A few thoughts on Vishwaroopam… Spoilers below.
1. It’s such a bad movie. I’ve had a couple of days to think about it, and yep. It’s such a bad movie. Of course it’s my own personal subjective opinion, blah blah blah, but I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my friends.
2. I was naturally curious to see if there was anything ‘objectionable’ about it because of all the drama surrounding it. And at the end of the movie- I counted one “good Muslim” character on-screen- and that was Kamal Hassan’s character Wiz/Vishwanath/Wisam.
3. And see that’s the problem- Kamal’s character is schizophrenically portrayed, and wasn’t in any way recognizable to us as a devout Muslim. We’re introduced to him as a TamBrahm Kathak teacher (which is a whole level of nonsensical storytelling on its own), and then as a spy infiltrating an Al Qaeda operation, and then as an anti-terrorist agent of the Indian government saving New York City We are told he’s a devout Muslim (we see him praying by himself maybe once) but we are not given a single moment of introspection for his character- about what led him to be a spy, what it’s like for him to be surrounded by terrorists who profess to believe in the same God as he does, about why in the everlasting world he chose to have an arranged marriage to a TamBrahm Hindu girl as part of his weird incognito life on the run! And at the end of the movie, he’s still married to that Hindu girl. This character is not recognizable to us as a devout Muslim.
4. Every single shot of Muslims in this movie is sinister. Every time we hear that vaguely Middle Eastern music, some bad shit is about to go down. We see Muslims of different races and colors bent on the destruction of innocent civilians. And this is only because we don’t see any non-terrorist Muslims, not one, other than Kamal. In fact there’s a particularly unnecessary moment where Kamal meets another spy in Afghanistan- and that spy makes it a point of saying that he’s not really a Muslim.
Of course none of this justifies the movie being banned. None of these points are inherently artistic flaws. I would much rather it get released and fail on its own merits (it’s a bad movie, have I mentioned?). It is ridiculous to insist that Kamal somehow portray a ‘balanced’ picture of Muslims- but it’s not unreasonable to expect it. Artists have the right to create any piece of art that they feel compelled to make, but I hope that we’d then be able to hold them accountable for the messages that their stories communicate.
If these protests hadn’t happened, if the movie hadn’t been banned, I would not have even noticed what I did notice about the portrayal of Muslims in this movie. And obviously, Kamal, being who he is, probably would never have expected this reaction or this backlash. And that reflects how we see the world- but that is not how everyone does. And when we’re dealing with a group of people who are already treated like second-class citizens in their own country, it’s worth a little extra consideration.
That being said, I wish the TN government would grow a pair and release the movie already.