A significant portion of Vishwaroopam 2 was shot even before the release of the first part in January 2013 when Kamal Haasan had no intention of entering the political arena in Tamil Nadu. Which is why Vishwaroopam 2 is not a political launch pad in the classical sense.
But Haasan makes sure you do not miss Kamal, the politician. A short film on Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), the political outfit floated by Haasan earlier this year, immediately follows the censor certificate. That is a reminder for Kamal fans that they are about to see what can be described as the first part of a Kamal Haasan swansong trilogy, with Sabash Naidu and Indian 2 to follow as his penultimate and last film releases respectively. Soon after the documentary ends, the voice-over says, Kamal Haasan now comes to you as Vishwaroopam.
At the same time, Vishwaroopam 2 is a deeply political film, taking strong positions on Muslim-bashing and patriotism, that are part of the national discourse these days in a ‘Go to Pakistan’ ecosystem.
The Muslim outfits who protested against the prequel five years ago, arguing that the film was anti-Muslim, should hang their heads in shame. For Vishwaroopam is essentially a tribute to the patriotic Indian Muslim with Haasan, the soldier and espionage agent, wearing his love for India and sense of duty on his sleeve.
The plot is deliberate, designed to drive home two points. Vishwaroopam pits a Muslim RAW agent, Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri, against the Al-Qaeda. Haasan, the writer intends to convey that the Indian Muslim will fight to keep India and the world safe. And when it comes to shielding humanity from evil forces, Wisam will not bat a eyelid before becoming the Hindu Vishwanath. It is with these subtle touches that Haasan conveys that religion and names are just a cloak. What matters is the character of the deed.
The movie is a commentary on the persecution the Indian Muslim faces at just about every other level, even within the RAW. Ananth Mahadevan, who plays the foreign office representative in the UK, rubs it in, casting aspersions on Haasan’s patriotism because of his religion. The fact that similar questions are not asked of the other RAW agents in the ensemble cast, shows how the religion column matters even in zones where it should not.
Just a few days ago, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi had raised a furore, alleging enough Muslims are not recruited in the central paramilitary forces like the CRPF and CISF. He claimed there was not a single Muslim in the elite National Security Guards (NSG). What Owaisi was obliquely insinuating was that there is a trust deficit when it comes to hiring Muslims to do jobs in national security-sensitive positions. It is this notion that is addressed in Vishwaroopam.
The fact that Wisam Ahmed hails from Kashmir is not incidental. Haasan has attempted to defy the stereotype that has been painted of the Kashmiri Muslim as a stone-pelter, sympathetic to the cause of the separatists, someone who does not like to be known by an Indian identity. In the film, Haasan’s boss, played by Shekhar Kapur, goes the extra mile to ensure Wisam Kashmiri has his back while he is fighting the war. This, even as another officer insists on leaving Wisam behind in the bombed Afghanistan dismissing him as “collateral damage”. The underlying messaging is that a Kashmiri cannot be and should not be collateral damage. Because every time a Kashmiri mind and heart is hurt, it hurts the soul of India.
The film has other flaws but where Haasan succeeds in is to draw the portrait of Wisam as an Indian first, Muslim later. By showing him as a trained Kathak dancer, Haasan has broken another stereotype of certain classical forms of music and dance now seen more as Hindu preserve though this was not the case in the India of old. Done without breaking much sweat over it, this is a commendable commentary on the idea of India.
Vishwaroopam 2 is a spy thriller of the kind Indian filmmakers have not ventured into. It moves away from the standard template of Pakistan-bashing to present a truly international film on world terror.
Will it help Haasan politically in an electoral sense? Unlikely. This is a film that is more likely to appeal to a young, urbane audience that is looking for an action-packed thriller, with subtleties of the kind Haasan specialises in. But what Haasan has done is to cinematically show that he has his heart in the right place, if his pronouncements through Vishwaroopam are to be taken at face value. Like Rajinikanth’s pro-Dalit image in Kaala, Vishwaroopam is Kamal Haasan’s ode to the Indian Muslim.