A day before Diwali, the much awaited Vijay-starrer Mersal has released, and it’s sure to please the audiences trooping into theatres over the festival holiday. We’ll say this right off — Mersal has all the essential ingredients to make not just hardcore Vijay audiences happy, but also the family crowd.
This is due in large part to how director Atlee and co-writer Vijendra Prasad have woven the story and packaging of Mersalaround Vijay’s larger-than-life image. The star plays a triple role in his latest cinematic outing, and is part of pretty much every scene in the 2 hour 50 minute film. The actresses — Kajal Aggarwal, Samantha Ruth Prabhu and Nithya Menen — are mostly just present as props, and to feature in the song sequences with Vijay, and also Sathyaraj (who plays a police officer) and comedian Vadivelu. SJ Suryah is the caricaturish loud villain — right down to the leering smile — similar to the roles played by MN Nambiar in yesteryear MGR films.
Mersal features Vijay in a triple role: As the father Thalapathy, and as his sons/brothers-separated-then-reunited, Vettri (a magician) and Maaran (a doctor)
Mersal‘s story is old as the hills. There are three Vijays: Thalapathy, a village chieftain; Dr Maaran (a doctor); and Vettri, a magician. class magician. Thalapathy is conned by a cunning, business-minded Dr Daniel (SJ Suryah), who works at the hospital the former has set up along with the villagers. Thalapathy and his wife (Nithya Menen) are brutally murdered and his two children are separated. They grow up to be Maaran, a renowned doctor who treats his patients pro bono and hopes to weed out the corruption in medicine, and Vettri, a magician fond of taking risks, bent on avenging his parents’ deaths. Along the way, the brothers meet and take on their common enemy.
The basic premise of two brothers unaware of each other’s identities and then taking on their parents’ killers wasa staple of several films in the ’70s and ’80s. Here, director Atlee seems to be influenced by Kamal Haasan’s Apoorva Sagodharargal (1989) and a host of other films, including Vijaykanth’s AR Murgadoss-directed Ramanaa (2002). But what makes Mersal a watchable entertainer is his rich packaging and showcasing of Vijay’s hero avatar in a triple role. Atlee’s earlier film with Vijay — Theri — worked due to the heavy dose of drama and emotion, laced with action, that it offered viewers. Once again, there is an emotional chord in the flashback scenes involving the parents (Thalapathy and his wife). And the depiction of how hospitals in rural areas flourish in the business of converting what should be normal deliveries into Caesarean operations resonates, to say the least.
Among the three actresses, it is Nithya Menen who makes an impression with her competent performance. The camera of debutant GK Vishnu infuses every frame with a certain richness. AR Rahman’s music is hummable, as is the background score. ‘Aalaporaan Tamizhan’ with its folk-influenced sound is the pick of the lot. However, the song placement seems jarring. With a runtime just 10 minutes shy of three full hours, Mersal is too long a film. The first half especially can seem stretched. Incidentally, most of the scenes involving animals and birds that the Animal Welfare Board had objected to, have been removed.
Vijay holds the film together and is riveting in each of the three roles, especially as Thalapathy. He is as at east doing comedy as he is in the action sequences. Mersal does have subtle political messaging, in keeping with its superstar’s ambitions. For instance, Tamil language and culture is glorified (the dialogue, “Tamil is the mother of all languages” is a case in point). In another scene, at Paris airport, he attributes being strip searched/questioned by immigration authorities to his dark skin and the veshti he sports. Another scene has him telling people who take freebies from the government to ask for medical care and medicines instead of colour television sets and mixer-grinders!
On the whole Mersal is an entertainer, which keeps you engrossed. Like the concept of “full meals”, it has something in it for viewers with varied tastes.