Vishwaroopam II

Vishwaroopam 2 poster

Kamal Haasan’s sequel fills in much of the backstory from Vishwaroopam and there are flashbacks a plenty as RAW Agent Wisam (Kamal Haasan) faces off again against terrorist Omar (Rahul Bose) and his dirty bomb threats. Despite all the explanation, it’s best to have seen the first film to understand the sequel, although the few brief glimpses of key scenes – the warehouse fight, Vis in full dance-instructor mode, are enough to jog the memory so a re-watch prior is not necessary. Fleshing out the background does help put everything into perspective but sadly VII has nowhere near as much finesse and style as the first film. Along with jolting between the past and present, the sequel plot doesn’t get anything like the same attention to detail and the ‘bomb’ situation in VII is over almost before it begins. However, the flash-back sequences are good, Kamal Haasan is still impressive in the action sequences and Rahul Bose is fabulous as Omar suffering the effects of radiation poisoning.

The film starts just after the end of Part 1, with Wisam (aka Vis) taking the body of Dr Dawkins back to the UK, accompanied by his wife Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), fellow agent Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah) and his handler Colonel Jagannath (Shekhar Kapur). Once on English soil Wisam butts heads with Eshwar Iyer (Ananth Mahadevan), in charge of Indian special operations in the UK in a side plot that is never fully developed. It feels as if there are a number of scenes missing and Eshwar is another character who is gone before he’s made any impact. Of greater urgency is the terrorist’s plot to blow up the shipwrecked SS Richard Montgomery near Sheerness, which leads to a couple of well-choreographed action sequences including one underwater. Full marks for incorporating a real historical incident (the ship sank in 1944 carrying a full load of explosives and has never been fully salvaged due to the risks involved in recovery) but marks off for the lack of suspense since the mission to retrieve the terrorists’ explosive device fails to deliver any tension, despite Nirupama having to dive through the ship’s unexploded ordinance.

And that’s the problem with much of the action this time around. The hunt for Omar and Salim is side-lined for needless scenes including several suggesting some kind of jealousy between Ashmita and Nirupama. These really didn’t work at all and I can’t decide if that was due to the bad dialogue or just the body language from the two actors which suggested that they were both uncomfortable with this angle as well. The romance between Wisam and his wife also occupies far too much screen time for an action flick, especially when it’s at the expense of developing the villains of the piece, who only appear briefly towards the end. In addition, most of the scenes set in the present day appear as set pieces – short bursts of action or dialogue which don’t relate well to each other or to the flash-back sequences. On the whole the flash-backs actually work better, perhaps because they are shedding light on characters motivations and revealing what happened to key players but also because there is more energy in these scenes.

One thread that does work well in the present day is the introduction of Waheeda Rehman as Wisam’s mother. On the wall are pictures of a young Kamal Haasan and youthful Waheeda while the beautiful song Naanagiya Nadhimoolamae plays over her reminisces of her son’s dancing skills. This scene is made all the more poignant by the fact that she has Alzheimer’s disease and doesn’t recognise Wisam as her son. Waheeda Rehman is excellent and still so incredibly elegant, and it makes perfect sense that she should have taught her son all he knows about dance.

The action moves from the UK to Delhi, where finally Omar and Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat) get time onscreen, but it’s too little too late. The film suffers from not having a clear track featuring the villain in the present day, especially when Omar has already had so much presence in the flashbacks. Instead we get various, almost faceless terrorists who are dispatched quickly without too much fanfare. While there is plenty of blood and gore, most of this seems coldly clinical although there is one nicely executed sequence where a splatter of blood turns into a map. Omar’s artificial eye gets another work-out and Rahul Bose’s harsh rasp is chillingly effective, as is the make-up departments dedication to creating slowly dissolving flesh caused by radiation sickness. However, the final showdown seems almost cartoonish in its delivery and execution, especially given that it all happens so very quickly and comes to a sudden conclusion.

After the brilliance of the first film and all the hype (and long wait) for the second it was perhaps inevitable that Vishwaroopam II would fail to fully deliver. Vishwaroopam was a sophisticated spy drama with excellent special effects and clever dialogue that broke away from the more typical masala action film, while VII seems to slip back into more standard fare. While VII does retain some of the original ideas, the dialogue seems more laboured, while the central plot is buried behind the many flashbacks and explanation scenes. Although the actors all reprise their roles well, there seems to be less energy this time round and despite their greater time onscreen, the characters of Ashmita and Nirupama aren’t as well utilised in the plot. Although VII isn’t terrible the screenplay is haphazard with the plot more of an afterthought to flesh out those extra scenes that didn’t fit into the first film – and therein lies the problem. VII isn’t a film that stands up by itself and although it works as a sequel, it really needed to be more than just that.

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Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum

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There are so many great actors in Allaudinum Arputha Vilakkum. But you’d never guess they were that great just from watching it, if you catch my drift. The cast includes Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Gemini Ganesan, Savitri just to name a few. I.V Sasi made his gaudy 1979 Aladdin and the Lamp film in both Malayalam and Tamil. I happened upon the Tamil version first so that is what I will be discussing here.

The story opens with a sorcerer in a cave, who reads something disturbing in his big book of spells and then uses his great powers to conjure up….dancing girls. And HELEN! He also uses his magical powder to give Helen several outfit changes. He may be evil but I think I like his priorities.

Allauddin (Kamal Haasan) is a layabout. He gets into a fight after his opponent cheats on an armwrestling challenge, and actually uses the rough end of the pineapple as a weapon! Nice. His poor mother (Savitri) looks quite done in by all the drama. He is also the only person who can retrieve the fabled lamp from a cave. The Evil Sorcerer disguises himself and persuades Allauddin to accompany him to another city. Conveniently they pass by the secret cave. Allauddin is sent in to collect a lamp and is given a magic ring that will protect him. He evades some not totally terrifying special effects – although considered cumulatively, it would have been quite enervating. I noted snakes, demons, snakes, bits of demons, snakes, dancing ladies, snakes, demons with extra bits, a lion, lake of boiling acid, snakes.

Allauddin accidentally rubs the magic ring three times, and summons the spirit who helps him get home via a leisurely flight. There is a genie in the ring and also it turns out, one in the lamp. I wonder if there is some kind of formal demarcation. They don’t seem to communicate but there must be rules, surely?

Allauddin makes a wish and his lifestyle goes from poor but honest to grand and gaudy in an instant. Seriously. His outfits are just something else. And Savitri looks a lot more like, well, Savitri when she is in her fine silks and sparkles. He makes the transition from lazy rogue to competent hero with minimal effort. And I mean minimal effort. Kamal Haasan puts no energy into the action scenes, preferring to conserve his resources for the abundant opportunities to overact. He doesn’t even dance much.

He meets the ruling family when he accidentally saves one from ambush, when all he’d meant to do was have a perv at the dancers. And that brings him into the path of Kamaruddin (Rajinikanth!!!!). Back at the court, the Shahenshah (PS Veerappa I think) rewards Allauddin for his bravery and is furious at his security people that this incursion was allowed so easily. He berates his courtiers, especially Mir Qasim (Gemini Ganesan in a fetching lilac top and gold cloche) who is demoted. He appoints Kamaruddin to a job that requires a fancy sword. Kamaruddin also has notions of marrying Princess Roshni (Jayabharathi) although she doesn’t seem thrilled and I can see why. Kamaruddin is an unappealing, nasty tempered man with a taste for gaudy tunics and contrasting capes.

Rajinikanth’s facial expressions are priceless as he seems to have decided surely this must be a parody so he will go all out all the time in all the scenes. He also does very little “dancing” but that is hardly a surprise.

Allauddin also falls for Roshni just on hearing about her beauty, but decides to make sure by going to perv on her during a ritual bath. There IS a theme here.

I feel inspired to make bath time more of an occasion. I can do without the scores of onlookers, but I may make myself a gold chicken headdress.

To be fair Roshni returns the favour by disguising herself as a man so she can go check out Allauddin at his shop.  Theirs is a love based on mutual ogling and love of dress-ups.

Allauddin asks his mum to go ask the king for Roshni’s hand but Kamaruddin has already called dibs. When the courts cannot decide, they settle their differences as tradition dictates – by gladiator fight. The genie gives Allauddin fancy gold undies and a cape. Perhaps for protection. Maybe just for fun. It’s a gladiatorial triathlon! Horses and pointy sticks, then just the pointy things, then paperthin wobbly swords and shields. Allauddin wins, just, and I think Kamaruddin says something like “Fine. I never really liked her anyway dude”. And I marvelled at two of the biggest stars in Indian cinema. In gladiator outfits.

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Allauddin goes home to break the news to girl next door Jamila (Sripriya) who has always been sweet on him. He tells her it would never work out. Sorted! For no obvious reason, Kamaruddin is catapulted off his horse and lands with pinpoint accuracy in a tiny patch of quicksand, just big enough for one person. His horse stands by pretending it doesn’t know what is expected in these circumstances – it had not seen MAGADHEERA! Happily Jamila walks by and she comes to his rescue. Although. Surely the idea is to use the rope to drag the victim out, not drag yourself towards them…Anyway.

Kamaruddin is easily distracted by a glimpse of shoulder, and the idea of a girlfriend who will rescue him.  I think another wedding is on the cards (although this one may require a shotgun).

While the ladies are very much pushed into the background by the story and their male co-stars, I did like that Jayabharathi and Sripriya brought some individuality and expressiveness to their roles. And Savitri could overpower Kamal Haasan’s overacting with just the raise of an eyebrow. Plus, outfits.

While love bloomed, they all forgot about the Evil Sorcerer who is now in league with disgraced Mir Qasim. But our heroes are game for anything, AND Allauddin has his trusty genie. What could possibly go wrong? You’ll need to watch it to find out!

There is a lot going on but nothing of substance really happens so I didn’t really miss having subtitles. I did find that whenever anyone spoke for a very long time, I drifted into happy contemplation of all the gaudy frocks and sets. The visual effects are showing their age but there is a cheeky good humour at play. I even laughed out loud at Allauddin and the genie playing hide and seek around the house. And I could not believe this cast in this film, getting up to these shenanigans.

This is a film I would have loved when I was seven and really, not much has changed. It’s a ripping yarn with some unintentional hilarity and a commitment to searing it’s images on your retinas. I don’t think it would warrant frequent repeat viewing but gosh it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. 4 extra sparkly SBIG stars!

Vishwaroopam (2013)

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I left Hyderabad the day Vishwaroopam opened and of course it was then banned while I was in Tamil Nadu, so I didn’t get to watch the film until its DVD release.  But it was definitely well worth the wait! Vishwaroopam is a slick and well-made spy thriller which features excellent performances from the entire cast.  The only downside comes in the last 20 minutes or so when everything is tied up a little too conveniently for my liking, and unusually for a Tamil film not everyone dies!  The last few scenes set everything up for Vishwaroopam II, and perhaps there will be some bigger fireworks and a more impressive ending for the ultimate finale.  The plot revolves around the ‘war on terror’ and in style and delivery is reminiscent of various Hollywood spy thrillers, combining overlapping story lines and interweaving time frames to ensure the film stays gripping right to (almost) the very last minute.

The film opens with Nirupama (Pooja Kumar) explaining how she has an arranged marriage with Vishwanath (Kamal Haasan), a middle aged classical dance teacher, which enabled her to come to America and obtain her PhD in nuclear oncology (this I couldn’t believe – 3 years and she’s finished already?!).  Despite her marriage, Nirupama is attracted to her boss, Deepak (Samrat Chakrabarti) so she hires a private detective to stalk her husband in the hope that the detective will uncover a reason for her to divorce.  Of course she does – this is New York after all.  Somehow in the process of chasing after this mild mannered dance teacher, the detective stumbles onto a terrorist cell, which leads to the terrorists tracking down Nirupama and her husband.

Now, I ask you, does this look like a man who can counter terrorists?

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Especially considering he’s just demonstrated this:

Well, you’d better believe it.  Vishwanath, or as he later reveals his real name Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri manages to take out the terrorists in a piece of action that’s so good we get to see it twice. It really is worth it though!

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After the Kathak teacher shows us just why it doesn’t pay to mess with a dance master, the story is off and running as Wisam takes us on a flashback into his past in Afghanistan.  Here we see a completely different character since Wisam is a jihadist, living with, and training Al-Qaeda terrorists along with Omar (Rahul Bose) and his sidekick Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat).  Wisam is as different as it’s possible to be from Vishwanath and yet Kamal Haasan makes it easy for us to believe in the transition by ensuring both characters show the same amount of passion for their beliefs.

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Rahul Bose is also excellent as a more fanatical jihadist and the interactions between the two men are a wonderful mixture of camaraderie and suspicion.   There is plenty of symbolism too, which is occasionally a little heavy handed as the point is made in a number of different ways that in every conflict the ones who really suffer are the children.  There are some well thought out glimpses of life in a mujahedeen training camp as the scenes move between day to day life, terrorist activity and attacks by the Allied Forces.  Writer/director Kamal Haasan doesn’t pull any punches here and the depiction of the attacks and the killing of prisoners are reasonably graphic and quite gruesome in parts.  But then again, it’s nothing we haven’t all seen on news reports over the last few years.  From that alone the film does appear to be very realistic.  Cinematographer Sanu Varughese does a fantastic job in capturing the vibe of New York along with some spectacular scenery in Afghanistan, interlaced with claustrophobic shots of the terrorists in their hideouts and caves.

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The first half is full of action as the film moves from the training camps in Afghanistan back to the present day and Omar’s current plans to blow up a dirty bomb in New York.  Best of all for me, Omar now has a glass eye, and there are some excellent shots where it’s very obvious that both eyes aren’t looking in the same direction.  I admire that level of dedication to the character! Occasionally Rahul Bose almost topples into caricature with Omar’s limping shuffle and virtually incoherent whisper due to his physical ailments, but he still manages to keep an aura of menace in most scenes.

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After all the bomb blasts, rocket launchers and gunfire it’s inevitable that when the action moves back to New York there has to be some explanation and investigation which slows things down a little.  However the tense momentum of the first half isn’t sustained in the much shorter second half of the film.  In addition to the slower pace, the answers seem to be found just a little too readily and the explanations are just a little too glib.  Still, these are minor points and overall the story is complex and absorbing.  It’s a spy thriller so of course no-one is quite as they seem, except perhaps poor Nirupama who is caught up in her work to the exclusion of everything else and in typical research scientist mode doesn’t see what seems to have been right under her nose all the time.  Andrea Jeremiah, Jaideep Ahlawat and Shekhar Kapur are also good in their supporting roles.

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As a spy thriller Vishwaroopam fulfils everything expected – there’s a convoluted story featuring plenty of twists, great action spanning fight scenes, car chases and plenty of explosions, and even a hint of romance.  The star of the show is definitely Kamal Haasan who is brilliant as his character morphs from one persona to the next, but Rahul Bose is close behind in the acting stakes, and Pooja Kumar does an excellent job with her portrayal of Nirupama.   Overall it’s an enthralling watch and bodes well for part II. 4 ½ stars.