Kamal Haasan’s freedom to tell a story the way he wants must be respected. But there is a need to debate the responsibilities of the artist
When the religion of the Kathak teacher Vishwanath, or “Wiz”, is accidentally exposed by a detective employed by his nuclear oncologist wife Nirupama, who looks bored with a dysfunctional marriage, the meaning of the twist in the tale is evident. Kamal Haasan has twisted the narrative and given his “hero” a Muslim identity, while pitting him against the obvious villains who share his faith. Perhaps this is the reason Haasan had said Indian Muslims would be proud of his spy thriller, Vishwaroopam. The intention behind this balancing act may well be noble, but it amounts to little more than an interesting twist.
Contrary to the general impression, the problems with the movie would have been inconsequential if its content had, indeed, been “blasphemous” or “offensive”. The movie does, after all, tell a story that has been playing in the media for decades now. Yes, al-Qaeda and the Taliban do exist, and they are all-Muslim. Vishwaroopam over-simplifies this, and places it in a fictitious narrative where everything is black and white. The debate over the film, however, is entirely misplaced. The question is not whether it hurts or offends the religious feelings of Muslims. The problem is that the imagery and metaphors employed by the film have turned stereotypes into reality. The people who’ve watched the film will take away the image of bomb blasts and suicide bombers — not just those young men who wear bombs and blow themselves up to inflict death and destruction, but also a new breed of imaginary fidayeens who accept “slow, miserable deaths” that can take up to “six months” happily, because they volunteered to prepare a dirty bomb without protection against radiation, which they would then explode in New York City.
This is an American film. From the plot details to the larger narrative of the so-called war on terror, where hi-tech American soldiers are fighting “savage” Muslims in the barren landscapes of Afghanistan, it bears a strong American imprint. Haasan would have been better served staying true to this narrative and not bringing in an Indian angle. And if the domestic subplot was essential to make the film accessible to Vishwaroopam’s audience, it needed to be at least a little more true to the facts. The ground zero of the