Christmas Eve can make for a very peculiar situation when you are little kid. All those gifts have been wrapped up and are waiting for you under the tree and you've already been told that you will love it. But there's a catch, you cannot open them until the next day, and all the while you are anxious to find out why other people think you will love it. The thought that it's going to be a surprise just for you drives you mad, yet you eagerly hold your horses without taking a sneak peek at them, just to feel the "wow" first-hand, at the right time.
When you think about it, it's funny how films can invoke similar emotions in you. Only this time, the wait has been far too long, more than the opening day and more than the blockbuster weekend. Vishwaroopam has made all of Tamil Nadu look forward to a court verdict and has come closest to make the people pay respect for art instead of succumbing to piracy. Having already lost a good portion of what's at stake, Kamal Hassan's so called "magnum-opus" is here.
After a couple of weeks packed with drama, it can be understood why Kamal Hassan gave his everything to Vishwaroopam. The moment you set your eyes upon it, you know that it was worth the wait. It boasts a level of thought that raises the bar for even Kamal Hassan who is known for his dedication. The end product invariably is an action packed thriller that leaves behind most fundamental laws of Tamil cinema, and with all its disparity holds on to stay that way.
The production value behind Vishwaroopam is just stupendous. You haven't seen spy films from India like this before, not in any age and as the plot pulsates between the back story and the present, you are soon left unable to keep count of the sophistication. Kamal's presence is benevolent across departments. His witty dialogues that possess crude and groovy meanings are plenty. Some of them, which survived the screening, are truly outrageous and impressive. Despite the gory nature of the screenplay, the film offers something to everyone (maybe except kids) and lets you dwell on a handful of little tales until the last frame. Shortly put, it's brilliant.
Kamal Hassan's job as director is obviously mind-boggling. But, he doesn't waver from his usually breathtaking levels of acting. His character in the film has been stretched to include three different personas altogether, each representing a different extremity of art. The natural humour resonates through the first fifteen to thirty minutes of the film, when he is the animated Kathak master which is alone worth the money you paid for the ticket. As he transcends into a more aggressive and imposing role, his effort makes way for everything else to follow. To have pulled this off after his obsession with the rest of the act deserves dozens of standing ovations.
As the Kamal avalanche continues to course, the rest of the actors gather together the bits and pieces and make the film more convincing. The lead man leaves enough room for others to excel, despite the dominance. Rahul Bose is first in order for job well done as a jihad villain. He has been dragged around to play a similar role to Kamal in a good-portion of the film, and is sure to have appealed across the various versions of the film. Andreah and Pooja Kumar are pawns carefully placed to add value rather than hinder the experience. Additional characters including Nasser, Shekhar Kapur, Jaideep Ahlawat and dozens of minor unnamed characters lift the project to Hollywood standards and bring forward a lesson in detailing that most of Indian cinema still lacks.
Sanu Varghese's camera is another pivotal point of the film. There's too much going on for you to comprehend it immediately, like the stunts and the dialogues. The height of it is seen with the backstory, shot to look like Afghanistan, as people, soldiers, helicopters, machine guns and emotions are all thrown into the mix. The stop-and-go focus on dialogues has good impact, even more than the background score.
So this is an action, spy thriller. You'd expect the hero to be present everywhere and do everything himself. But things are different. Despite all the hardcore nature put into his role, Kamal isn't always the lead action guy; he rarely pulls of crazy stunts. Instead, the film goes through a lot of gunfire, a lot of bombing and you feel like you are seeing the film from his perspective, rather than witnessing him take down everything evil with his own bare hands. This means a perfect recipe for an engaging thriller, that also has some masala for the masses.
While all the pluses can be overwhelming, you are required to pay close attention to identify the flaws in Vishwaroopam. The biggest, perhaps, would be the background score. The soundtracks were used amazingly, but on several occasions, the BGMs tend to become repetitive and sometimes even out of place. And even if it is Kamal Hassan running the show, spy films are spy films. There are a bunch of necessary evils added in, like terrorists speaking Tamil, the innocent civilian turning into a hero, and a story line that's not the first of its kind. But the way he does it, no one would really be complaining. But, the minor flaws after a hyped up films brings you back to reality and to realistic adjectives to describe the film.
Will Vishwaroopam offend anyone? Oh yes, it will. It boundaries onto several sensitive issues and Kamal's creativity has never been approved by cinema. That's no reason to ask him to be orthodox. The man hasn't made up anything out of thin air, of course, and the most outrageous parts of the film also tend to be the most truthful. After all, Vishwaroopam is commercial enough to be watched by everyone, and instead of doing well to justice his art; it will do justice to his investment as well.
Rating - 4/5 - artistic, thought provoking and thrilling all at once
Verdict - a potpourri of everything-best from Indian cinema