Friday, August 10, 2018


Release date:
August 10, 2018
Kamal Haasan

Kamal Haasan, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Shekhar Kapur, Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat, Waheeda Rahman, Russell Geoffrey Banks 

(Note: This film was shot simultaneously with the same cast in two languages, and has been released as Vishwaroopam II in Tamil and Vishwaroop II in Hindi. Here is my review of the Hindi version, Vishwaroop II.)

When Kamal Haasan is good, he is so good that he has the ability to transport the viewer to another realm. From a boy in a forbidden relationship in K. Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal (1975) to the country bumpkin in love with the only educated girl in his village in Bharathiraja’s 16 Vayathinile (1977), and the bitter, brooding, idealistic unemployed youth whose scintillating chemistry with the great Sridevi scorched the screen in Balachander’s Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu (1980), over the years he has invested himself in some wonderful roles in wonderful films – mostly in Tamil, some in Telugu – with directors who had a significant point to make.

There is not enough space here for an exhaustive list of Haasan’s best works, but it will remain one of life’s eternal questions why this artistic giant has wasted so much of the past 30 years on gimmicky films instead of devoting himself entirely to the raw, soul-searching performances he is respected for – the sort you will not find in his latest venture.

Vishwaroop II is the Hindi version of the Tamil Vishwaroopam II, both of which were shot simultaneously with the same actors and are a follow-up to 2013’s Vishwaroopam/Vishwaroop. In the previous film, Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri (Haasan) is leading a double life in New York, as a Kathak teacher who is, in reality, a RAW agent. Nirupama (Pooja Kumar) is bored of her marriage of convenience with this older man until she discovers his truth. Wisam’s encounters with the Al Qaeda terrorist Omar (Rahul Bose) end in the latter’s escape.

Vishwaroop II spends a considerable part of its pre-interval portion recounting what happened in Part 1. This proves to be a drag for those who have seen that film, and while I cannot speak on behalf of those who have not, the flashbacks are so sketchy that I do not see how they could have served the purpose for which they are placed there.

Anyway, in the present day, Wisam, his young protégé Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah), Colonel Jagannath (Shekhar Kapur) and Nirupama once again run into Omar who is out for revenge against Wisam while also planning a cataclysmic event in the UK that would put 9/11 in the shade. Somewhere between saving the world and himself, Wisam manages to woo his wife and bond with his mother (Waheeda Rahman).

Vishwaroopam II is too ordinary to be worthy of a detailed critique. It makes a fleeting mention of Islamophobia, but in a month that has given us Anubhav Sinha’s brilliant Mulk, that argument, though reasonably well made, is too marginal to merit a discussion. I suppose you could say the crux of the film is to remind us that Haasan at 63 has still got what it takes to be a hero in an all-out commercial film, but all the gravity-defying stunts in the world cannot mask the superficiality of this storyline, the mundaneness of its thriller elements, the lack of a spark between Haasan and Kumar, Ashmita’s irritating effort to imply that she is romantically involved with Wisam (towards which end she even makes a distasteful reference to rape) or the all-round tackiness of the production quality.

For all its failings, at least Vishwaroop had its slick art design (in that dance studio in New York and in Omar’s hideout on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border) going for it, in addition to memorable choreography by Birju Maharaj and impressive fight scenes. Here, the fake studio backdrops at certain places are so glaringly obvious that I wanted to weep at the thought of a legendary thespian even bothering with this project. Yes, I get that Indian films are made at a milli-fraction of the budget available to Hollywood, but so many of our cinematic works look technically rich, including several in Haasan’s own career, that this excuse does not cut ice.

The mediocrity extends to the story, the storytelling, the research, the music and the sound design. In a scene in an assisted living facility, a nurse is shown almost pestering an Alzheimer’s patient to dip into her memory. Even someone with a basic knowledge of Alzheimer’s Disease will tell you that that is an absolute no-no. Elsewhere, in a closed room supposedly in the UK, horns can be heard blaring loudly and incessantly outside – the sound designer appears to have forgotten that constantly honking is a congenital Indian disorder and that the streets of Britain are far calmer than ours. The entire cast’s acting is unremarkable, and the women in particular are mere appendages to Wisam. Jeremiah is attractive and agile while walloping a villain, but does not have enough such scenes in the film.

The low point of Vishwaroop II is the terrible singing of a number titled Tu srotu hai by Haasan, Kaushiki Chakraborty and Karthik Suresh Iyer. While Haasan shouts in places to camouflage his struggle to sing, Chakraborty and Iyer screech when the pitch goes high.

Sadly, Haasan has no one to blame but himself for this misadventure since he is the producer, director and writer (the dialogues for the Hindi version are by Atul Tiwari).

I love Kamal Haasan. I do. I was a kid when I cried for his character Raja as he assured his best friend that he was not in love with her in Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar (1985), one of the few Hindi films he did that I thought deserved him. I laughed till I died at his antics in the dialogueless Pushpak Vimana (1987). And just recently, when he stepped into Mohanlal’s role in Papanasam (2015), the Tamil remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Drishyam starring Lalettan, he did indeed remind us that he still has what it takes to play the leading man in an all-out commercial film without the crutch of a double role, a triple role, 10 roles, a lover who looks young enough to be his child, a heavy use of prosthetics or excessive reliance on an action director that have been the USPs of too many of his films from the 1990s onwards. All he needs to do is stay as nicely physically fit as he is now, rely on his tremendous acting talent, pick dependable directors and solid scripts. Maybe someone needs to write a mystery thriller on why the iconic Kamal Haasan does not get that.

Apart from the shock value of the extreme violence it features and a vital statement about fundamentalism-versus-education, Vishwaroop II has nothing new to offer. It is a scar on Haasan’s filmography and a dead bore.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
2 hours 21 minutes 

Footnote about the Censor rating: A UA rating makes no sense considering the nature of the violence in the film. Among other disturbing visuals, Vishwaroop II shows us repeated close-ups of gory wounds, daggers piercing eyes and necks, and a lingering shot of a man whose throat has just been smashed with a fist. While you cannot help but wonder whether it helped the film that the Censor Board chief is its lyricist, to be fair, this rating is in keeping with the hypocrisy of India’s film rating system which has for long now deemed violence, sexual innuendo, sexism, extreme misogyny including rape jokes and casual assaults on women in male-centric, big-banner commercial projects UA-worthy, while explicit depictions of sex between consenting adults are usually given A (Adults Only) certificates. More recently, with Veere Di Wedding, we saw the CBFC stamping an A rating on women just talking about sex and masturbating. 

For more on this, you could read my column headlined “Consistently Inconsistent” written in 2015 – nothing has changed since then:

A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:

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