Before I proceed to write anything, certain disclaimers are in order:
- I am a Kamal fan. I have liked all his movies, even his most flawed movies have had more interesting things in them than most other movies, IMO.
- When I said “interesting” in the above sentence, I mean just that from an entertainment POV. He is not always right, has naïve opinions (naïve even for me!) sometimes and can be annoyingly incoherent most of the time. But his films are still “interesting” simply because they usually have layers, at least a few, not all of them subtle but they exist. And that alone has been enough to make me a fan. Simply because you don’t get that many tamil movies with layers (and I don’t mean crude double entendre jokes).
- This, like all other articles on films in this blog, is not a review. Reviewing a film is a different process that doesn’t interest me, nor am I qualified to write a review. It is merely some thoughts I wish to share about and around the movie, the people in it, not in it and my experience with the movie with a lot of digression in between.
Before I get into what I really want to talk about, here is what I thought about the movie from an entertainment POV: It was good, more coherent than the KamalHassan fare we have seen of late, but it was very incomplete. The movie in and of itself is pointless if he doesn’t do a sequel. And even then, sequels cannot be setup the way he has set it up in this film. There are gaping holes in plot structure and back stories, with enough indication that there is more content, but is not covered in this movie at all. That is simply no way to release a film. Either, he should have made Vishwaroopam-2 along with this film and released both together (like what Anurag Kashyap did with Gangs of Wasseypur) or he should have split the parts in a way that ensured that each part was complete to be a standalone film and make sense. The way this has come out, there is no point in discussing anything about the movie, because he obviously has purposefully left out most of the interesting parts for the sequel. I have no idea what to make of something like this!
That said, the movie was of a very high quality in terms of technical aspects. Much better than all the Indian movies we have seen till date. And I don’t intend this to refer just to the aesthetics or camera work. As he often claims, Kamal is a better technician than a director and that shows in the movie. All the problems I had with the film would have gone away if only there was some emotional investment between Rahul Bose’s Omar and Kamal’s Wisam. That connection that usually creates the stakes for the audience to feel conflicted just doesn’t exist. Things are too plain and non-dramatic between the hero and his nemesis for us to root for anybody. Rahul Bose is extremely boring by the way. Pooja Kumar’s bosoms had more screen presence than this caricatured villain.
As you can see, I am highly conflicted about whether I liked the film or not. After thinking things through, I have decided that I was actually quite disappointed by the film, but I did like a lot of parts. And the fact that it has truly served a higher purpose by bringing out a severe lack of understanding and the highly underestimated sense of identity and loyalty of various groups of people within India, has made me want to like it more than I care to admit.
You see, Vishwaroopam has been different for me from other Kamal movies, in that, I have been involved in and been a spectator to very interesting discussions about the controversies around the movie much before its release. I have had the privilege of getting a front row ticket to the thought process of a fringe group and why they almost unanimously prefer a ban for the movie, through a closed online forum’s discussions. It was not a representative sample by any means, but it was a diverse enough demographic. What transpired in these discussions initially shocked me – I was obviously naïve enough to not even expect such a unanimous reaction. When I slowly started engaging in the discussions, I started to grow frustrated that what I considered rational debate did not get through however hard I tried. And from all the public reaction (admittedly in twitter, facebook, blogs and opinion posts), that collective lack of understanding has been continuously validated over the last one week. I am referring to the fact that most of the non-fringe group of Tamilnadu are surprised that the fringe group is offended by the portrayal of a certain group of people living in a country that is not India as villainous terrorists who plot to terrorize by applying jihadi principles. Why are a group of peaceful harmless people in Tamilnadu defending and feeling apologetic towards this other group of people simply by virtue of their religious identity instead of identifying themselves with their fellow Indians? What is there in common between the villains portrayed in the movie (with ample shades of gray to redeem themselves as is possible to show in a 2.5 hour movie about so many other things IMO) and this group except for the fact that they both pray to Allah? Are people so afraid that other groups of people cannot make the basic distinction between good people and bad people?
This has been the primary source of disconnect (at least to me) that I have noticed. And it appears that it is not merely a semantic disconnect, but an actual one where a lot of people belonging to the fringe group are afraid that unless the proper context with enough redeeming factors is set, general laymen will see all people in the fringe-group as villainous. Unless a film about them is going to touch upon all aspects of what forced their creation, the source of their beliefs and the complete nature of their jihadi principles, a film about them should not be made. I can begin to see where they are coming from, but this thought process is unfair to be imposed on an art form that tries to be entertaining, state of the art, socially responsible (in spite of what my writing so far could indicate, I surely think this is one of the better and more responsible films on this subject) have songs and dance, hot heroines and excellently choreographed stunt pieces in all of 2.5 hours. More importantly, the “ban” surely feels unjustified. In fact, by making the hero and the savior of all humanity belong to this very fringe-group that is requesting the ban, Kamal has possibly made one of the most sympathetic films on the topic and has tried to place in context that belonging to the fringe-group is completely different from being a terrorist.
It is proving to be highly likely that the real reasons for the ban could be entirely commercial and completely unrelated to concerns of a religious nature. If that is indeed the case, the powers that be have behaved more irresponsibly than the movie ever can. My biggest concern now is with all these bans and delayed screenings, will #Gzhand make the bloody sequel or not? My OCD will drive me crazy if he doesn’t fill the gaps! That that person, that that problem.