Return of the masala messiah
Sujatha Narayanan writes about the return of Vijay with Mersal which releases this Diwali
Kadhalukku Mariyathai. Ghilli. Thuppaki. Kaththi. Add Poovey Unakkaaga, Friends, Khushi and Pokkiri somewhere in between, and you get a graph that highlights the success story of Vijay. Ghilli is probably my most favourite, followed by Pokkiri, Thuppaki and Kaththi. And for the first time, the polls I conducted on Twitter and Facebook garnered the same list. The overwhelming number of views for Vijay's Mersal teaser proves that a certain mix of ingredients is what it takes, and Vijay himself is perhaps an embodiment of such an eclectic mix.
From being a reluctant teenage actor in his father SA Chandrashekar's films, Vijay clearly picked acting along the way. In the hands of competent directors in tune with the trends of the day, Vijay settled into the niche of the brooding lover of the 90s. More than a dozen films showed him either pining for or uniting his girl with another man, until Fazil's Kadhalukku Mariyathai changed it all. The lover who would heed family advice turned into Vijay's 'image' and it then took a colorful turn-around when SJ Suryah's Khushi showed a flamboyant Vijay whose flair for comedy and mischief made him a heartthrob. But the box-office muscle came with Dharani's Ghilli. I remember watching the film FDFS at Devi theatre, where the opening song Soorathenga was welcomed with crackers, festoons and whistles. I sat back in my seat breathing in all the smoke of the crackers, knowing where this was heading. Vijay acquitted himself so well in this heady template of action, comedy, drama and social responsibility that the film sent a giant ripple which established his present day market. There was no looking back on this template. Vijay had arrived as a messiah of masala films, which are not easy one to cook at all (watch Dharani's Dhill and Dhool to know why).
Every Vijay film is a platform for mass entertainment. In Murugadoss and Prabhudheva, Vijay found an acting partnership like he did with Dharani earlier. The character Vijay played in films of these directors stood out in style, dialogue delivery and mannerism. The films worked across the A, B and C centres and there was a method to the masala which made the whole film immensely watchable even for the non-Vijay fans.
Off camera, Vijay is reticent, and is open to new ideas. I've heartwarming memories of working on new concepts with him when he participated in whatever we came up with for the then nascent medium of FM radio. For such a quiet actor, his magician act in Mersal makes me perk up.
The "peace bro" line he says when he releases the dove from his hands stands out for me more than the push-ups or the jallikattu-like scenes. To me, that swag, that suave blending-in, that smile from his still-youthful persona when combined with a short punchline like "I'm waiting"... these are the details that make his fiilm work big time. After quite a few years, this 2017 Deepavali looks set to be a Mersal indeed, which is, of course, slang for 'mirattchi', meaning awe.