Mersal – not a review

I knew its been a long time since I blogged. But looks like its been close to 5 years since that last post. Plenty of things happened since then both on the personal and professional front that kinda kept me busy. I have been wanting to resume blogging for a while now. But nothing really pushed me hard enough to sit back and spend some time composing a post. Until last week. Until Mersal happened.

A quick disclaimer before I continue. I am not a fan of a particular actor. Neither a hater. I like movies. I fall in love with movies. Despite many entertainment options available today, I still like going to the movies (or watching them at home) because nothing else provides that long lasting, soul filling experience like movies. It is still truly the medium that can transport you to a different world in those 2/3 hours of time.

Over the last few years, I have been very selective in terms of watching movies in general. Especially tamil movies. I have a 4 year old daughter – so you should be able to understand how precious it is to get 3 hours of time. And where you want to spend that time. I generally follow tamiltalkies (fondly called as Blue Sattai) and Prasanth in Youtube and Baradwaj Rangan’s blog for reviews. My taste for movies typically go well with them, especially Prasanth (where he tends to call spade a spade) and a lot with BR (only exception being recent ManiRatnam reviews of his where he goes deep in to Mani’s thought process that I cannot relate to and suffered watching movies like Kadal and Raavanan).

The day next to Deepavali. The roads weren’t that crowded. So, turned on Youtube while driving to office and listened to reviews of both Blue Sattai and Prasanth. I was actually expecting pretty negative reviews (given Vijay’s recent track records) and I was taken aback. Blue Sattai, though in the first couple of minutes called out negative aspects of the film, quickly jumped in to a different track and ended the review saying something close to a one time family watch type of movie. Prasanth on the other hand went to the extent of praising the movie a lot, especially Vijay’s performance, voice modulation, efforts in stunts/dance and I think he gave like some 80/100 kinda score. Most importantly he praised Atlee a lot in terms of direction and rightfully using folks like Vadivelu, Kovai Sarala and Sathyaraj.

When I reached office it was pretty low turn out of folks and people were still in Deepavali mood – or so I thought. One of my friend actually had an additional day of holiday. So, I was also like taking it easy. I quickly checked for tickets and it was all completely booked. After an hour so, I had left the spicinemas browser tab open and refreshed it to find a new screen in Escape open up and the entire screen was available. I called up my friend (ex theevira Vijay fan), confirmed his availability, selected nice seats and booked tickets in 100 milliseconds (Think of a typical fast forward scene (rather any scene) in Singam movies).

I was going to a Vijay movie in a theatre after many many years and I was definitely excited; given the reviews. And what followed was a complete disaster. 10 minutes in to the movie, both me and my friend realized what a terrible decision it was. I am not going to slice and dice the entire movie here but wanted to call out few things:

  • The first 30 minutes are so – it was completely confusing (may be a deliberate attempt by Atlee) as we see Vijay doing completely disconnected things. I knew that there is triple action in the movie and the scenes were probably done by two Vijay. I get that. The problem is not with the screenplay for that portion. But rather the scenes themselves – read below
  • About 10 minutes gets wasted in France airport where Vijay gets interrogated because he landed wearing a Dhoti. And then that ends with a dialogue: “Amma-va maatha mudiyadhu” – meaning tamil culture. There is another 20 minutes of footage in France (including a dance sequence) and everywhere Vijay is seen wearing ultra modern clothes. Later in the movie, in Chennai, Vijay is never seen wearing Dhoti (except in the Flashback. Adhukku apram varraen) #MeLookingForPrasanth
  • Apparently one of the dream of the magician Vijay is to perform at the capital for magic (something like that) and he performs in front of white audience in France. The camera shows the audience wow-ing and getting amazed at the magic sequences which are things like knives being pierced through a box where a person is present inside. And you know what, nothing happens to that person. Something that P.C.Sorkar senior had done you remember? Of course, folks in France wouldn’t have seen a P.C.Sorkar show right? #PrasanthDei
  • Kovai Sarala. What an amazing actor she is. I have always admired her in terms of her acting skills (SathiLeelavathy anybody?) and thought after Manorama she is the one who can potentially survive as a woman performer in this male dominated industry. Off late, I have hated her so much because of the kind of roles she gets in movies. I don’t know who told our beloved directors that Sarala can only do the type of character she does in the Kanchana movies. I am talking about the voice modulation she started doing in Kanchana. The way she utters every dialogue in an elevated, fake Kongu accent with a fake laughter. The 5 minutes of screen time she gets in this movie, she just repeats that and gets going. The larger point is, if I completely delete the scenes where Kovai Sarala appears on screen, it still wouldn’t do anything to the movie
  • Vadivelu. The only time you smile for various jokes that he attempts is when he jokes about Cashless India. That too I was wondering if my smile was for his joke or for our reality. None of his jokes bring any kind of smile on anybody in the theatre and here we have another actor who has been completely wasted
  • Sathyaraj. The only purpose of this role is to be a placeholder for a flashback scene
  • Haryana. I still don’t understand that connection of the movie with Haryana. May be I am too low to understand Atlee’s plot. However, what I definitely don’t understand is why our tamil directors are hell bent on getting folks in the North to sing and dance for tamil songs #revengeforlungidance?
  • A.R.Rehman. I heard couple of songs before the release of the movie because it was Rehman. I had a feeling that it cannot be Rehman. Few minutes of listening to background score in the movie, I realized it was definitely not Rehman. Rehman had somehow managed to license his name to appear as composer for the movie. A small request Rehman: This is not the first time you had done this. I remember Varaluru. I vaguely remember an Arjun movie too. And of course Azhagiya Tamizh Magan. It shows. It outrightly shows you weren’t involved in the project. What I still wonder is: Why do you agree? I am sure its not the money
  • #Prasanth #Dei
  • And the last scene. Vijay is in jail and the person next to him is having a conversation with him. A TV in the background is announcing about yet another medical related scam/error. Vijay is holding a newspaper with his complete body being hidden behind the newspaper. The entire theatre was at the edge of the seat to figure out what Vijay will do. To everyone’s surprise, Vijay disappears. Tamil cinema is always about opening sequence. But I am sure this is the best ending sequence ever shot in tamil cinema #wearein2017 #Prasanth #NeeEngaDaIrukka
Like I mentioned earlier, I am not a fan of any specific actor. Nor a hater. What I refuse to tolerate is low bar for movies. And such movies being glorified. I went to this movie, not expecting something like VikramVedha (which I loved). I wanted to be entertained. Entertained as part of the festival mood. But I literally came out with a lot of frustration. There is a lot of controversies now with respect to the politics of the movie, religious sentiments being hurt and so on. I didn’t see any of those things in the movies. I just wanted to be entertained. And that’s where I learnt my biggest lessons:
  • Actor Vijay has moved in to a different dimension. His political ambitions are very clear (the MGR/Vijay slow mo scene in the flashback is a testament) and this movie simply was a vehicle.  May be an experiment by him to understand the pulse of the people in the state. Now that’s what I missed and went as a normal cinema goer. There is absolutely nothing wrong in what Vijay is doing. He seems to be absolutely clear with what he wants out of his movies. And its fine
  • It is super important to have reality distortion field like Steve Jobs’ when it comes to movies these days. Couple of years back, producers and directors were worried about how social media and things like instant review, twitter posts are distorting films performances. It is clear now that they have figured out how to use these to make sure they are making money. The way teasers and trailers are released, teaser reviews, trailer reviews, blocking every theatre to release only one movie over the weekend make sure that enough money is made before word spreads out
  • As Goundamani says in a movie where Senthil asks for a chance to prove him that he has changed: “Ungala thirutharadhu ennoda vela illa da. Naan enna thiruthikkaraen”
  • And as Kamal says in Kurudhi Punal “Yengayum safety illa. Yaarkum safety illa”. I echo:  “Yavanayum namba mudiyala”
PS: Please do not compare this movie with Aboorva Sagodharargal. That was a movie which had the guts to have the flashback told at the beginning of the movie and still kept you in your seats for the next 2.5hours

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