What exactly is the ‘Vishwaroopam” (the mythical unrevealed image) of Kamal Haasan?
An effeminate Kathak dance teacher in New York? A jihadi fighting the NATO forces in Afghanistan or a dapper spy working for India?
Is he a good guy or a bad guy given at one point in the film he says he is both?
For pure Kamal fans, the answer doesn’t matter - the movie is all about him. The star, even after 50-plus years on screen, is still incredibly enterprising and is raring to go. This time, he takes on the Hollywood genre of suspense thrillers and pulls it off reasonably well.
The result is a pulsating thriller, which doesn’t have the usual filmy twists, a demanding script or punch-lines, but is packed with high powered live action, convincing combat sequences, original military hardware, impressive technical prowess and the star himself in at least three different get-ups. It also has drama in good measure.
Perhaps this is the first time that he looks justified in his life-long obsession with the technical flourish of Hollywood. The earlier attempt, Dasavathaaram in which he donned ten roles, was a prosthetic mishap.
The overall plot is simple - an Afghani Al-Qaeda jihadi Omar (Rahul Bose), his accomplice Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat) and their international terror network, plots to attack New York with a “Cesium-bomb”. The protagonist’s (Kamal as a Tam Bram dance teacher Vishwanath) wife is a researcher in nuclear oncology, but the company that she works for is a front for the project.
The movie, which opens with some exquisite dance movements of an effeminate Vishwanath, and the professional life of his unhappy wife who is on the fringe of a fling with her boss, is suddenly gripped by heavy-duty terror and Jihadi-American combat. The location also shifts between a dusty and ravenous combat zone of Afghanistan to a wintry New York. The question is if Omar and his jihadi network will succeed in their sinister plot?
It doesn’t spoil the thrill to add that in the end, it is the Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and a few Indians, including a god-fearing Muslim operative and a good looking Shekhar Kapur, that save New York’s earth from being scorched by the dirty bomb.
The film works well as a live action thriller. Kamal doesn’t pause even for a micro second while going full-throttle on the action sequences - both as the lead actor and the director. The scenes of intrigue, emotions and conspiracy keep well-timed pace with the rest of the narrative which is also rich in details and properties.
At a couple of places, metronomically it drags a bit though. And there could have been more fizz in the climax.
The jihadi landscape is no different from the regular Hollywood fare - it reiterates the misdirected indoctrination of Afghanis and the geo-politics of the war against terror. Kamal can be happy that he has been able to copy the Hollywood template of Jihadi terror without looking silly.
At one stage, we also get a glimpse of a strapping Osama Bin Laden in combat-fatigue with a bit of halo around his head.
Kamal, who also wrote the movie, also tries to add a bit of political sub-text with Obama’s politics and his America in the background.
The entire cast and crew - Rahul Bose, Jaideep, Andrea Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur, Nasser and Pooja Kumar among others - have done their bit to look and act good. However, the protagonist’s wife, played by Pooja Kumar, gets irritating after a while with her untimely Tam Bram jabber.
The highlights of the movie are the production values and the brilliance of Kamal as an actor. He looks incredibly good in the opening dance sequence - choreographed by Birju Maharaj - and the subsequent adrenalin-pumping action. The ease with which he transforms from a docile and effeminate man to a fiery combatant is a stealer. I wouldn’t mind watching the movie again just for the first few minutes - his brilliant expressions and fluid Kathak movements that contrast with the subsequent eye-popping action.
Photography (Sanu Varghese who did it for Karthik Calling Karthik), design, and action elevate the look and feel of the film. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is just ordinary though.
Now the most important question. Is there anything that inflames communal feelings that warrants a blanket ban?
No, absolutely nothing.
Even with a magnifying device, it is rather impossible to find portions that might offend Muslims. The bad guys in the film are not Muslims or even the stereotypes of radical Islamists. Instead, Kamal is quite specific about them - they are the Al-Qaeda terrorists.
Since he hasn’t invented the look, feel and behaviour of the Al-Qaeda radicals, the blame against him and the film is misplaced. It’s really surprising that a group of people were able to stop the screening of the movie in Tamil Nadu on such flimsy grounds. Where does it “target Muslims and their beliefs”? I couldn't tell.