Terror with nuance

Vishwaroopam
Vishwaroop (Hindi)

Director:Kamal Haasan

Cast: Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Shekhar Kapur, Jaideep Ahlawat, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah

Let's see now. What did I get offended by in Vishwaroop? By the fact that Kamal Haasan plays an effeminate dance teacher in an American town? No, Haasan has proved that he is good at both classical dancing and being limp-wristed, on screen. Or by the fact that his wife is played by a girl who looks young enough to be his daughter? No, Haasan has given himself an out on this one: the script calls him a "much older man" who is a prize catch only because he has a green card.

Once I was done casting about for things to get offended by, I sat down to watch the film, which turned out to be fairly gripping in true comic book style, covering such current hot topics like global terrorism, jehadis, Mujahideens, and a few good guys. Not that I didn't sigh impatiently here and there because some parts were too stretched, or because I felt it could have finished before it did. But on the whole, once I got past my insistence on realism and wishing it was shorter, I enjoyed the film. There are no complications in the way it goes about its business: it thoughtfully rewinds a super-quick portion in slo-mo so we can easily reach where Kamal Hassan wants us to get to.

It's one of the few Indian films that actually spends time in building up a lived-in Mujaheedin base: almost a third of the film is shot in the bleached mud huts and caves of what looks like Afghanistan and its neighbouring terrain. (There's also, a sighting of Osama: this must have been done before Kathryn Bigelow turned the dreaded Al Qaeda big man into toast). Vishwaroop injects some realism in the portions dealing with the Big Bad Mujaheedin's (Bose) wife and child.

This time, Haasan is careful not to alienate us, the audience. He makes sure that he is not going to put us off by donning ten disguises and forcing us to choose between his 'dashavatars'. He alternated between a mincing dance teacher, a bearded Mujaheedin, and a leather jacketed, clean-cut fellow, who gets to say, "I am neither a hero nor a villain. Neither a good guy nor a bad guy".

This is a Kamal Haasan who is not heavy on the system, because he is part of a story we are involved in, even if he does get more screen time than anyone else. The bang-bang shoot outs, the whole dirty-bomb in America and the Muslim terrorist angle, are familiar, but done with an eye. And I'm very pleased to report that in keeping with the general tone of the film, the FBI is shown just like the Hindi cinema cops who always show up last. Basically, the buffoons, only there to help the big, brave hero.

In a satisfactory comic book, everything comes out right. This is a fill it-shut it-forget-it film, whose big budget slickness never overpowers it, and which holds you while it lasts. Ooh, should I get offended by that?

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