Tuesday Tamil: Mersal Review (SPOILERS), I Like Bearded Vijay Best

I’m back!  For the SPOILER review.  Which I am much less excited about than the other one, where I got to talk about the little political speeches dropped in.

Whole plot:

Dr. Vijay arrives in Paris to get an award.  He is wrongfully stopped by airport security, and then escapes just so he can save a woman’s life by giving her a tracheotomy (I know that word because it comes up in so many movies).  After he gets his award, he is offered a job by the powerful head of a for profit hospital group Hareesh Peradi, and turns it down, preferring to run his charity clinic.  Later he and his friend/assistant Vadivelu follow Hareesh and bump into Hareesh’s assistant, Kajal Aggarwal.  Vijay romances Kajal pretending to be a magician and convinces her to bring her boss to his show.  At the show, Vijay arranges for Hareesh to be the volunteer from the audience, and kills him by stabbing him for real in the sword box trick.  Back in India, Dr. Vijay is approached by an ambitious reporter, Samantha.  She doesn’t know who he is at first and treats him casually, which charms him.  After one interview, they are in love.  But that same interview brought him to the attention of S.J. Surya, Hareesh’s best friend who wants to avenge him and recognizes Dr. Vijay as he possible killer.  His men attack Dr. Vijay, only for Dr. Vijay to be saved by Magician Vijay!!!!  There’s two of them!!!!

And a flashback adds a 3rd Vijay, Bearded Vijay.  Bearded Vijay was a village headman back in the 70s, married to strong Punjabi woman Nithya Menon.  She gives birth to their first son, Dr. Vijay, and they return to their village from visiting her family in the Punjab.  In the village, life is good, although outsiders are trying to steal land.  In response, Bearded Vijay announces they will build a temple.  But at the celebration of the stone laying, there is an accident and two children die for lack of medical care.  The village comes together and raises the money to build a hospital.  And hires Surya to run it with Hareesh as his assistant.  Nithya goes in to have her second child, and they decide to trick Bearded Vijay and convince him that a Cesarean is required so they can charge more money.  Hareesh doesn’t have the training but Surya convinces him to act as anesthesiologist.  Nithya is given too much anesthetic, the baby is stillborn.  Bearded Vijay bursts into the room in time to watch Nithya die and with her dying breath, she tells him the doctors killed her and the baby.  Bearded Vijay is attacked, little boy Dr. Vijay is hit with a bottle giving him amnesia, Bearded Vijay is killed.  Meanwhile, the dead baby is thrown in a field, where he suddenly starts to breath, only to be discovered by a master magician who adopts and trains him.  Along with Little Boy Vadivelu who was Bearded Vijay’s faithful follower and now follows his sons.  In the present, Dr. Vijay has tracked down Magician Vijay who has been going on a killing spree against corrupt medical practitioners.  But he sympathizes with him and so changes places before the police can arrive, Dr. Vijay going to jail while Magician Vijay stays out to continue his revenge.  There is a final confrontation and Dr. Vijay and Magician Vijay come together to kill Surya.  And finally Magician Vijay is arrested, gives a speech about the failure of the government to provide decent healthcare, and ends up in jail.  Or does he?  The final image is him disappearing from inside the jail.

 

 

 

So, that’s a lot of plot!  Or is it?  Remove all the flash and bang of it, and what you have is a vigilante who tracks down and kills a series of men.  His identical brother is briefly mistaken for him, he takes advantage of that to escape and complete his plot.  And then he goes to jail.  Meanwhile, in the past, Surya wanted a hospital, caused a fire accident to make the village think they needed a hospital, and then showed up to take charge once it was built.  And Nithya died as collateral damage of the for-profit medicine experiment.

But throw in three heroines and two romances, swap the Vijays back and forth in a confusing way, and add in a fair number of songs and bright lights and so on, jumping forward and backward in time, not to mention multiple filming locations, and Bam!!!!  It looks like a MOVIE.

What is really missing throughout is any sense of heart, of real cost or emotion.  At least, missing in the present day.  It is there like gangbusters in the flashback.  It feels like that is a familiar format in Indian film, including Bahubali 2.  The present day is when the vengeance and triumph and so on happens.  But the past is when the real pain was, the cause for all this vengeance.  Plus there’s that natural mind trick we all have, when the times of our childhood, or the films of our childhood, seem “stronger” somehow, more real and touching than anything today.  And then of course there is also the Tamil history part of it, bringing the film back to a time when the state was on the rise and the future was in front of it.  Well, and that Vijay looks a lot better to me with a beard than with a mustache.  And of course wonderful Nithya.

Related image

(Nithya also gets the best poster)

But more than all of that, the past had actual characters in it.  Villagers, the boy who followed Vijay around and would grow up to be Valipelu, even the old housekeeper in their house.  Whereas in the present we have Sathyaraj as the decent police investigator, humorous Kovai Sarala as Dr. Vijay’s adoptive mother (no explanation for how she found him, 24 did it SO MUCH better), and our two barely there heroines.  And Valupelu I guess.  But there is no sense of real people, of a great community our heroes live within and make connections to.  Maybe it’s just because there are the two heroes, they can’t make a real connection with another character, or even the audience, or we would start to figure out there were two of them before the film revealed its tricks.

And then there’s the setting.  Dr. Vijay is supposedly beloved by the people of his neighborhood for performing medical treatment and only charging 5 Rupees.  But we never really see him in his neighborhood.  A few moments of a cricket game, and that’s it.  The rest of the time he is making grand statements at the Paris airport, or in a fancy TV studio.  It could be a backhanded reveal of the true attitude of the filmmakers, they like talking about serving the lower classes but have no interest in actually showing them.  But I don’t think that’s it, I think it is more that they think the audience doesn’t want the regular life with regular people, it wants the validation of having fancy folks tell them they are good.

This is most noticeable in the opening section in Paris.  That made me very very uncomfortable, and it took a long time to figure out why.  I finally did, it was sympathetic embarrassment.  Not for the white people, white people are ridiculous and hilarious, it’s true, you can make fun of us all you want.  But for the Tamil filmmakers and audience which are revealing their sad crawling little need for white people to tell them how awesome they are.  It’s one thing for a Tamil doctor to save a life in the Paris airport.  It’s another thing for the security police to then salute him while he is whisked away in a caravan of cars.  Oh, and to throw in a comment about how he is arrested because he is wearing a lungi?  I have never heard of that particular profiling by airport security.  And then follow it all up with a big award and speech and so on.  Just, why?

 

 

 

 

You could just as easily have set it up by having him come to Paris to consult on a case, and be given grudging respect by the fellow doctors.  It wouldn’t seem quite so, I don’t know, desperate?  They don’t have to acknowledge him as their superior, just their equal.

I had the same feeling at the magic show scene.  Which was quite dull, primarily because every ten seconds we had to cut to the audience to watch every gasping and applauding in wonder and so on.  It’s not enough for us to see that he does a good magic show all for ourselves, we also have to know that the primarily white Paris audience is impressed.

Compare this with our introduction of Bearded Vijay in the past.  He is in the Punjab, Nithya his wife enters him in the wrestling competition, no one believes that this “Madrasi” can win, and then he does, and they cheer.  He proves his skills and they respect him, but the film doesn’t stop dead for 20 minutes over it.

I do understand the broader scope of this, we are supposed to see how back in the 70s/80s, Tamil Nadu gained the respect of all of India and took steps forward in progress based on pulling together and so on.  Now, in modern times, it has moved on to gaining the respect and proving itself on the world stage.  And village achievements have been replaced by massive hospitals in fancy cities, and urban slums.  I just think the film tipped its hand a bit in how very much it felt the need to show the achievements on the world stage, versus how casual it was about the achievements on the national stage.  There is an embarrassing desperation present with one versus calm confidence in the other.

There is a related desperation in how easily our two heroines have to fall for our hero.  Samantha and Kajal fall in his arms essentially instantly.  Starry-eyed over his heroism and perfection and so on and so on.  What I kept thinking about was Rajnikanth’s Padayappa.  In which, although he is the big beloved hero both within the film and in real life by that point, his romance is still wonderfully generous.  His heroine gets her own backstory, motivations, etc. etc.  And his romance of her involves his character showing a true respect and care for her.  But in this film, our heroines only exist in relationship to our hero.  They have almost no backstory, nothing more in their lives.  Kajal is supposedly a doctor, but we never see her discuss that, even though this is such a medical related film.  Samantha is a reporter, but all we see is her asking easy questions to Dr. Vijay and being used as a captive, when she could be helping him to expose the villains using her investigative skills.  But they can’t do that, because they exist only to provide a lovely background to our hero’s heroism.

 

 

(Padayappa had just as good of a soundtrack too, also AR Rahman)

The villain, he does have a little more to do.  Almost more interesting than Surya is Hareesh.  Who we first meet as a seemingly sincere young doctor, who we know not to trust because we know what he will become.  But then when the moment comes, when Surya reveals his plan to turn the hospital to profit and start by fudging Nithya’s medical records to make it appear she requires a cesarean, Hareesh is legitimately shocked.  Not morally, not exactly, but that such a thing had sincerely never occurred to him.  That medicine could be used for anything but to heal.  He is the real representative of the medical profession in this film.  Not naturally evil, but slowly corrupted until he has lost all sight of that initial horror at such behavior.

And then Surya is of course wonderful.  As is his very stylish dress.  But sort of a terrifying amoral figure that dances through the film with no concern for, well, anything!

Mostly thought this is the Vijay show.  Vijay, and politics, and Tamil Nadu propaganda.  But with a really great soundtrack, amazing special effects, and lots of pretty pictures to make it all go down very easily.

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13 thoughts on “Tuesday Tamil: Mersal Review (SPOILERS), I Like Bearded Vijay Best

  1. I honestly live for the larger than life moments when I watch movies, especially Tamil and Telugu movies; there is something so amazing and cheesy at the same time xD! This movie was definitely a patriotic Tamil movie!!
    yesss! I was missing that scene how his adoptive mother finds him!
    The Heroines (Kajal and Samantha) sucked!!! OMG! Nithya was amazing. I feel like with every movie, the female characterization just decreases, like, in Spyder (horrendous)!
    I also agree that Bearded Vijay was the best and the cutest!!
    The Surya dialogues gave me goosebumps!
    Not knowing that vijay was going to play 3 roles, was the most enjoyable part about this movie because we are so confused on what is happening! Vijay could have done a better job in his body language between the doctor and magician because it did get confusing!

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    • The whole thing just made me want to rewatch 24! Great explanation for the adoptive mother, better heroine (still not great, but better), and amazing performance three role so you could see at a glance which character is which and which is a character pretending to be another character and so on.

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        • It is at least a little self-aware, the police officer sarcastically asks Vijay at one point if he thinks he is in Indian.

          On Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 8:40 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

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      • That’s what I love about Suriya! He’s one of those actors that can pull off multiple roles, and he makes you forget that the same actor is playing the different characters.

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  2. I really liked Mersal but then again, I like Vijay. I also knew exactly what to expect walking into this film and it delivered extremely well. I will quote my cousin when I asked about the cast of this movie when it was announced – Its got Vijay. Who cares who else is in it!

    To a newcomer though, I can see what you mean. Part of what I like about this film is that its nostalgic in an odd way. The style of it really reminds me of older, big hero Tamil films I grew up on. The flashback, the focus on the hero, the larger than life-ness of it, the way the romances are set up even the political/societal message – pure nostalgia that’s been slightly updated and packaged beautifully. I wasn’t really surprised with this movie doing well in Tamil Nadu or with the diaspora but that its doing well in non-Tamil areas is interesting. I’m not sure what that means.

    So I once got into an argument with a Malayalee friend when she said that Tamil people seem to have a chip on their shoulder which you can see in the films. I took offense at the time but I also kind of get what she was saying. That whole airport sequence – change the setting a little remove the tracheotomy- and I could easily see that in any number of older Tamil movies. In fact I have seen similar situations in other movies. Its an odd sort of ‘acknowledge us but also, we don’t really care what you think’. I also can’t imagine a Hindi movie with a song that’s an ode to Hindi in it. The obsession with the Tamil language is definitely a thing.

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    • I really need to watch some of the more political older films. I’ve pretty much just seen K Balachandra for the older stuff, and he is great and brilliant and all of that, but it’s not really the kind of film that this is calling back to.

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      • Parasakthi is probably the classic one – written by Karunanidhi and DMK ideology 101.

        Joker (there’s a Tamil one) isn’t a big hero film but is very political and also came out pretty recently. Amaidhi Padai is political satire and Sathyaraj at his sarcastic best (again something nostalgic in Mersal).
        Neethikku Thandanai (punishing the justice system) written by Karunanidhi and directed by Vijay’s father starring the daughter of M.R. Radha and highly critical of the then in power MGR government. (Incidentally, Shankar was an assistant director to S.A. Chandrasekar on this film and others).

        This is really good analysis of politics and Tamil cinema and does a much better job than I could ever hope too. There’s also a ton of films discussed.
        https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc52.2010/Tamil/text.html

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