February 5, 2013

Viswaroopam – A Review

Viswaroopam - Kamal Haasan

Many years ago, after watching a mind-numbing atrocity called Aala Vandhaan (Tamil film), I swore to never again spend money on a Kamal Haasan movie.  I broke this promise by watching Viswaroopam. Although I don’t do movie reviews on What Ho!, I really must do this to get a few things out of my system.

First, if I were to list out the many flaws in this movie, being offensive to Muslims would not make the cut.

Second, there are no spoilers in this review. The movie is about a Kathak dancer who turns out to be an Al Qaeda fellow who turns out to be an Indian RAW agent who foils a bid by Al Qaeda to blow up New York city. If you are the type who sits on the edge of your seat waiting to find out if Kamal will foil the bid of a one-eyed sheikh, all I can say is that you should have drunk more Complan while growing up.

Third, this review will offend the sentiments of an increasingly fringe group known as Kamal fans, of which I’m probably still one. Brothers and sisters of the fringe group, I anticipate your anguish upon reading this. But look upon this as a much needed dose of tough love and reality that all of us, Mr. Kamal Haasan included, sorely need. If you’re offended, be offended. Stay offended. Outrage. Do your thing. Like I’m doing my thing here.

Dey PR people, you may call this a spy thriller. I don’t.

A supposed ‘spy thriller’, the movie has neither proper spooks nor is thrilling. Unless you count a RAW agent deputed in Afghanistan with nothing more than an interesting surname as a spy. Or unless you get your thrills from amateurish buffoonery performed by a confused and overweight man running around with an even more confused and equally overweight FBI dude and two clueless but not overweight women in tow. For heaven’s sake, while our one eyed Al Qaeda sheikh apparently learnt to speak Tamil on an all-expenses paid trip to Coimbatore, our Tamil dude didn’t bother with the ABCs of Pashtun before going into the field. If only he had read the ‘Lonely Planet’s guide to Afghanistan’, he’d have found that they speak a different language over there.

The film has Kashmiri Sambaar..

The story (Caution: I use this word loosely) is of a Tamilian chap whose mother inexplicably appends the surname Kashmiri to his Wisam Ahmed, making him out to be some sort of a Kashmiri sambaar. Why Wisam? Because it goes well with Viswanath? So it can be shortened to ‘Wiz’? Only the Lord knows. The first we hear of this “Kashmiri” dude is when his wife admits to marrying him so she could come to the US to get a PhD. Tam Brahms can be a resourceful lot when it comes to finding new routes to America. But, this innovative approach to getting American PhDs through marriages to Kathak dancers paints the Tam Brahm academic commitment in a refreshingly new light. By the way, this is the only propah mea culpa we get in a movie littered with far more egregious blunders.

And Kathak dancing, chicken eating Tam Brahm chicks …

Wisam surfaces at the opening as Viswanath, an effeminate Kathak dancer, whose Tam Brahm wifey Dr. Nirupama’s biggest complaints about him are his girly, long hair and lack of manliness, and not strangely enough about his cavorting freely with his much younger, nubile, chicken eating Tam Brahm dance students. On behalf of all Tam Brahms, I’d like to thank Kamal for his use of the slur ‘paapaathi’ to describe a Tam Brahm woman, and getting this formality out of the way within the first 10 minutes of the film. Considering the other names he’s called the community in the past, we’ll take this as a compliment. Other noteworthy points about Mrs Wisam aka Mrs Viswanath aka Dr. Nirupama, in addition to being portrayed as a  pucca stereotypical scaredy cat Tam Brahm, are that she’s a ‘nuclear oncologist’, is dating her boss, having her husband tailed by a private detective and generally considered by all to be a clueless moron.

The bizzare murder of the aforesaid detective, the details of which are best left untouched, leads to the uncovering of Viswanath as first Taufiq, then Nasser and then Wisam Ahmed, all in a matter of a few minutes. What, O Good Lord, was the point of those three names?

When they cut costs, do they also cut casts?

And why was I not surprised to find out that the boss dating Kamal’s wife eventually turns out to be a complete a-hole, dealing with terrorists and the like? Hey, no man looks forward to another guy dating his wife. But, to paint the other guy as a terrorist reveals insecurity and a certain lack of imagination. I’ll admit that there are budget constraints while making a film. But, to start bundling completely disparate traits and activities into the same character to save money? I draw the line there. And I wonder, how do they cast roles?

Kamal: “Hey you random fellow, here’s your part. You’ll play the suave suit-coat guy. You will speak Tamil with an American accent. You will run a nuclear oncology lab. You will first employ and then date my wife but you may not lay a finger on her at any point in time cuz we don’t like that kind of crap. By the way, you’re the main money launderer for Al Qaeda. And if we can squeeze it in, we’ll also try and get you to play the lead pitcher for the New York Yankees. And yes, you will be shot at point blank range at some point like the dirty dog that you are. Enna thambi, what do you think?”

Random Fellow: Ok, saar. Kamal padathila chance kadaikkum naa, enna venum naalum pannuven, saar. (I’ll do anything to get a chance in a Kamal film)

Okay folks, this is the INTERMISSION.  Go get your popcorn and then come back to watch me lose my way and destroy any semblance of the plot in the second half.

And the review resumes…

Viswanath is thus exposed as Wisam, rendering his repertoire of Kathak skills unusable and forcing all to flee through a secret hidden door down to the basement when they could have simply taken the steps downstairs to the garage. Before fleeing, he does find time for a hair cut and slip on a trendy leather jacket, thus causing his previously unyielding wife to instantly fall in mad love with him.

I have a lot of friends who have obtained PhDs. I’ve noticed them to be generally intelligent and quick to absorb complex information. If tested, I’m confident that they will score above average IQ-wise. For example, if I were to tell them that I was a secret agent named Wisam masquerading as a Kathak dancer named Viswanath, they would raise their eyebrows in surprise. They might ask me a few follow up questions. But they would get it in about 30 seconds. Aanaa, appadi illiyey indha Dr. Nirupama madam. (Alas, this Dr. Nirupama Madam is not like that.) What to do? Her wide eyed histrionics at every trivial revelation makes you wonder if she got her Ph.D. from Madurai Idly shop at a discount. Kodumai. Aanaalum romba kodumai saar.

And then you have Andrea Jeremiah who plays the other Indian RAW agent whose name I forget and whose only noteworthy contributions to this fine film are to offer to take Kamal’s pants off and generally tower above him in those scenes in which they let her appear.

Where do they upload the photos? Flickr?

Rahul Bose tries to come across as a gullible one-eyed Al Qaeda honcho, Omar, who loses his family in an American air strike. Dey Omar, I’ll tell you one thing. If you keep bombing other fellows, those fellows will bomb you back, da. You might want to live in a different pin code from your family, boss. This fellow Omar tries to get sympathy, but his weird looking glass eye and repeated attempts to blow up NYC unfortunately prevent him from getting any. Rahul Bose as Omar puts up a good show in the movie. Omar grunts. He whispers. He speaks Tamil. He smiles broadly as his people take group photos with a 14 megapixel fixed-lens camera. He’s, in fact, the most believable guy in the entire circus.

Oh.. the difficulty in finding good foreigners in a foreign country..

While we’re on the subject of casting, I have to mention the firangi guys. There are white guys. There is one African guy. And one African American woman. Of the Caucasians, the “MI-6″ guy takes the cake. Note to Indian film makers: When casting white fellows, please don’t cast guys who look like they passed out while doing drugs in the sixties and woke up only recently, as secret service agents. Think a little bigger. Well, just think. The African guy is the guy who’s supposed to blow things up. And why he prepares for it by shaving his entire body like he’s about to plunge into a pool for an Olympic freestyle gold medal is never explained. And did they hire that African American woman who plays the FBI interrogator from the checkout counter at a local supermarket? Dammit, Kamal. You can do better than this. You should have done better than this. You feel my pain, right?

The Faraday Shield

The lesser said about the FBI guy the better. But I will say more. He looks like a guy who would not even be cast in a used car commercial in the heartland of America. And they’ve made him out to be some sort of a mentally challenged individual. When he finds out that Kamal is a RAW agent, his mind is BLOWN. “Who are you?” he asks. Let me clue you in, my FBI dost. We were all asking the same bloody question too, at that point. And wearing a jacket with FBI emblazoned on it does not make you an FBI guy. Knowing shyte does. And you don’t rush into a room when you have a nuclear bomb sitting in the middle of it. You call the bomb squad. And if you don’t call the bomb squad, at least have the decency to conduct a public debate over if you should cut the blue wire or the green wire. Dude, we have all watched enough Bruce Willis movies to know this shyte. At this juncture, I’m sorely tempted to talk about something called the “Faraday shield.” But I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll be nice and let it be an unpleasant surprise for you.

The right to free speech.. and making rubbish..

There were a lot of people whose sentiments were apparently hurt by this movie. They got the screening of the movie suspended in Tamil Nadu. They have now got some scenes removed. They have created the impression that this movie is offensive to Muslims. I watched the ‘uncut’ version in Bangalore. It really is nowhere close to being offensive to any group but perhaps sincere Kamal well-wishers. Dey people, if you don’t like what you hear about it, don’t watch the film. Criticize. Yell. Shout. But don’t shut down someone’s shop because he’s not selling what you want to buy. We live in India. Not in Afghanistan. We are a free, democratic country. We’re like that. We tolerate stuff. Everything goes. Even rubbish. Even blasphemy. Although this film is not blasphemous that way. The most worrisome part of the movie came at the end, with the threat of a sequel left looming large over our heads.

The best comical film since MMKR..

Viswaroopam ends up as a deflated balloon called Buss-waroopam with its hodgepodge of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, FBI, Kathak, Tam Brahms and other podalankai (snake gourd) things. The nicest thing I’m willing to say about it is that it’s possibly the best comical film Kamal has made since Michael Madana Kaama Rajan. I did get a few laughs out of it.

Before we go: Dear Kamal Haasan Sir..

Dear Kamal sir, you’re a great actor. But you’re not a good director. Please stop directing films. And you’re a great actor only when you work with good directors. So work with only the good ones. As for me, I’m going to watch Nayagan yet again for the hundredth time to cleanse all these disturbingly bad memories. And I’m going back into my self-imposed ban on Kamal films and stay there. I refuse to watch a once-great actor descend into the pits of mediocrity and destroy the image I have of him.

And as for you people..

Please go watch Viswaroopam because Kamal Haasan deserves our support. Perhaps, just this one last time.

Note: This review has been cleared by the Censor Board, cut by 223 words, then approved by 58 fringe groups and blessed by Amma before being published.


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  • http://cybernag.in Zephyr

    Srini, I am going to ban What Ho for giving me a tummy ache laughing so much. Is this a film review or what? The Dey and Da and generous dose of admonishments addressed to Kamal, make it so hilarious that I nominate this as the ‘funniest’ of your posts. I am sorry for laughing, because your anguish at the antics of the actor comes through clearly.

    Not belonging to the fringe group of Kamal fans, I am not outraged or wounded, so there! And if I need a belly laugh, I will surely go and watch the movie, with a print out of this review :D

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Pain can be inspirational :) I feel bad that my ‘best’ work had to come at Kamal’s expense :(

  • http://www.ramkicooks.blogspot.com Ramki

    Hilarious ! Want to read all you have written !

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Thank you. Please do! cheers.

  • Karthik Vayalaan

    “Dear Kamal sir, you’re a great actor. But you’re not a good director.” If you can qualitatively prove this comment, I would totally agree with your review. Or else, stop making such sweeping statements. Your turn.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Defense presents exhibit A: Viswaroopam. The case rests, my lord. :)

  • arundati

    This is not a movie review – it is more like a look down from the ivory tower on the rest of the mortals of this country. Look at the drooling appreciation of this boobalicious babe whom you have chosen to call an actress with a propensity for histrionics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvzO6M10nMM
    She even claimed she grew up watching his movies – she grew alright. And histrionics is our birth right – we are Indians, not the stiff upper lipped Brits.

    Perhaps as a man, you have some jealousy, but we women love this man, ergo, the movie is great. We Tamilians are proud of this man, ergo, the movie is great. Even the great white man, Mr. Barry Osbourne, has stated that Kamal is great, ergo the movie is great. You see where this is going?

    And yes, keep harping on Kamal Sir’s anti-brahman stand while the Musalmans harp on his anti-Moslem slant in movies like Hey Ram and Unnai pol Oruvan, and pretty soon we’ll all agree he must be doing something right.

    This lotus lover has finished with his acting, because there is no role in which he has not acted. He now wants action movies to prove to Hollywood that they can bank on him. I hear Michael Douglas is shivering in his pants thinking of the competition – after all, he doesn’t know how to dance even a ‘dappang koothu’, leave alone Kathak.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Applaud your passionate defense of Kamal! err (i should) go.. :) seriously, this is not about about whether Kamal is a great actor. It’s about this movie being a mediocre one.

      • Bhuvana Balaji

        Watched the movie finally. Oh why? It’s even worse than mediocre. The only way it is offensive to anyone is by being an insult to people’s intelligence in general. That’s pretty bad.

      • http://whatho.in What Ho!

        Sorry to hear :) Well.. there’s always Viswa-2 to look forward to :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kountinya.sai Kountinya Sai

    The best thing about this movie is this review. Hope you watch viswaroopam 2 too, sure the movie will be equally crappy & will bring out a similar hilarious review from you

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Let’s wait to see what goodies Viswaroopam 2 has in store for us :)

      • deepu

        u were just talking about not watching kamal movies,how ur goin to review it

      • http://whatho.in What Ho!

        Might have to bend the rules in public interest :)

  • NageshKumar

    An Indian secret agent works to nail Al Qaeda , which is not an Indian govt policy or duty, then lives incognito in USA just to carry forward his personal mission to nail a terrorist he failed to catch Af, then he saves US city without even whispering the plot to CIA/ FBI..This is the most far fetched plot I am yet to see and the film itself is gory, offends a lot of sensibilities in between and ends in a whimper unabashedly talking about a sequel. Then the fans call it Brilliant, riveting extraordinary and whatever..BOO!

  • Kamaldasan

    A tamil movie will be a big hit only after the film is approved by the average south indian audience who form the vast majority of the customer base for Tamil films.

    You and I know who the average South audience of Viswaroopam expect to deal with the Nuclear bomb. Its Kamal and not the Bomb Squad.

    I have watched Viswaroopm 3 times already now. Some section of the audience are still clueless where in the Film, Kamal’s character is established as a RAW agent.
    This is becuase there is only one scene in the film where the Embassy guys tell the FBI that Wisam is from Research and Analysis Wing.

    A section of the audience couldn’t decipher that RAW is the short form of Research and Analysis Wing.

    Such is the state of the majority of the audience who must be satisfied by directors to make a successful movie.

    If you can tell the difference between good shyte and bad shyte then what makes you think that Kamal, who has 50 years of hands-on experince in films,can’t.
    Kamal is somebody who talks about the timelessness of films like Citizen kane, Rashomon and Antha Naal.

    Hence I’m sure he knows better than to think that his Viswaroopam is comparable to the finest of world cinema.

    I see Viswaroopam as the labor of Kamal’s years of experimenting and understanding of what works and not within the commercial format of Tamil films. This film is a triumph of sorts for Kamal as a Commericial Film director.

    I’m reminded of an exchange between Ilayaraja and Guitar Prasanna about Ilayaraja’s view on composing music to Tamil film music..

    Ilayaraja said “I have lot more ideas. I may not be able to do all of them in this. It’s like sitting in the middle of Mint Street and meditating”. Prasanna’s reponse was “I am sure we’ll agree that he has meditated exceptionally well on Mint street!”

    Kamal’s predicament is no different from Ilayaraja’s.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      applaud your ability to watch this three times. you, sir, are a man of steel.

  • http://goingbeyondthepages.wordpress.com Jas

    I almost fell down the bed laughing … WhatHo is injurious to my health :D btw, I am not getting any updates from your blog. I have subscribed but don’t know what is the issue.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Merci beaucoup, Jas! Not sure what the problem is, with blog updates. I’ve gone ahead and manually added you to the list. Hope that’s ok.

  • http://goingbeyondthepages.wordpress.com Jas

    I almost fell down from the bed laughing … WhatHo is injurious to my health :D btw, I am not getting any updates from your blog. I have subscribed but don’t know what is the issue.

  • V

    I especially liked the “Dear Kamal Haasan Sir..” part .It is so true ,he is an awful director but a very good actor.He tends to be very obnoxious and so emotional with the crap he churns out!

  • aalavandhan

    enjoyed ur review….As part of cutting the cost for this magnum opus, kamal could have avoided Andreah’s character. Her only purpose was to unzip Kamal’s pants and tell Kamal’s wife to take something (I didn’t hear properly) under her bra in the closet. Being a tamil film with global reach…can’t laugh at the part that everyone has to learn tamil…even an Afghan Pastun had to learn tamil ..poor chaps

  • Saravana

    Hey boy!!!! you are frog in
    the well,, critics is an ART , one should realize how we are qualified
    to do so , YOU ARE NOT FIT to watch a quality movies, KAMAL SIR DO NOT DO
    MOVIES FOR MORANS…

    PLS SPEND YOU MONEY on MINDLESS COMEDY MOVIES …. VISWAROOPAM IS NOT FOR MORANs .

    verdict : STOP YOUR STUPID REVIEWS.. IT IS HIGHLY Nonsensical

    • Kountinya Sai

      Enna kodumai Saravana. Computerla spell check illaya? Lol