Atlee’s Mersal is nothing new to Tamil cinema. A triple role for the hero, beautiful women that only serve as hostages and a good villain. This is a formula that’s been seen multiple times in films starring some of the biggest stars of the industry. Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth, MGR, they’ve all walked down this path.
Notice that the names I’ve taken are all etched in gold in annals of South Indian popular culture, it is not a coincidence. The film is clearly an attempt to establish Vijay as a leader. There are several instances in the film where Vijay is addressing a crowd and giving electoral promis- um, a monologue. However, we shall get back to the propaganda in a minute.
Mersal, at it’s core, is a mediocre film. It has very less substance, an overused plot and an enormous running time. The film is peppered with doses of Tamizh pride and social messages. It is like one of the recent Akshay Kumar films, only against the government. There is a memorable instance when Vijay says to an Indian woman in Paris that they have the same mother. You expect him to say ‘India’ or ‘Bharath’ or some other iteration of the same, but he says ‘Tamizh!’
Vijay plays Maaran- a doctor, and Vetri- a magician. He also plays Vetrimaaran, their father (because the writer learned to concatenate in school). Kajal Agarwal, Nithya Menon and Samantha show up in the film as well, with only Nithya Menon’s character actually furthering the plot. Sj Surya shines in his role as Daniel, a crooked doctor. His villainy, while it does seem inspired by the antics of Don (played by SRK) has a touch of uniqueness and danger to it that makes him stand out.
As for the story, it’s the same old revenge plot. Villain kills father for monetary gain, his sons grow up as orphans separately and in the end the villain dies. There, nicely summed up. The writing could’ve done better, some dialogues feel like they’re words to a sermon and Vijay’s routine delivery blunts them further.
Technically, though, the film is amazing. The cinematography is well thought out, visual subtexts are not forgotten at all and music is excellent. Unnecessary, but excellent. There is some visible lack of expertise regardkng VFX, but not enough to destroy the experience.
Now, to my favourite part. THE PROPAGANDA. The film is littered, and I mean littered with Leftist propaganda. It is apparent that the film has political ambitions within 25 minutes of it starting, there are vicious attacks on government policy laced with humor (which I’m totally for btw), there is a legitimate TV interview in the film where Vijay attacks the medicaid system in India. The infamous GST scene takes place during the climax, when Vetri has been arrested and addresses people outside the court.
My favourite part about the propaganda is that it’s not particularly hidden. It’s blatant- enough that Vijay literally narrates what he’s doing to drive the point home. Post interval, as Vijay is on the verge of dying as Vetrimaaran, he has just had a huge fight with a sickle as his weapon (yeah.) and he raises a closed fist and says that everytime there is a cause, ‘this hand shall be raised again’. Another scene, Vetrimaaran enters a cinema hall to beat up corrupt policemen there, and as he walks in, he is shown walking in sync with MGR on screen. As a quick google search will tell you, MGR was CM of Tamil Nadu. Vetrimaaran dies in a scene which heavily features a sickle, his son gets beat up in a scene heavily featuring a hammer. The list goes on and on.
It’s an okay film, you should watch it for the kicks. If you know tamil, that is.