Director: Kamal Haasan
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur, Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat
What a lovely decision to cast Waheeda Rahman, in Vishwaroopam 2, as the mother of Kamal Haasan's character! You can just see it — one actor known for graceful dance begetting the other. They're bonded over generations of cinema — but there's more. If you recall the first part, RAW agent Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri (Kamal) refers to India as his mother, and this mother — his real mother — lives in New Delhi, the country's capital, and she has Alzheimer's, so she doesn't recognise her son. She's… Mother India, and she's forgotten her Muslim children. Note the beautiful song, composed by Ghibran, that plays over the scene: Naanagiya nadhimoolame. It's in the raga Desh, and the common-noun form of the word means… country. A series of Kamal-isms? I'd say so. The masala-movie trope of "amma sentiment" is transformed into a small commentary about the motherland.
Vishwaroopam 2, written and directed by Kamal Haasan, isn't the James Bond kind of sequel/prequel, where you can miss one outing and not miss out on anything in the next. It's more like something from the Star Wars universe, where the films are interlocked, and each new adventure takes off from where the earlier one ended and also takes the story forward. Take Rogue One. Did we really need an entire movie to learn how the Death Star schematics ended up in the hands of Princess Leia? Isn't it enough that we saw her, in the very first (or fourth, based on chronology) film, feeding the plans to her droid and beseeching Obi-wan Kenobi for help? It depends, I guess, on how obsessive you are about filling in each and every blank.
Vishwaroopam 2, then, is the film for completists who want to know how, for instance, the "Wanted" poster of Wisam came about — the one we saw in Afghanistan in Part 1 — when he's supposed to be a top soldier in the Indian army. Why was Wisam recruited in the first place? (Because his father is from Pakistan.) What's the history between Wisam and Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah)? (It involves coy looks and a sexy off-shoulder dress.) None of this is, in any way, necessary — but the first film, now, assumes a little more heft. The best way to experience these two parts may be to intercut between them and watch the whole thing in sequence.
The new developments are underwhelming and give off a distracted air — as though they just wanted to be done with it
Kamal has said that Part 2 came about because Part 1 (planned as a single movie) became too long, and the best parts of Vishwaroopam 2 are the ones that look like outtakes and hark back to the earlier film. The new developments are underwhelming and give off a distracted air — as though they just wanted to be done with it and somehow get some 140 minutes of footage. Given how close Shekhar Kapur's Colonel Jagannath was to the British agent Dawkins in the first part (and given his declaration, at this film's beginning, about killing the man responsible), he doesn't even get a proper send-off. And some characters, like Ananth Mahadevan's Eeshwar (as in God? Another Kamal-ism?), appear extraneous to the story when we want to see more about the confrontation between Wisam and the deadly duo of Omar (Rahul Bose, in fine, hammy form) and Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat).
The short shrift given to these villains is most baffling. One of the campiest elements of Vishwaroopam was the vaguely homoerotic undertone in this relationship. (It felt like the one in North by Northwest, where the Martin Landau character was in love with his villainous boss, played by James Mason.) In Vishwaroopam 2, Salim is even more of a compassionate caretaker. He sulks when he realises Omar has seen him getting beaten up by a girl, and later, he holds Omar while the latter pukes blood. (Playing around with radioactive elements is injurious to health and causes cancer.) They swore revenge at the end of Part One, but here, they get more footage in the Afghanistan portions (the past) than in the ones they should be exacting that revenge.
The set pieces, too, seem hastily done. When Omar, in Afghanistan, realises the truth about Wisam, we have to guess how this development came about — more fill in the blanks. The action sequences aren't bad when you consider what we usually get in Tamil masala cinema (there's at least some imagination), but the vibrancy and sharpness of Kamal's staging in the first part is missing. The pacing of these scenes is sluggish, and I don't know whether it's the editing (Mahesh Narayan, Vijay Shankar) or the result of cobbling together leftover footage. But if you manage to forget that this is a standalone film, it's never dull. In other words, apart from completists, Vishwaroopam 2 is for those who (a) remember Part One (Omar's reference to the warehouse fight is hysterical), and (b) are invested in Kamal's restless questing to reconfigure the shape of mainstream entertainment. Like its predecessor, Vishwaroopam 2 manages to infuse a dose of smarts into the big-dumb-action-movie template.
The film opens with a text-crawl informing us that Wisam foiled the plans of Omar/Salim, et cetera, but all we need, really, is the close-up of the effeminate Kamal's anklet bells — it all comes back. The doves. The cesium. The reflections. The emphasis on education. Wisam's sorrow while killing Muslims, as though he wishes he could beat better sense into his brethren. The bad accents (which are, somehow, easier to live with in this installment, perhaps because we are now used to them). This strange world, which, at times, appears populated only by Muslims and Tamil Brahmins. (The way the latter characters speak, it looks like RAW is doing all their recruiting from the agraharam by the Srirangam Ranganathan temple.) The credits play over scenes from Part 1 and the song asks us: Nyaabagam varugiradhaa? The answer is a resounding yes.
The pacing of these scenes is sluggish, and I don't know whether it's the editing or the result of cobbling together leftover footage
The crowd-pleasing masala moments aren't many, but they work. (A dying army man goes with a smile, after sighting a slain enemy.) So do the Kamal-isms. Hitler is name-dropped. If Pakistan was "appa" in Part 1, here, India becomes America's "thangachi." A news report about a tsunami in Japan echoes a similar threat, later, in Britain. A scene with an Indian traitor echoes Omar's lines about what the Al-Qaeda does with traitors. (We also get an echo of Wisam's Muslim identity making him a suspect even in the eyes of people on his side. And this is a man who won't kill, even when his life is in danger, because impressionable Muslim children are watching.) Blood from Wisam's bullet-shelled body falls on Omar, further colouring what Omar calls their biradari, their brotherhood. The older film's "endha kadavul?" question now goes to someone from the opposite camp. The Kamal Kissing Scene™ we expect does occur, but on the soundtrack we get a female version of Unnai kaanadha. (The yearning for Krishna is now back with the female gender.) The first film's link between war/male and education/female is cleverly brought up in a punchline about "aayudha ezhuthu." The Mughal-era knife, alas, doesn't make an appearance here. I thought it would, given that Salim pocketed it after killing Dawkins. But I was happy to be proved right about Omar's family. (There are many hints in Part 1.) And I thought I saw a callback to the warehouse fight that's unleashed in the time between two drops of water falling — here, a dramatic action block unfolds in the time it takes for a man to relieve himself. An overreach? Possibly. But then, Kamal makes you think.
And what about Nirupama being referred to as Anupama, which also means "incomparable"? I leave that for you to think it out. As Nirupama/Anupama, Pooja Kumar looks more comfortable this time around. The catfight-y banter between her character and Andrea's doesn't work (it could have been a great running gag), but it's still refreshing to see a heroine in a masala movie actually do something. Wisam may no longer be the effeminate dancer who answered calls as "Mrs and Mr Vishwanath," but even now, his priorities are right. "Dr. Nirupama," he announces. Only then, "My wife."
Like every self-respecting film from a big star, Vishwaroopam 2 is self-referential
And what about Kamal? It's not about this performance, which supplies what the role requires, but about how few performances we have left, given his decision to quit acting. Vishwaroopam 2 begins with a mini-documentary about the actor's political party, Makkal Needhi Maiyam, and when I saw the crowds thronging around him in Trichy, Erode, Nagercoil, Sivakasi, I was reminded that this screaming FDFS crowd around me, for a Kamal movie, might be one of the last. Like every self-respecting film from a big star, Vishwaroopam 2 is self-referential. If Naanagiya nadhimoolame goes all the way back to Kamal's first film (with the line "ammavum nee, appavum nee"), this is how Salim gloats to Nirupama about (what he thinks is) Wisam's death: "Un 'nayagan' naragathukku poraan." Normally, we'd call this vanity, but now, it feels different. It feels like a reminder that, with this actor who has been on our screens for longer than many of us have been alive, the older films may be all we have left.