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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A New Beginning

AnbeSivam1Kamal Haasan (KH) announced that he would retire from films from barring Vishwaroopam 2 and Indian 2, not surprising at all. The fact to be noted is that both are extensions of his previous works and sadly not something new.

‘Something new’ would be the murmur of those who walked out of a Kamal film, even for the truest of fans, the films would be things that couldn’t be described at a moment’s notice.

Notice that KH has been very cautious about his late career, not wanting to be another curd rice eating lion (his phrase for the later phase of Nadigar Thilagam) but somewhere along the line he too had realized that it was time.

Time is of the essence, something that resonates in Kamal’s cinematic swan song “Uttama Villain” in which an ageing superstar has to balance between his final act to right his wrongs and his final act (in a movie) with his mentor.  For me the last Kamal consummate performance.

Performance that has no end is of interest, one song from the film claims. Yes we have finally reached the point in the universe that there would be no more waiting for a Kamal film. Waiting and patience, the two characteristics that binds even unlike Kamal fans of which there are many.

Many careers come to an end, but few leave a lasting impact; while in fields which are driven by statistics (hi sports), achievements  which will always be broken. Performance artists on the other hand achieve near immortality thanks to their craft and can comfortably disregard numbers.

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Numbers too are surprisingly in Kamal’s favour; in a career spanning almost sixty years he has played from camp to class and what lies between.  Take 1982 for instance which gave the Tamil movie going public both Sakalakalavallavan and Moondram Pirai. This is not a singular occurrence Sagara Sangamam came with Sattam, Nayagan came with AVM’s Paer Sollum Pillai, Virumandi and Vasoolist etc etc etc and it is hard to imagine any other actor who can withstand this stretch consistently and still look natural.

Naturally, his multifaceted nature attracted different kind of fans. His long career has ensured that there was a constant churn in admiration, old fans becoming disillusioned allowing new ones to take their  place. An example would be a generation that still believes that KH was the coolest in the 80s, while another set claim he peaked in the 90s, some say he should just direct and not act, others don’t want him behind a megaphone, some want him to even work with youth directors (LOL). Personally, it is KH’s ability to be all this and more that makes me revisit the films.

Films (of his) are all that we will have of him in the future (not discounting the interviews), and it is surely exciting to revisit them not just as a fan, but as an explorer of the medium. Especially now, when there very little to expect. You have given me a lot to work with and all the best for your future endeavors, Kamal.

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Anbe Sivam: What sort of design is this?

Something that I have observed during the course of this ongoing education called movie watching is that when characters are faced with loss or suffering or even an unattainable dream eventually tend to receive it in some form.

This as I see it, is to bring about balance to the character, the way in which this cycle happens can be as direct as a revenge drama or something as poetic and long drawn as Gollum losing it before the lord of the rings begins, only to hold it again in his last moments at the very end. 

It here refers to the one ring of course.

(My god what a precious arc!)

If there is loss, there is gain; unless we are watching some harrowing tragedy. Which is a different topic altogether

 

This loss and gain, of course I assumed was a part and parcel of story writing and very noticeable, and this can happen to supporting characters as well and when done well, resonates.

Let us now come to Anbe Sivam, one of the few things we know about ad filmmaker Anbarasu is that he is currently in love and had lost his brother earlier in a cricketing accident; this at face value seems like a backstory to explain his nervousness around bloodshed; the fact that a character has lost his brother and is now almost about to get a new brother didn’t strike me till today.

 (Slow mind eh)

Waitees, but Anbarasu doesn’t get a brother back!

His loss is not actually balanced, he almost gets a brother back. Difference, small yet key to this post.

Waitees again, we are still with Anbarasu; there is again a disturbance at balance. 

An unknown kid caught in a horrendous train accident and fortunately shares the same blood group as Anbu; the blood is obviously the connect here since Anbu’s brother’s bloody death was in many ways the biggest loss that Madhavan’s character has faced (or at least this is what the movie tells us)

In a usual film of course this would have been the balancing point, matching blood groups and saving the kid which will make Anbarasu overcome his fear and grow for the later part of the film.

Waitees, but Anbarasu does grow and become a different person through the course of the story but the outcome of these almost balancing points are exactly the opposite of the usual.
Nalla (Kamal) doesn’t stay and fill the void of a fallen brother nor is Anbu’s blood enough to save a boy’s life.

Summary: so you have a structure or a road-map , you almost reach the end but then turn the other way; this I see it as a way to introduce some amount of randomness, even if controlled into the story.

A point where the screen writer knows what should be done next if the film is to take its usual course, but doesn’t (want?) do it.

 I imagine at these balancing points, the writer putting down his hand on the table, hoping the pen would somehow write down the next few words.

It is amazing. Really.

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I guess that this didn’t strike me on previous viewings because I was not looking for it and of course there are other very fulfilling  themes in Anbe Sivam which is why it has endured for me.

Small addition to this ‘aberration’ from usual is the name of Poun, which here denotes two characters, one of course is the street theater artist  who dies in the bus accident which also disables Kamal, and also the aforementioned small kid who mumbles the same name.

Again the lead comes close, but doesn’t quite make it.

Doesn’t quite get what he is wanting.

Important to note that Anbe Sivam is not a tragedy.

While loss is not balanced by gain, loss by itself is not tragic, whenever a character in Anbe Sivam gives away or loses something it feels heroic and it feels real because there is no return of this ‘giving away’ much like in real life.

Real life doesn’t have the comfort of a writer’s balance. Real life is really random but filled with common folk out there making choices beyond their imagination.

Maybe the film is about giving after all.How else would we experience Anbu?

Maybe, we are just over-reading as usual, let us know what you think.