Mersal: Vijay makes this entertainer seem terrific
Atlee isn't trying to reinvent the wheel here; all he's doing is making you check out some great tyre designs
In a lot of ways, Mersal looks and feels a lot like Rajinikanth's Sivaji, especially at the beginning. Four seemingly random people are abducted from around Chennai (arguably more Ramana than Sivaji). The cops get a tip that the suspect is hiding out at a location in Triplicane. As they swoop in, mustering as much undercover mojo as they can manage, you catch a sight of Vijay walking in. Obviously, his back is to the camera. It's too early to see his face. It's an Atlee movie after all. He flicks on the radio. MGR's Unnai Arindhaal begins to play. As the cops burst in, he gets up in slow motion and tucks his hands behind his head. As they lead him into the waiting police van, hordes of people cry out in anguish - one of them even threatens to self-immolate for 'annan'. And then he turns around. You see Vijay's face. He holds up his hands, he motions as if to say, 'It's ok'. He smiles. It's nirvana for the Vijay fan.
Cast: Vijay, SJ Suryah, Samantha, Kajal Aggarwal, Nithya Menen, Vadivelu
It's also the moment that would have assured Atlee that 'All is well', to borrow a line from a previous Vijay film. Mersal is one of those Vijay films that starts well, holds its pace and ends on a decent enough high. And it's good enough to justify all the mad ticketing rush following a dearth of releases recently.
As far as its story goes, you'll figure out very quickly that Mersal, for all its social pizazz and slick scenery, is rather reminiscent of another Rajini classic--Moondru Mugam. So if you didn't know that Vijay plays three characters, now you do. Making a commercial potboiler with Vijay may not have been rocket science for a director like Atlee, but to have infused it with the kind of elements he has--a magician, a doctor who insists on charging only Rs 5 from any patient he tends to, a crusade against private medical care--that's why Atlee deserves a pat on the back.
If you've watched enough Tamil cinema, not too much of the plot will come as a surprise. But Atlee's clever little touches and some slick editing ensure you don't get too bored.
The camera work is colourful. The VFX is decent, and all the magic tricks, particularly the ones on stage at a theatre in Paris, look real. Not Now You See Me real, of course, but definitely Baahubali real. The music, however, is downright ordinary. I would have gone with awful, but then AR Rahman has redeemed himself with the now viral Aalaporaan Tamilan. Besides serving as a dance showcase for Vijay's considerable ability, and some screen time for Samantha and Kajal Aggarwal, the songs are the most disappointing part of the 170-minute-long film.
The supporting cast acquit themselves remarkably well. This is a brilliant comeback for Vadivelu and his comedy is subtle, yet sufficient. SJ Suryah works as an eccentric cigar-puffing doctor villain. The tweed coats and the 70s sideburns in the flashback grow on you. Kovai Sarala, Sathyaraj and even Kaali Venkat complement the storyline.
I would have loved to have said the same about Kajal Aggarwal and Samantha, but they have so little to do that they feel like forced arm candy. Nithya Menen, on the other hand, sort of drew the better straw here. As a Punjabi woman, married to the brash Maduraiveeran-type Vetrimaaran, she brings energy to a role often stereotyped in Tamil cinema.
In comparison to the horrendous Bairavaa, this is gold dust for Vijay. Triple action. Check. Three fights. Check. An emotion-fuelled crusade. Check. Four songs. Drawn-out check. Three heroines. Triple check. Whistle-inducing dialogues that take digs at everything from veshti to Tamil pride to jallikattu to demonetisation. Check. Seeing how Vijay has carried himself through Mersal, moderating between reserved, goofy and flamboyant in necessary measures, one cannot but hope that he sticks to making this kind of cinema with directors who seem to know what his limitations are. He leaves very little wanting as Vetri and Maaran, though he could have gotten a better wig as Vetrimaaran. Small gripe.
Mersal is ultimately an entertaining commercial film that rides on Vijay's solid performance and Atlee's slick storytelling. Also, for kids who've never watched Moondru Mugam, this will be a good educational exercise.