Vishwaroopam 2's opening credits sequence comprises a song and visual cues asking the audience to remind themselves of the adventures of Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri / Vishwanath (Kamal Haasan) from the first part of this duology. This self-referential choice serves two purposes. The clever intended one is to prime the audience for the film they are about to watch with a 3-minute crash course of the original Vishwaroopam
's primary plot points and highlights. However, the unintended and unfortunate repercussion of this choice makes itself exceedingly clear through the 145-minute runtime of this film.
Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri was originally an undercover operative that eliminated a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. He then teamed up with Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah), Colonel Jagannath (Shekhar Kapur) and his wife Nirupama (Pooja Kumar) to thwart the plan of Omar Qureshi (Rahul Bose) to detonate a caesium in New York City.
Hoping third time's the charm, Qureshi is back with a couple of fresh ideas to eliminate millions of people off the face of the earth. He has an explosive with the capability of causing a tsunami in London and 64 other explosives stationed across a pond in the United States, and just because the stakes aren't high enough already, Kashmiri's loved ones are at risk, too. Has Kashmiri's RAW training or Kamal Haasan's very own screenplay equipped the agent with the ability to pull off an actual Vishwaroopam to stop these horrifying events from unfolding?
Even though the means to attaining The Magnificent Incarnation are not a part of RAW's curriculum, Kashmiri is more than capable of thwarting evil-doers and sprinkling socio-political commentary all by himself. Hence the real question that needs to be asked when the fate of the world is at stake in an espionage thriller is, how entertaining is the hero's journey as he saves the world from destruction. And therein lay the unfortunate repercussion of using the aforementioned opening credits sequence.
By showing the audience an excellently scored, superbly shot, impeccably paced and utterly compelling 3-minute trailer of the first film, Vishwaroopam 2 says that its narrative purpose can be served in the time it takes to cook a good batch of Maggi noodles (it takes three minutes, not two). If the story itself can be told in under three minutes flat, the other 142 minutes of runtime need a sturdy enough reason to exist.
The best espionage films mask their flimsy plot lines and convenient stories with pulse-pounding set pieces, slick camerawork and heroes with clear morals and murky pasts. The original Vishwaroopam, while over-long, ticked all the boxes mentioned above. The sequel returns to the same well yet again, and the sound of the bucket scraping the bottom of it comes much sooner than expected. The gender norm-defying Vishwanath is no more, and the novelty of observing Kashmiri in Afghanistan wears itself thin.
Kamal Haasan's experiments with subtext are evident in the interactions between Qureshi and Kashmiri, between Kashmiri and his mother, and between Qureshi and his underling Salim. But these scenes are few and far between as the dead air between them is populated with an unengaging thriller and overt dialogues about the true meaning of patriotism. We miss the subtle commentary about the state of the human mind as illustrated by the two kids taking turns on a swing. Then again, five years is a long time in the real world, and nuanced conversations or visual metaphors are not the flavours of the era.
That being said, Kamal Haasan, the actor, has been in vogue for decades on end, and that is down to his ability to adapt to the times. Age may have robbed him of his physicality but his excellence as a performer remains unquestionable.
Pooja Kumar is a much-improved actress on her second outing, but in a cruel twist of fate, her character is devoid of all the layering it was afforded in her previous tryst with this role. Andrea Jeremiah and Shekhar Kapur are given room to explore their characters, but come out of it merely serving their purpose at being Kashmiri's trusted aides.
Rahul Bose's Omar Qureshi is a fascinating character due to the environment around him and his reactions to it. A one-note performance for a one-track-minded character are rarely as effective as this one. In stark contrast to this, almost all the newly introduced supporting characters and their plotlines are forgettable at best.
We say almost because the introduction of Waheeda Rehman is a welcome addition to the proceedings, and the musical number she shares with Haasan and Kumar is one of the film's high points based purely off musicality, choreography, visual story-telling and flair. The one other song in the film too is an inversion of the gender dynamic from the first film, and this excellent close-quarter dissection of the language of cinema is sorely absent in the set-pieces populating most of the movie.
Poor CGI and green screen-work notwithstanding, the action sequences lack a sense of awe a la the iconic character reveal from the first film, and hence their hyper-cut and poorly coloured nature become unmissable along with the low production values.
And that is this sequel in a nutshell. With a story that does not warrant a near two-and-half-hour runtime, Haasan stretches his espionage opus to a degree where every strength and flaw is brought to the fore. There are no new elements added to the original, and a joke is just not as funny when one hears it the second time around.