Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroop 2 is one of the few Indian films that deserves the tag of a sequel. This film not just carries forward the story of its prequel, Vishwaroop, but also retains its structural and narrative style. You get the feeling – for better or for worse – that you’re watching the same movie.
Vishwaroop 2, like its prequel, opens in a foreign country. That country is the UK, where the undercover R&AW agent Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri (Haasan) and his cohorts are sniffing trails that would lead them to Omar (Rahul Bose), the head of a terrorist group. Vishwaroop directly dived into its story; Vishwaroop 2 shows us its bare bones: how Wisam, a major in the Indian army, got involved with R&AW; the hint of romance between him and another army officer, Ashmita (Andrea Jeremiah) – small backstories that help us locate these people and their motivations.
Like most commercial espionage thrillers, Vishwaroop 2 has a simple plot. The bad guys – Omar and his men – are still out there, and it is the duty of the good guy, Wisam, to decimate them. Simple doesn’t equate simplistic, and in cinema, like life, simple things are hard to accomplish. Yet Vishwaroop gave you the feeling that it, in parts, was straining hard to be cerebral and complex. At one point, Wisam’s wife, Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), asked him, “Who are you: a hero or a villain?” (A similar question was asked of Haasan’s character in Nayakan, three decades ago, “Are you a good person or a bad person?”) But a few stray thoughts aside, Vishwaroop was unabashedly mainstream – a film that was slickly shot and smartly edited: elements that elevate a middling production.
Vishwaroop 2 shares these qualities, but it is a much leaner film. The information dump here, inevitable for a film like this, is relatively elegant, and its crowd-pleasing elements are considerably dialled down. At times, though, the film cannot resist the trappings of the genre. We’re primed to suspect an Indian bureaucrat, Rajesh Mehta (Anant Mahadevan). A few scenes later, he turns out to be a blatant Islamophobe. Wisam, the “good Muslim”, puts him in place. Even this scene is well written and performed – with an impressive mix of searing intensity and humour – but it feels too tokenistic in a film like this.
However, it’s one of the few scenes in the movie that calls attention to itself for the wrong reasons. Otherwise, Vishwaroop 2 is focused and taut. The stakes and obstacles are familiar, yet the film is particular about attention to detail – small asides that not just affect this sequel but both the movies. The power of faith – and the different ways in which it nurtures and destroys individuals – is central to the films, prodding us to consider that weight. In the first film, a worried Nirupama said, “God save us”, to which Wisam replied, “Which God?” Cut to Vishwaroop 2’s climax, where Nirupama tells Omar’s deputy, Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat), “God will punish you.” Salim, drunk on power and arrogance, smiles, saying, “Which God?”
Haasan is central to the fate of this sequel. He’s not only the star of the show, cast in a major role, but has also written and directed the movie. A superstar is known for his (on-screen) ego but Haasan, who has played many double roles in his career, is known for his egos (an old joke about the actor that never gets old). That said, Haasan, at most times, sticks to playing his character and neither steals scenes nor overpowers this film.
It is most evident in a sequence involving Wisam’s mother (Waheeda Rehman). Staying in an old-age home in Delhi, she is visited by Wisam and Nirupama. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, she’s unable to recognise her son. In a lesser film, this bit could have been about the star – a perfect opportunity to shine in a poignant scene – but in Vishwaroop 2, it is about the mother. As she struggles to jog her memory, Wisam lets her be. The scene then cuts to a flashback, centred on a young Wisam and his mother (played by different actors), and when it comes back to the present, she’s too exhausted for conversation and simply goes to sleep.
Even elsewhere, Haasan takes a backseat, allowing other characters, and the relationships among them, to evolve. The bond between Nirupama and Ashmita, for instance, which starts off on a hostile note, is eventually marked by tenderness. The film, similarly, is sympathetic towards Omar’s wife and sons, telling us how they escaped from Afghanistan and their eventual fates – a self-absorbed film would have simply treated them as props, but Vishwaroop 2 cares.
These qualities, fundamental to any good story, also stand out here because you don’t expect a lot from something like Vishwaroop 2, a genre film low on brains primarily driven by star power. Vishwaroop 2, at times, relies on the old tropes of espionage thrillers. (A guy wearing a hooded cap signals danger; Wisam, when in Afghanistan, talks to his boss (Shekhar Kapur) over the phone in a coded language that is easy to decipher.) But nothing can come close to its climax, which resolves all conflicts with a ridiculous stunt by Haasan – a scene that required no writing at all, and one that is so incredible that it borders on comical – nearly threatening to ruin the entire film. But at its finest, Vishwaroop 2 is also a good primer on how to make an entertaining mainstream fare – a movie that both indulges and respects its audience.