Cast:Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Rahul Bose, Shekhar Kapur
An enigmatic hero engaged in a bitter and dangerous battle of attrition with a particularly devious duo of bad guys – that is essentially the simple premise that Vishwaroop rests on.
But trust producer-director-actor Kamal Haasan to serve up the good old filmic formula in a well-mounted cinematic package that lends the largely predictable material an impressive veneer.
The magnificently executed espionage thriller pits a Muslim RAW agent against a jihadi sleeper cell that is hatching a plot to detonate a nuclear device in the heart of New York.
As the network of terrorists moves, one step at a time, closer to their nefarious goal, the tension rises steadily and culminates in a climatic race against time that save New York all right but leaves the hero's mission incomplete.
Not only is that conclusion pretty much like the global war on terror that continues to this day, but it also keeps the door open for a sequel, which, we are told in no uncertain terms at the end of Vishwaroop, is "coming soon".
In recent years, both Hollywood and Bollywood have delivered many films about terrorism with varying degrees of success. To the credit of Vishwaroop, it does not for a moment look like one too many.
The primary appeal of the film stems from the mystery that envelopes the character of the male protagonist. Who he really is isn't fully revealed until quite late in the narrative.
His estranged wife, a nuclear oncologist who is more in the dark about his antecedents than anyone else, asks him: "What are you – a hero or a villain? A good man or a bad man?" His reply is characteristically non-committal.
The protagonist in question is Wisam Ahmad Kashmiri, alias Vishwanath (Kamal Haasan), who is a kathak guru in the US. His effeminate guise hides a secret that tumbles out of a hazy past.
When the man they call Wiz is pushed to a corner in a warehouse by an armed terrorist, he pulls out the stops and wife gapes in amazement.
Equally intriguing are the people who surround him. A "mama (maternal uncle) from London" (Shekhar Kapur) comes calling without warning. It turns out that there is much more to him than meets the eye.
A kathak student (Andrea Jeremiah) doubles up as an assistant to the secret agent when the need arises.
And, of course, there is the wife, Nirupama (Pooja Kumar), who is in the midst of an affair with her boss (Samrat Chakrabarti). The latter, in turn, has a liaison with the jihadis who want to get their hands on the "dirty bomb" that they need to raze New York to the ground.
Vishwaroop is technically dazzling. The big scenes of battle (in Afghanistan) and violent confrontation (in the US), to put it simply, are outstanding.
However, as is the norm with films about terrorism, the motivation of the men fighting a 'holy war' against the US of A is explained primarily in religious terms. The history of the never-ending confrontation is alluded to only in stray pieces of dialogue referring to "what the US has done to us".
The leader of the sleeper cell is Omar (Rahul Bose), a man who has been so badly injured in a US strike on his base in Afghanistan that he has lost an eye and his larynx. His right hand man, Salim (Jaideep Ahlawat), is a ruthless killer blindly committed to the cause.
In a film in which the protean Kamal Haasan plays the lead, the least you can expect is a performance of the highest order. He dons three different looks in Vishwaroop – the timid dance teacher, the cool spy and a terror camp trainer. He is perfect in each of them.
Pooja Kumar brings a wide-wide wonder to her character – perfectly in keeping with a woman who is completely at sea with the men in her life – her husband, who she married only because she wanted a green card, and her lover, a wealthy entrepreneur she believes will help her escape the drab marriage.
A slew of fine supporting performances by Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat and Shekhar Kapur, among others, adds weight to an already formidable film. Vishwaroop is a must watch.