Vishwaroopam 2, the sequel to the first film which released five years ago, picks up from where it left off, jumping continents and time zones once again. The protagonists in the sequel remain the same – Wizam (Kamal Haasan, who is also the director), Dr Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), Ashmita (Andrea), Colonel Jagannath (Shekar Kapur), Omar (Rahul Bose) and Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat). The film was made and released simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil.
Shots from the first film play out when the title credits roll, but if you haven’t seen it entirely, chances are that you may not be able to make head or tail of the sequel. While Vishwaroopam was about Wizam’s journey from India to terror camps in Afghanistan, and to the US, the second film, at first, appears to be interested in delving into what this journey has done to him – when a man has seen death at close quarters repeatedly and has bloodied his hands several times over, what does it do to his mind?
We saw suggestions of this in the first film and they are all the more pronounced in the second – while the ‘Bad Muslims’ Omar and Salim take sadistic pleasure in violence, the ‘Good Muslim’ Wizam is repulsed by it. When he shoots down a man for the first time in the sequel, in fact, he is so sickened by what he’s had to do that he needs to lie down and calm his nerves. There’s also a terrific scene later in the film, during a flashback sequence, which has Wizam reliving the many moments of violence in his life – Kamal does not speak at all, but his eyes do all the talking, his face contorting with helplessness, pain and even fear at what he has become.
But Vishwaroopam 2 is determined to be an action thriller and that’s where the film falters. Not that there aren’t any impressive stunts but there isn’t any tension packed into them. The underwater sequence, for instance, had me wonder why one of the characters who’s overseeing such a nail-biting mission would take a toilet break at that point. Hold on for five minutes, maybe?
I’m also not sure if a PhD in Nuclear Oncology gives one such diverse talents as to scuba dive into the ocean in a potentially dangerous situation within a moment’s notice. While Nirupama’s wide-eyed ignorance was mildly amusing in the first film, her sudden undying love for a man who lied to her and got her nearly killed (when she clearly did not sign up for such a life) harks back to the devout heroines of the ’80s. As bodies fall around them and Wizam himself seems pretty battered, they find the time to roll around in bed before they’ve even had a proper conversation about what in the world had gone on in their marriage. Or do such lay things not matter to people with PhDs?
Andrea, as Wizam’s junior agent, is stuck playing an impish Ashmita who gets on Nirupama’s nerves. Though she gets her own action scene, I wish she’d had more to do in the film than play another satellite to the hero. The scene with the two women in the toilet (come to think of it, the characters seem to have the worst timing when it comes to taking loo breaks), for instance, was screamingly obvious to the audience. But, the RAW-trained Ashmita fails to respond quickly enough.
The lovely Waheeda Rehman, who plays Kamal’s mother, doesn’t have much screen time but her scenes with Wizam are among the best in the film. Yes, yes, it’s the same old mother sentiment but packaged well and performed by two actors who know their job.
What Vishwaroopam 2 lacks is a good bad boy. Rahul Bose as the wheezy, scarred Omar hardly appears like a threat though he has way too many scary bombs at his disposal. While his one-eyed look is creepy enough, the performance doesn’t rise above the prosthetic and make-up. In fact, I was thinking about Sathish imitating him in Tamizh Padam 2 and trying not to giggle. Kamal would have done well to pick a new adversary in the second installment. It would have injected some much-needed freshness into the script.
For a film that seemingly disavows violence, there’s plenty of blood and gore. Children getting shot, men getting stabbed in the eye, the sickening crunch of breaking bones, a nod to Kill Bill even. Personally, I don’t mind graphic visuals but I was hoping Kamal would delve a little into the politics driving the violence. Otherwise, we’re just biding our time till that all-too-familiar scene when the hero diffuses the bomb, down to the last second.
But just as the first Vishwaroopam had lines that turned Americans into heroes (they never shoot civilians), the second one too has them rescuing a terrorist leader’s family along with hostages. Such magnanimity! Terrorism in the Vishwaroopam world is only about religious fanaticism and has nothing to do with the systematic way in which Western capitalistic countries have exploited the Middle East and encouraged the violence in the region. There’s a slight joke about the American love for oil in the first film (made by the terrorists themselves) but that’s all. There are some bits which speak of the Islamophobia that Wizam has to confront, but given that the film takes so little effort to explore the politics of terrorism, these almost look justified within that framework. It's fine to want to make films like Hollywood, but must we ape their politics on screen, too?
While the cinematography is impressive, the VFX work looks quite shoddy and not what you’d expect in a production with this scale of ambition. The scenes where a green screen has been used stick out like a sore thumb. However, Ghibran’s music, especially the background score, is a plus. The film could have become unbearably noisy, given the amount of violence, but the score is restrained and doesn’t try to take over the scenes.
At the end of Vishwaroopam 2, one is not sure if the first film needed such an explanatory sequel that plods its way to a predictable conclusion. I'm aware of the delays and difficulties in production and release, however, one can only review the film that we've got. Perhaps Kamal felt he had more to say at the end of the first film. But it rather reminded me of this boy in my schooldays who’d write all that he’d studied for his exam and not just what was necessary for the paper.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.