Viswaroopam comes with not just Hollywoodish feel but also its idiom. This is not to say that the assessment of terrorism is "rooted in pop culture framework", but the cinematic idiom of this spy thriller film smacks of that tradition. For those of you who liked Kamal Hassan's heart-rending treatment of the protagonist's moments of grief in 'Hey Ram', this movie does give a sense of deja vu at some places. There are pluses and minuses, hits and misses, and overall, it is more style than substance.
The film begins on a high commercial note - with Kamal exuding feminine mannerisms as a Bharatnatyam guru. His wife, Dr. Nirupama, has been spying on him by hiring a private investigator just to know whether her middle-aged husband is cheating on her. At her work place, she has been getting cozy with a colleague, Deepak, who later turns out to be associated with a terror gang led by Omar bhai (Rahul Bose).
Much to her shock, she comes to know that Vishwanath is not a Hindu but a covert Muslim. This worsens her situation and even before she can know her husband's true identity, a group of gangs swoop on their residence and pack them off to an unknown location. After they are beat up over a comic conversation (such interludes are there throughout, a typical Kamal touch), the wife comes to know that behind the soft-spoken, seemingly effeminate man is a heroic fighter who is capable of beating even armed men to pulp before the audience can make out what is happening (this is one of the finest moments of the film when the same fight is repeated in slow motion, with a song playing in the background).
Cut to 2002, we are introduced to Kamal's flashback where we see him as a Telugu jehadi (a rare breed, as Rahul's character says) commissioned to train al-Qaeda men in Afghanistan. He there gets to see the lives of jehadis first hand, interacts with their women, catches a glimpse of Laden, witnesses the executions of an American soldier and a traitor, and eventually, develops rivalry with Omar bhai.
The second half answers who Vishwanath alias Taufiq alias Wasim Ahmad Kashmiri is. Why are Rahul Bose's men after him in the city of New York? Why is he on the radar of MI6, FBI and NYPD (yes, only these many)?
Films of this genre have a desire to awe the audience by showing attacks and plots in an elaborate fashion. While human emotions take a backseat in the second half, Vishwaroopam loses itself in one lengthy counter-terror operation (shot richly and executed deftly in the landscape of NY). Though entirely appropriate, there is so much English in the second half that it starts looking esoteric for those who are not used to watch Hollywood flicks. (A director's mind may think that one must watch it another time to pick up the threads, but how many will care to give films a second viewing nowadays?)
Whether or not most of us will like to wait for a second part, after the ending, it feels as if we had only half plate meals.
Happily, the writers (co-written by Kamal and Atul Tiwari) know that all 'war on terror' is nothing but a farce, for it is oil that matters for the "trader in terror" that is US of A. (A character sharply says that if Americans are given the oil, even they will start saying 'Allah is Great'). Did jehadis think during the Afghan war that NATO will not attack women and children? Sounds a bit naive. The recreation of the terror camps and the Pashto language is top notch.
Much to the discomfiture of the laic, we see the investigation episodes and the bid to foil the terrorists' plan shot in a somewhat knotty manner. The very many sentences in English add to the woes.
The absence of songs in the second half (the songs in the first half are hatke) makes it look all the more shorter. This only proves Kamal's conviction in the script. (AL Vijay did disgust serious movie buffs when he had a song for Amy in Shiva Thandavam). Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy deserve a pat on the back for the snazzy BG score. (Well, GV Prakash Kumar had done an extraordinary job in Shiva Thandavam).
The dialogues (dubbed by Vennelakanti) are minimal. The humour (that comes in bits and pieces) is of the kind we have seen in Kamal's movies. (Sample this: An American lady takes umbrage when Pooja Kumar says 'Satyameva Jayate').
Kamal's character has been sketched neatly. He comes with an "emotional baggage," keeps his cool even in the most difficult situations, talks minimally and acts bravely. The impeccable actor that he is, Kamal metamorphoses into three characters with astonishing perfection and ease - the feminine guru, the bearded jehadi, the suave and sophisticated hero.
Andrea Jeremiah and Pooja Kumar both fit the bill. Rahul Bose delivers one of his career's fine performances (he looks utterly realistic in the Af avatar). Shekar Kapoor and Nasser are good.
Sanu Varghese's cinematography is nimble and it is easily one of the biggest high points. Mahesh's Narayanan's editing is proper.
Verdict: All in all, Vishwaroopam is technically dexterous, the scenes could have been more tightly written to excite the audience regularly.