Empty front rows at Vishwaroopam

In normal course obtaining a ticket to a Kamal Haasan film on the second day of its release and a few minutes before the matinee show in a single screen theatre like Lavanya in central Bangalore would be an impossible task if you are not willing to take the black market route.

So on Wednesday, on the second day of the screening of the Tamil version of Vishwaroopam in Bangalore, it was a pleasant surprise to breeze past hoardings of the actor put up by fans, and a posse of policemen stationed for security, to reach an empty ticket counter.

"People are coming in trickles. Not many are sure the film is playing as yet. This is our third show today and we are not sure if there will be a next show or if we will be forced to cancel screening again," says the man at the counter.

Though there was no government ban on the screening of Vishwaroopam in Karnataka, like in Tamil Nadu, following protests by Muslim groups, the BJP government here took a cue from Tamil Nadu and waited before finally allowing its screening.

As many as 12 Bangalore theatres, mostly single screen ones, began screening the film over 50 shows.

Inside the Lavanya theatre for the matinee show, the middle, back stalls and balcony sections are nearly full but the front seats, or "the Gandhi class", are empty. There are a sprinkling of women and children, a few old men but the rest of the crowd is largely local Tamils and Kamal fans.

Loud whistles ring when the censor board certificate announcing Vishwaroopam appears on screen and they continue to rise from around the theatre through the opening credits hitting a crescendo when Kamal Haasan makes his first appearance.

Every twitch on his face is cheered lustily in the first half hour before the poor audio in the theatre and the international spiel of the spy thriller, including its attempt to look at the human aspect of the culture of violent jihad that originated in Afghanistan during the time of Osama bin Laden, gradually loses its emotional grip on the audience.

The film begins in New York soon after the killing of Osama and flashes back to 2002 when he and the al-Qaeda were running terror camps in Afghanistan.

The film is essentially about good and evil and rarely rises above commercial kitsch despite throwing in dirty bombs, terror funding, terror videos, Taliban thinking, and the RAW in the mix.

The film depicts in an unstated way the casual nature in which religion sits next to violence among terrorist groups. Kamal Haasan has definitely tried to make a statement about the co-habitation of religion and violence in his film but in the end that gets drowned out by the James Bondesque nature of Vishwaroopam.

In one scene where an American police officer questions an Indian woman on her religion, she says she is not Muslim. "My God has four heads," she says. "Then how do you crucify him," asks the police officer. "We don't crucify them we dunk them in the sea," replies the Indian.

There are also attempts at some telling statements one is on lost childhoods when a young suicide bomber lingers on a swing, and another when a terrorist abruptly leaves his youngest son blindfolded while training him to identify bullets (the young son himself aspires to be an English-speaking doctor against his father's wishes).

"I could not understand the film too well. Maybe the sound should have been better. I came to watch the film because I am a life long Kamal Haasan fan and I always watch his movies in the first week," said Panduranga, a 79-year-old retired government employee came with his wife.

"Some parts of the film were difficult to follow. It is a good action film," said Santhosh, a member of a local Kamal Haasan fan club.

So far only the Tamil and Telugu versions of Vishwaroopam have released in Bangalore. The Hindi version is due for release across more screens including mall screens on Friday.

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