Vishwaroopam II: Tinkered Tailored Older Spy

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Let’s start with the ending
The thing that struck me about the first Vishwaroopam, a film for which I crossed state borders covertly to watch(much like an espionage operation) was the abruptness in the ending.
It ends with Wisam telling that there is more to the story and what we witnessed is not really ‘the end’, but it did not have the niggling hook that would keep me guessing on what the next part would explore and moreover it did not really help that Kamal himself is delivering this as exposition and not a visually striking image of say a (too use the often used) Kattappa killing Baahubali.
Even looking at the first part in a facile manner which is a spy navigating between complexities and saving the world; the film did provide enough closure.
{Bad guys plans a series of attacks on a city and a team of spies unearth and thwart the operation.}
But Vishwaroopam is not a superficial spy thriller, at least it aims to do more.

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At the core of it all is Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri, a spy who believes in his cause someone who does not treat his license to kill as target practice and is empathetic to those he might have to kill.
Case in point is the friendship between Omar Khureshi, Salim and Wisam which takes up much of the middle of the first movie and these threads need to be addressed.
(not necessary a universal requirement, but more like universal hero’s requirement)
That brings us to Vishwaroopam II, which works more as a companion piece to the first film and not as a sequel; filling in for things that better explain the Indian spy’s motivations.
While the movie does go deeper into things that were throwaways in the first film, especially effective is Wisam’s relationship with his mother.(Waheeda Rehman in a brief role, last seen in Tamil cinema in the 1956 film Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum). Wiz temporarily returns to being Vishwanath in a teary moment dominated by Alzheimer’s (second medical ailment in the franchise after killer cancer in the Roopam I), when the movie is just about casting away the role of the dancer.
Needless to say, Kamal is on top form or is it like displaying all these nuances in half-awake mode now? The other story machinations like how Wisam became Viz are less successful, a London mission before the intermission seems like a very long stop-over before Wisam and team reach the national capital.
I love the spy films in all forms, they lend themselves to the multi dimensional entertainment, the genre comfortably accommodates modern action films like the Bourne movies, cinephile-treasures like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the wink-winks like The Kingsman, send-ups like Paul Feig’s Spy and Oscar favourites like Argo and these are only from recent memory. All of them add to and derive from the construct of the spy thriller.
Vishwaroopam II draws from all the aforementioned sub-genres and naturally the result is not a satisfying mix; for a moment it a mission-driven-race-against-the-ticking -bomb-action-film, a few scenes later it is a musing on the futility of war and even further down the run-time it is an examination of loyalty and nationalism.
There’s isn’t time for all this, boss. Omar waits with one more bomb around the corner. (A bomb around the corner would have a been a better title to this piece, #justsaying)
There simply isn’t time and it shows, the action seems too rushed and the globe-hopping locations which usually adds excitement and romance to these spy films here are just tailored to suit exposition dumps.
The lack of resources too very evident, with the actors limited to performing in moving cars or in an uncharacteristic hotel suite and the number of times toilets conveniently appear in this film only made me think about how constrained the production would have been ; a stark opposite to the expanse of Afghanistan which was reiterated multiple times in the first film.
As though to make up for all the above, there are genuine fun sequences in the film and director Kamal draws me in with a cracker of a title sequence which is a crash course of things past in freeze time played to new version of Nyagabagam Varugiradha.

The story is also in the telling, the nonlinearity is intact and Wisam still gets to sweat about his past. Packed with multiple “woohoo!” moments and timely call-backs to the first film (Namaz panna poriya!). In Kamal’s world even a blood splatter can dissolve into a map.

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But Omar bhai takes precedence over everything and Rahul Bose is absolutely fantastic as the villain who thinks he is the hero and wait a minute, he isn’t even in the movie till the third act.
I loved how the movie returned to the outrageous-ness of Roopam I when he came back on screen giving Wisam something really challenging to work with, because until then Wisam was just putting bureaucrats in place with wit.
Yes yes, I also know that the movie tries to deal with larger issues like how education is important, how war creates more problems than it can solve etc, how nationalism cannot be ‘instilled’ etc but OK this is not the blog site for all that boring stuff.

But this is the kind-off blog which will stand-up and applaud at the inane moment of the villain’s glass eye popping out and rolling on the streets of Delhi. Movies like these are hard to come by and need to be savoured probably with steaming jilebis.

Good luck Wisam! Hat-tip to Munnavar!

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BLOODY APPALAM

BLOODY APPALAM

Or the birth of a genre called Shankar

 

Two nights ago they showed Gentleman on TV, yes I watched it like I have always found time whenever the movie was shown; which is almost always. The movie somehow takes me back to a theatre called Udhayam, it is still there, with not even a shadow of its previous glory. It stands unattended, sign boards sagging opposite the colossus of a metro station up and coming, surely to devour the memories of Udhayam being the most favored film destination of people in and around where I live.

Gentleman was not the first film, I saw in the theatres; but is definitely the one I remember the most; that along with Jurassic Park. The umbilical cords that brought me to my love: film. There is this uncontrollable Hyde of emotions in me, whenever I watch a film; there is more of it when I watch something the second time; the uncontrollable burst of words that comes even while those pictures flicker through. Whatever the film might be, I try to write; but even these bursts would have been rubbished; called as an amateur narcissist attempt to be part of something which you can never be, these feelings are however washed away in the following morning and one more count increases in the unfinished word documents folder somewhere in this system. But Gentleman is different; I will risk any internal battle to write about a film that one has seen at different points in life; thus ends the self scribbling. Oh yes, I did really hate my previous post. #selfhate

A thing of honesty is a joy forever.

It is the year 1993, without having to attribute what world events would have influenced the making of a movie; I proceed directly to corruption; Gentleman was definitely not the first film to show  the color of the hands of the politicos and officials were; at least in the films I have seen before, there have been villains who are politicians and they are villains because they rape and plunder, how they don’t keep up promises or completely ignore the people or they have some direct confrontation with the hero. But never has the problems of the working middle class, of how they have to deal with things grudgingly done. It was a terminal shift from the problems of the poor to the problems of the people who neither belonged below nor above.

The characteristic would repeat straight from Shankar’s next film Kadhalan a middle class collegian yearns for the governor’s daughter; in Indian it was the same suffocating middle class that brought Kamal’s Chandru to the city, Mudhalvan’s Pugazhendi a TV reporter who lives in a street as narrow as an old woman’s hair center parting; even  few of the parents are the same in Boys; the exceptions only being Sivaji and Jeans: but those are different films, it is clear from above that these problems are central to the films of Shankar, but Gentleman being the first is the most striking and honest; a mould from which the others were made.

One man vs. the world.

Staying on the topic of classes, Arjun’s Kicha coming from a poor background and in a society which prevents him from becoming a doctor, so then he uses a self supporting industry; one of entrepreneurial spirit and one in keeping with a certain community’s stereotypes to give him a morning alibi; he doesn’t at once wield a revenge sword at his enemies, he waits and does nothing to them.

Instead he becomes a professional thief by night, only to give unto others what was denied to him: education, this according to me is the closest we have gotten to Batman, and there are many similarities as well; Kicha also has his own Alfred.

Also the protagonist would choose the supposedly meekest of communities to make his living, to avoid any kind of suspicion. The Brahmins are known to have distanced themselves from active society, fearing any direct contact with it; it is often perceived as indifference, it is only another representation of fear in an increasingly Dravidian political land. Shankar would develop this one man theory in the rest of his filmography to increasingly dizzying implausible heights, finally in Sivaji the character becomes a sort of Atlas on whom the world rests. It would have lost the angst and the humanism as how Arjun played it in Gentleman.

The Film itself.

The film itself was a resonating success; no first film Tamil director had yet broken into film heaven as how Shankar did; he had in short he created his own genre and it was only later that he got to work with Kamal and Rajinikanth; so his initial success can surely be attributed to the taut storyline.

It is however far from perfect, in real life nothing close to the events of Gentleman can happen, but somehow the film shortly stops our rationality but not entirely dismantling it; that kind of balance would be very tough to maintain, even for Shankar in later days.

The setting itself provides ample opportunities for humor and gross indecency with games like Dikkilona & Jalabulajung the very mention of these names expound nothing but sex, there are also close-ups to body parts which are better not shown when children are watching and a mock rape, but these too are inducted into the scheme of things (if you are one looking for explanations to quench your logical questions, these are there; but just). The film also moralizes the current generation, but not from the angle of a frustrated policeman  shooing off scantily clad girls but in an almost ‘if you do this, this only will happen’ approach.

Like most Tamil movies which couldn’t find solutions for problems it deals with, Gentleman too ends up in court, the end is no good for society but there is some hope for the individual, the do-gooder will survive.

Gentleman created a format for big budget filmmakers to fill it wither juice(or lack of) later on, so many sapling films with the same story or with a different problem cropped up covering the issues it sort to tackle, but essentially the same thing, it gave birth to the mass film with a different meaning, not like the ones made by S P Muthuraman and others in the 80s; but not completely different. It was the perfect launch pad to the starry skies and milk bath cutouts, but not all succeeded as Shankar did. It can be easily said that he is one filmmaker who uses the screen to the fullest, but succumbing under his own persona he can possibly never make a great film, all his movies will be hits, but it can never come to the closeness of being a great film is what strikes me, not even close as how close Gentleman came. His ability to draw in masses and manipulate audience to believe in a dharmic utopia for three hours is still there for people to see, but how long will he be at it? Will he fail when he or his audiences finally wake up to the truth that one man really cannot change everything for others?

The burning body of Manorama wailing running hither thither in her hut providing her son the one last shot at donning the lab coat and listening to the stethoscope, and Vineet or what is left of him is surrounded by fluttering bloody appalam are pictures that would remain with me.

After the film

Shankar continues to make big budget films, his most recent film and perhaps his weakest was the Tamil remake of 3 Idiots, one of the biggest successes of the year. Although he himself has become his archetypical hero, producing films like Veyyil, Kalloori and Eeram. Small films which aim to just to tell a story, something he could never do; something he was probably denied off. Just like the medical aspirant Kicha who steals secretly to build a ten storey hospital

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act which guarantees education for children between the ages 6 to 14 came into force on April the first, 2010. The problems of higher education discussed in the film are yet to be dealt with.

FORGET ME NOT

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Naked pair of feet, running on cold asphalt, headlights catches her image and car swivels out of control edging into the wilderness. Only that the driver of the car had been Mike Hammer, private detective.

Unsettling right from the beginning ‘Kiss me Deadly’ narrates events as bizarre as possible and somehow keeps the mystery till the very end, this in fact is the success of the film is what I believe; the very inability not only in classifying the film but also in describing it.

Mickey Spillane’s contribution to the world of pulp, Mike Hammer is the tough guy equivalent of a fox, playing the dice on both sides of the table for so long, Mike Hammer is awakened morally by a near naked girl running away from the mad house; who speaks at length on poetry and psychoanalysis in the short time she accompanies him, and so begins his quest.

Through the course of the film Mike meets person after person in a desperate attempt to find ‘that’ secret , with each person mouthing out their own philosophies and having hidden agendas, after a point it seems however that there is no apparent agenda other than the suppression of secrets.

People might argue about the film’s wafer thin plot, but now close to sixty years after the films initial release; the director smiles through the film signifying how plot intricacies are so yesterday. But then Robert Aldrich botches up a last minute explanation for the whole thing, I don’t know if the film would have reached a greater audience if any such explanation was not given; but it would have been more sincere than ‘those’ three words.

Kiss me Deadly is one of the most intriguing movies I have ever seen, instils a sense that cinema is essentially visual than verbal, having said  that the dialog here sparkles too; a default characteristic of film noir . Even while watching it, we will realize it is unlike any other.