This was such an exhausting weekend. I saw Nivin’s new movie on Friday, then this on Saturday, then ran around for 9 hours on Sunday. I’m so glad that all I have this week is Ittefaq. Although I did enjoy this movie, and Nivin’s movie, it’s just a lot to squeeze in.
This was my experience of the movie. An hour in, I was thinking “wait, this seems kind of political?” Two hours in, I was thinking “is it possible Vijay is considering a run for office?” Three hours in, I was thinking “did I just pay $10 to watch a political ad for an election I can’t even vote in?”
But it’s a good political ad! I agree with the message, it explores all aspects of the situation in a clear way, and it ends with a rousing and specific criticism of what is happening and what needs to change. Plus, you know, lots of great songs about how Tamil-speakers will dominate the earth and their language will never die. Made me all read to go out and campaign for the DMK. And then I remembered I can’t because I am American.
Which is also fascinating! Not that I am American, that’s boring. No, that this film is doing so well overseas, despite having a very very very specific political message for one state/language group in India. Tells me that the Tamil diaspora in most places are still super tied in to local Tamil Nadu politics. And tells me that maybe the non-Tamil diaspora (and people still in India) are beginning to watch this all closely.
I heard rumors that the film might have had the controversial parts edited out in some places, so I’ll tell you what they were in case you missed it. There are two jokes about the demonetization, a character is robbed in Paris and explains that his wallet is empty because no one in India has money, even the ATMs don’t have money. Later, a character is donating a huge wade of cash to a charity hospital and there is some remark I didn’t quite catch about how he is (or isn’t?) using decommissioned bills. Just generally the tone is a little more wry and sarcastic than Toilet‘s “this is the greatest thing EVER” attitude.
But the big moment is the end. When Vijay gives a long speech specifically about funding for Government hospitals, that then jumps over to pointing out that Singapore has a 7% GST (goods and services tax, or sales tax) and provides full free health care to its citizens, and India does not and has a 28% GST. And then Vijay points out that the new GST also taxes medicines, but not alcohol. How does that make sense?
It’s a long speech, the camera is mostly straight on his face, and he is not giving this speech “in character”, that is, he isn’t crying or angry or anything, he is speaking directly to the audience both onscreen and off and criticizing the situation. It’s not the kind of thing you can overlook, or only process subconsciously, this is a clear attack. Which, yay! Bravest and most exciting moment of the film, for an actor to take a risk on their public persona and box office by making a principled stand.
However, on top of all the many many songs about great Tamil Nadu and all, including many nods to MGR and DMK (the flashback sequence takes place at the start of MGR’s reign, even thought that doesn’t even make sense with the character timeline), and even a song in which our hero starts in a black shirt (symbol of the DMK) and white dhoti before dramatically putting on a red shirt on top (symbol for Communism maybe? Or AIDMK?), I am ready for Vijay to announce his candidacy and forming of a party essentially any day now. I may only know about Tamil politics from Iruvar and a few lines in history books, but this seems pretty clear to me as a move towards a new arena for him.
(This song, which I know isn’t actually political but merely a representation of the kind of political songs inserted in films, is almost identical to some of the ones in Mersal)
The reason I started the review with the political part is because it kind of feels like the filmmakers started with that too. There just isn’t much else there. Like one of the magician’s tricks that we watch in the film, there is a bit of slight of hand and distraction happening. Multiple Vijays, multiple heroines, bright lights and different locations and cheering crowds and all sorts of things. But then you get down to the actual plot, and it’s just kind of nothing. One of the Vijays has a plan. He carries out his plan. Happy Ending. That’s it.
The romances are really really nothing. Samantha and Kajal, I have liked them both in other movies, but they are given truly nothing to work with here. They each get an 8th of a plot, a meet cute and a love song and nothing else. Nithya really has something to work with, but then she also can really make something of anything, she is just that good. It tells me that it isn’t that the director has a problem with female characters or anything like that, he just has a problem making space for a character that isn’t Vijay.
This is also probably not the best first Vijay film for me to watch. In some review, maybe Baasha, I talked about how the early films of a star, they are still sort of “wooing” the audience, making love to the camera and slowly winning us over. But in the later films, they don’t bother with that any more, they assume we are already in love with them. This film has the same problem as Baasha, or Dilwale, or Happy New Year, or Wanted. It is playing to the fans, not the new audience (me). I am sure Vijay is a wonderful actor and all of that, but this was not the best film for me to start with. Feel free to recommend alternatives in the comments!
However, while I may not be all about Vijay the actor, I am all about Vijay the politician! I will watch his (seemingly inevitable) political career with great interest.