Cinema: Intrigue, thick and thrilling

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THERE has been plenty of drama on-screen and off-screen when it comes to Viswaroopam.

The movie’s release was temporarily suspended in Malaysia as well as in Tamil Nadu, India due to some sensitive scenes. This led to its director-producer-actor Kamalhaasan to say that he was in danger of losing all his properties because of the delay. He was even considering emigrating to another country which could better appreciate his talents, he remarked.

Fans and stars from all over rallied to his support and even sent him money in his hour of need. Superstar Rajnikanth also offered to act in a movie free of charge for Kamal. Earlier, Kamal also courted controversy with a revolutionary plan to release his movie through satellite channels direct to homes to beat piracy before its theatrical release. But he backed down after protests by cinema operators.

Now that the movie has finally been released, it is a must-watch.

The 100 crore rupee (RM57 million) movie has grossed more than double that worldwide within a month. Some theatres in Tamil Nadu were running shows from as early as 6am to meet the demand.

It is a pity that the one-month delay in releasing the movie here has resulted in people buying pirated DVDs or downloading it from the Net. But nothing beats seeing it on the big screen.

Viswaroopam is technically brilliant and the snipped parts are apparently scenes in Afghanistan, which appear draggy in any case.

The story unfolds in three parts as flashbacks. The first shows Kamal as kathak dancer Wiz in New York. His wife (Pooja Kumar) is a nuclear scientist but their relationship is more platonic.

The second shows Wiz as an al-Qaeda trainer in Afghanistan. He becomes close to al-Qaeda leaders Omar (Rahul Bose) and his deputy, Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat). The third part shows Wiz uncovering a plot by Omar to explode a dirty (nuke) bomb in New York.

Of the three, the first part which focuses on Wiz as a traditional dancer and the conversations his wife has with her psychiatrist about her husband are the most interesting and amusing scenes in this movie.
Kamal is wonderful in that role, his effeminate movements and dialogues suit his character well.

Then comes the long session in Afghanistan, showing American forces blasting al-Qaeda hideouts. Those scenes were actually shot on sets near Chennai using foreign actors. Probably, that is where much of the money on the film was spent. Such fighting scenes have been seen in so many Hollywood movies, but are necessary here to show how the al-Qaeda develop warriors to become suicide bombers. They forbid children from pursuing their ambitions to become doctors or engineers and tell them to become warriors. There is no preaching here and Kamal handles these scenes with much sensitivity, without passing judgment.

I liked the scene where an old Afghan woman, lamenting  the loss of her home and loved ones, tells off the al-Qaeda leaders. “You men are all monkeys, but without the tail. All you want is to wage war!”

The New York dirty bomb operation comes fast and furious. The movie ends abruptly with an announcement that there is a sequel coming. Kamal has already shot most of Part 2. It gives Andrea Jeremiah, a miniscule role in Part 1, a more prominent role.

It is Kamal’s show all the way, with his three “avatars” (different get-ups). He plays a Muslim in the movie and displays his character’s devotion to his religion convincingly in several scenes. The 58-year-old is also fantastic in a fight sequence in New York.  

Hindi film and arthouse actor Rahul Bose, who plays the head terrorist, deserves praise for his powerful performance. Kamal has crafted that character well and has even allowed Rahul to overshadow him in parts.
The cinematography by Sanu Varghese, the stunts and make-up are of international standard.

There is only one song, Unnei Kaanadhu Naan, and this traditional dance number is infectious. The costumes (designed by Gauthami, Kamal’s long-time companion) and movements, are beautifully captured by Varghese’s cameras.
Kamal, known for his dancing skills, took a month’s training just to do this five-minute number. Shankar Ehsan Loy has taken charge of the score.

Controversy has always pursued Kamal, who joined cinema as a child star. His previous movies — Devarmagan, Hey Ram, Virumaandi and Dasavataram — all drew criticism, but mostly from minorities. But everyone admires his talents and interest in taking Indian cinema one notch higher. Go watch the movie.

NOW SHOWING

VISWAROOPAM (Tamil)
Directed by Kamalhaasan
Starring Kamalhaasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shekhar Kapur, Samrat Chakrabarti
Duration 150 minutes
Rating 18

Kamalhaasan (right) and Andrea Jeremiah dance in Viswaroopam.


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