movie manages to keep our interest piqued till the very end. I don’t remember any song other than the opening number, but the score throughout the film was usually good and sometimes loud. The plot is Hollywood grade, but the cinematography and production values are somewhere beyond Bollywood (because all the action takes place outside India) but fall fairly short of Hollywood expectations. Maybe if Mr Hassan had just been the lead and the Producer, but not the Director, the outcome could have been different. Overall, Mr Hassan has tried rather valiantly to create a Hollywood spy action thriller and raise the bar of Indian action fare, and I think by Indian standards which are somewhat laggard for this category of film, he created a splendid work.
Back to the premiere, I felt somewhat sorry for Mr Hassan because everybody at the premiere was there for either the photo opportunity or because they had a economic interest in the film. Mr Hassan was continuously shuffled between a slew of media folk and a few movie honchos; everywhere he walked, regular people (myself included) hoarded him to take a photo. When I did get a chance for my photo op, I truly wanted to give him my honest opinion of the movie, but his three handlers quickly frisked him away. Sekhar Kapur also looked old and haggard but a lot more relaxed than Mr Hassan and I did get a chance to tell him how I grew up watching his movies. But when I racked my brain at that instant, I couldn’t think of the name of a single movie he played. Of course I only blame the actor himself for suffering from the be-in-everything-famous-for-nothing syndrome, wherein talented actors like say Sekhar Kapur, or Kader Khan, or Johnny Lever, or Anu Kapoor, or MS Narayana are in so many movies that we have seen but none are truly iconic of their careers. We got photos with the leading ladies too, who by the way are far skinnier than they look on the screen. I guess my wife was right when said the camera adds pounds, but I think the camera is finicky and only adds pounds to women and not men.
Overall, the premiere was a nice experience and I hope the film is released in India and that Mr Hassan can get his just rewards for his wholehearted attempt. It is always easy for us spoiled audience to be critical of any movie, but I think if we look beyond our blinders there is some praise to be made for people who are continuously trying to stretch the boundary of our thought whether it be through controversy or through unrestrained cinematography.