Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Vishwaroopam (2013)

Hmm. Where.. do we begin? I took my time to write about this film. Pushing off my initial reactions, I gave the film a lot of thought because I wanted to be really sure. My views haven't changed a bit. Vishwaroopam is disappointing. 

The film opens with a beautiful Haneke-ish static shot showing a few pigeons fluttering and cooing in their shelves. A mysterious looking man, who could be Kamal under heavy makeup, appears and sets a few birds free. What is happening? The action quickly shifts to a woman confessing about her marital and extramarital problems to a psychiatrist. When asked to go in detail about her husband, she takes more than a moment to say something. And then we see the man himself- dancing more gracefully than ever. The first 30 or so minutes of Vishwaroopam is great fun. The film is heavy on Kamal's trademark humor and fills you with a lot of curiosity. Sadly, the film peaks too early. Everything goes downhill from here, ending in a dull climax.   

Tamil Nadu is a small state in a big country. We have a thriving film industry but we don't have the muscle of Bollywood in terms of eyeballs. In recent times, we have started making a lot of international films. By international, I am only referring to using foreign locales not just for dancing in colorful clothes but also to drive the story forward. There are so many logistical issues when a Tamil film is set in a foreign place. With some films, the story is such that they cannot but be set in a foreign land. Shankar's Jeans is a fine example. There has been a significant rise in number of such international films. Most have faltered due to their inability to handle the scale. Vishwaroopam's problems are not because it bites more than it can chew. It's because it fails to keep the thrill alive after the halfway mark. 

In the league of balls-out campy absurdness, Dasavatharam is up there. After watching Kamal's latest, I have begun to like his previous film better. It has aged well and slowly slipped into the So-Bad-It's-Good territory. The writing is decent enough and there's a proper story arc to most of Kamal's avatars. I have yet to watch it again after the first time but the memory is still fresh. Though it appears to have been cut from the same fabric as Dasavatharam, it is too early to look at Vishwaroopam in the same light. After all, it is a movie which thinks of itself as high-minded action film which looks at the developing tissues of terrorism.

In spite of what I said in the previous paragraph, Vishwaroopam is not an easy movie to label. It doesn't follow the same mood throughout. It starts off as something and becomes something else before ultimately turning into a one-man-saves-the-world movie. It is constantly evolving and unable to make up its own mind as to what it really aspires to be. It can be a good thing and bad thing. I don't know if this aspect of the movie has made it any better but it certainly wasn't problematic in any way.

A huge chunk of the film is set in Afghanistan where one Wasim Ahmed Kashmiri joins al-Qaeda. Rahul Bose's Omar, who is running the operations, accepting Wasim with open arms only pays off when he sees how highly skilled he is. His nationality and knowledge may come in handy if ever al-Qaeda decides to plan attacks on India in the future. It is here that the movie begins to lose steam and is unable to capitalize on the established mystery. The film recreates the time and place very well but the entire portion is too long for comfort and never particularly enlightening.

When it comes to action, Vishwaroopam leaves you wanting more. Not because the action is so good but because it never gives you much in the first place. There's a Guy Ritchie style real-time/slow-motion fight which is very entertaining. Then there's a car chase which is special in no way. The big set-piece takes place in the Afghan training camp when the natives are bombarded with aerial attacks. Okay, this kind of action has never been seen before in an Indian movie and I am sure it required a lot of hard work, given the budget constraints. But is that a reason good enough to celebrate it? Especially when it is so ordinary? Maybe we shouldn't write sequences which we couldn't materialize.

This new fad (old?) of showing villains with deformities hasn't gone well with me. And Kamal whose legacy itself is prosthetics has tried a couple of things. In spite of it all, Rahul Bose's Omar is a very tame, toothless villain who is not menacing in the least. After the point which I'll simply refer to as the 'transformation', there's never a moment where Kamal's Vishwanath appears vulnerable. 

In a movie about butterfly effect and chaos theory, there is ample space for coincidences. Talking about Vishwanath's relationship with his wife Nirupama- after his stint in Afghanistan, he is hibernating in the States under an identity of a classical dancer from India who couldn't hurt a fly. He is harmless and wouldn't raise even slight suspicion as to who he really is. To appear even more, for want of a better word, respectable in the society, he decides to get married. From Nirupama's confessions to her shrink, we know that her marriage was a one way ticket to fulfilling her dreams. There's no love in the relationship but just an understanding- a mutual agreement of sorts. Such is his devotion towards his work that he transforms himself into an effeminate person who is an embarrassment to his own wife. His closest confidante is another undercover officer named Ashmitha who becomes his student to stay close and communicate better about their operation. He may or may not be screwing her. I guess not. Everything's okay till now.

After reaching shore, Nirupama decided to do her doctorate in Nuclear Oncology. After years of study and research, she now works for a company headed by an Indian man who she is romantically involved with. Turns out the company is under Vishwanath's watchful eyes for channeling funds which may be used for something dangerous. Now how convenient is that? Or are you are telling me the marriage was just an excuse to get a student from India who is likely to become a Nuclear Oncologist and may just happen to work in the said company to gain an 'easy' access to the dirty inside workings? Wow. In that case, their plan is at least ten times more elaborate than even the terrorist's plans.

Nirupama coming around and instantly developing feelings for this newer, improved version of her husband is actually very understandable. It is said that some women are turned on by violence. Remember Maria Bello having passionate, rough sex (rape?) with Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence, right after she sees who he really is? Nirupama slowly turns into another Iyer lady with a big mouth - very similar to Asin in Dasavatharam, though, thankfully, never as annoying.

See, I love Kamal Hassan. My respect for him has grown manifold over the last few days. It's this instinctive feeling to support a man who has become a victim of the system. Travelling all the way to Bangalore to watch the film was in itself our own little rebellious way of giving the finger to JJ and showing solidarity with Kamal. But my not liking Vishwaroopam is my opinion. Though it sounds like it. I am not being defensive. With all due respect, people around me are so blinded by the controversy that they are mixing two things up. Their romanticized views have no place in a healthy discussion. I am happy if you liked the film and have valid reasons for it. But immediately questioning someone's judgment because that person didn't like a movie as much is plain silly.

Kamal as a director has a taken up a project which is working on a very big scale. I still think he ghost-directed Dasavatharam, or had more than necessary creative control. He still continues to use clunky looking props. Here, he abuses the Bullet Time technique to little effect; it leaves no impact whatsoever. The dialogues are not particularly good with instances where they are very bad. Remember that female cop during the interrogation? It's a tough movie to make for an Indian crew and the strains show. Sanu Varghese has done a good job. Vishwaroopam could have been better if the sequence of exposition were tweaked a bit. The final act is devoid of any sort of thrill and monotonously reaches an end. Like Dasavatharam, which ends with sympathy porn montage of Kamal getting his makeup applied, Vishwaroopam too overwhelms with some fast-cut, high-octane shots from action sequences, which we quickly learn belong to the sequel.

In all honesty, I am not at all excited to see this evolve into a franchise. I hope this genius who made Hey Ram would spend his time and talent on a better world. But do go and watch Vishwaroopam on the big screen. For Kamal's sake.