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Movie Name:    Viswaroopam

Release Date:   February 1, 2013
Star Cast:   Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Rahul Bose
Director: Kamal Haasan
Producer:  Chandra Haasan, Kamal Haasan
Music Director:  Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Genre: Spy thriller

 Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday, which was based on terrorism, just like this film, was recently remade in Tamil. The film was about an anonymous man who as a terrorist threatens to bomb a city while the police commissioner negotiates with him through the day. Naseeruddin Shah played the anonymous man and Anupam Kher the cop in the original. Kamal Haasan played Kher’s part in the Tamil version. In an interview when Naseer was asked who should play his role in the Tamil remake, he wondered, “Isn’t Kamal playing both the roles?” Such is the reputation the endearing Kamal Sir holds, you see!

I suppose one of the reasons he writes, directs and acts in films is so he can fit into as many characters in a lifetime. Given that a lifetime is relatively short, plenty of roles in one movie will do just fine for this adorable performer. In one of his last major releases, Dasavataram, Haasan played 13 characters, including the President of the Unites States.

In this film, he arrives first as a Bharatnatyam dance-guru, surrounded by gorgeous gopis. Haasan’s character Vishwanath is married to a super hot scientist (Pooja Kumar, terrible actor, though the role may have demanded this!). He’s probably gay, definitely very effeminate. Why they’re married in the first place will seem a mystery only if you step back from the movie. He loves to cook and care. She’s in it merely for the green card. You’re aware there’s another side to his personality. She has none.

At some point, the film reveals the man behind Vishwanath, an Indian Muslim Wasim Kashmiri, who’s no less than the baap of Al Qaeda, having taught them all they know. He’s literally a killing machine with summersault and flying skills. This super meek alter ego, versus stellar hero with super-powers, is stuff of classic comic book literature. This man used to be a mujahideen in a multinational group funded by Saudis, helped by Pakistan, led by an Afghan warlord (one-eyed Rahul Bose with a Marlon Brando pout), training and fighting around the same caves that Osama bin Laden once called home. We do spot Osama once. Wasim Kashmiri seems far more interesting.

The same person now lives in New York City as Taufiq. It appears that he may be fighting terrorism this time. We don’t know that for sure yet. It’s probably obvious. But as a viewer, you go along with the film that you enjoy, rather than inevitably knowing better and killing the fun.

Between roles of a pansy dance master, a city slicker in the US, and a hard-core jehadi terrorist, Haasan fulfils his personal count of three characters in one movie, meeting at the same his follower’s expectations from him. The film alternates between the jehadi’s escapades in the desert and the same hero’s time in America. The parallel plot offers a strong enough clothesline to hang to it some strapping stunt and battle scenes with rattling Kalashnikovs, drone attacks and aerial warfare. The special effect is as good as you’re likely to get in any Indian film. Some of the plot begins to fizzle out towards the end, but you’ve loved the ride enough to not care by then. The budgets allow the filmmakers to roughly mirror Afghanistan and approximate a Hollywood action enterprise.

The credit must go to the writer, director, alone. In a career of over five decades as an actor, Haasan has remained right at the centre of mainstream Tamil cinema and yet constantly attempted to push the envelope through both his performance and story-telling, taking on untouchable genres like a silent comedy (Pushpak), subtle humour (Chachi 420) to relatively complex material like Abhay, Sadma, Nayakan, or Appu Raja. His contemporary Rajnikanth, on the other hand, has served his bhakts by doing what they like to see him do best – play the super-star screen God. A close analogy for Kamal Sir and Rajni Sir at this point would be Aamir and Salman in Bollywood.

This film’s subject – global terrorism –  is something the whole world is grappling with. It will show up in creative expression of all sorts. Vishwaroop isn't the first film on the issue. It certainly won't be the last. Does it portray terrorists in a negative light? Yes. Does that mean it maligns Islam? Only someone playing politics on these matters would think so. By now it’s fairly established to audiences the world over that deaths, violence and fundamentalism represent no religion. Haasan’s political film Hey Ram, on the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi, wasn’t an attack on Hinduism either.

This is a full-on entertaining, desi mix of James Bourne or Die Hard series and other similar American blockbusters and franchise. The filmmakers even hire actors to pose as FBI agents, pointing fingers to their eyes and then to the target, for proper Hollywood effect. Watching this film after looking at impassioned debates on national news calling for its ban, you can’t help but wonder, “Uh oh, why so serious?”

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