Film: "Vishwaroopam"; Director: Kamal Haasan; Actors: Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur and Jaideep Ahlawat; Rating: ***1/2 - technical wonder with flawed narrative.
Kamal Haasan, known for pushing the envelope with every film, has successfully managed to give us a Tamil film made on par with international standards. With "Vishwaroopam", Kamal treads territories - both technically and narratively - like no other Indian filmmaker ever. As controversial as it may appear, or doctored to be one, the film, even when looked through the magnifying glass, doesn't hurt the sentiments of any community, including Muslims. It sternly addresses global warfare from the perspective of two countries that are ideologically poles apart.
The story, mostly set in the US and Afghanistan, is about an odd and unhappy couple -- Vishwanath alias Viz, a kathak dancer, and Nirupama, a nuclear oncologist -- who have been living together with an ulterior motive. Put off by the effeminate traits of her husband, Nirupama seeks the companionship of her rich boss, Deepak.
In a bid to end her marriage, Nirupama hires a private detective to spy on Viz, to find reasons on which she can divorce him. Investigation by the detective reveals that he is a Muslim. Meanwhile, the detective is killed by an Afghan militant, who learns that Nirupama was behind the investigation and, therefore, takes her into custody along with Viz.
Viz's true identity is revealed and the rest of the story switches back and forth in time, paving way to an uninspiring climax.
For Kamal enthusiasts, "Vishwaroopam" is equivalent to a slick Hollywood spy-thriller with plenty of meaningful twists. Known for his obsession for technological prowess, efforts taken by the actor seem to have duly paid off. Some may argue that the recreation of Afghanistan is a carbon copy of the place from several Hollywood flicks, yet it is unique in its own way.
In Afghanistan, Kamal strikes a fine balance between terrorism and human emotions, subtly touching upon reasons behind the holy war and how young, bright Afghans are brainwashed to become Jihadis. He reiterates that kids are forced to become warriors by underlining the fact through an analogy involving Mammo, a suicide bomber, child at heart and Omar's young son, who aspires to be a doctor.
And to those claiming that this film is anti-Muslim, it is not -- because the bad guys are the Al-Qaeda terrorists, not Muslims or stereotyped Islamists.
Technically, Haasan has undoubtedly pulled off a stunner. But narratively, the film slackens sporadically, allowing viewers to slip into boredom. And more importantly, there could have been more spunk in the climax. As a writer, he also attempts to weave a political sub-plot involving Obama and the US as a backdrop.
Needless to say, it is neither his writing nor direction that shows the caliber of Kamal Haasan. It is his acting. The first 20 minutes are a stealer. It reaffirms our faith in him as an actor. From a kathak dancer, the ease with which he transforms to a ruthless combatant is one of the best scenes in the film that demands replay. Some scenes with a body double could have been avoided as it seemed artificial and for a minute, it questions the credibility of the actor.
Rahul is not menacing, but more or less, a villain with malicious intentions. His sidekick, Jaideep is fitting in his role. Shekhar, Pooja and Andrea have done their bit and act well. Once again, Kamal brings to fore his atheist side with logical jokes on god, which thankfully, didn't offend any group or community. The international cast, too, played their part well.
Sanu Varghese's cinematography is top-notch as he captures the mountain side of Afghanistan to perfection. Action sequences will draw a lot of attention and so will the film's art design. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is average, but the placement of songs is apt and never does it break the flow of the narrative.
Having said all this, does "Vishwaroopam" qualify to be Haasan's best film to date? The answer, I think, is neither yes nor no because this certainly isn't his best, neither is this his worst film. It could be his best for certain reasons and, likewise, bad for some reasons. The best is yet to come, so let's wait.