How original can an idea get?
Especially, in a medium like cinema, where every scene, every emotion, every camera tilt or pan, every dialogue uttered is subject to so much scrutiny that even the minutest resemblance can result in the idea being looked at as an imitation.
However, in many movies, such similarities are noticed after much deliberation and observations.
Mersal is clearly not that kind of a movie.
Director Atlee seems to be in no mood to allow the audience to work their grey cells and instead facilitates the inception of a new drinking game – “take-a-shot-when-you-find-another-movie-reference”.
Right from the moment the screen lights up with a scene involving four different kidnappings of people from a similar profession to the dialogues about “forgetfulness being a national disease” and ending with an unnecessary monologue to reporters, resemblance to movies directed by Shankar and AR Murugadoss is uncanny.
If I had played that game, I would have been twiddling my thumbs all curled up in a sidewalk near the theatre thinking about existential questions like “Why were there heroines in this movie?”
However, the movie took a completely different trajectory to become the centre of two of the unlikeliest issues – politics and the field of medicine
Firstly, let’s talk about the issue of the doctors who feel slighted by the portrayal of their profession in this movie.
The protagonist who plays a doctor in one of his three roles says medical check-ups are a scam and is a way of minting money by instilling fear in a seemingly healthy person. In addition, he calls C-sections a farce and waxes eloquently about the ill-effects of the field of medicine becoming a symbol of corporatism.
Now, various organisations took the responsibility of dissing such arguments and provided rebuttals to what they thought were provocative and falsified observations done with almost zero research.
But, does a movie owe an explanation to anyone? If yes, where does it stop?
If what the doctors now think is an exploitative account of their profession and deem it to be right to protest against the portrayal in a ‘commercial’ movie, then how can one stop some other organisation from doing the same for what they feel to be a slight on their representation.
Every police officer across the state and country should have been up-in-arms against the shoddy way they are represented in every movie.
Every engineer in this country should have been furious with the way they have been portrayed as perennially single, perpetually horny and permanently damaged.
Every city-dweller should be outraged against the portrayal of them being cynical, insensitive to other’s suffering and just a selfish, money-minded machine without any sentiments and passion.
Every fringe organisation can get riled up in the way they have been portrayed to be stoking religious fervour for their political benefits.
Are they all true and effective portrayals? No
Aren’t there corrupt doctors, corrupt politicians, insensitive people in a city and morally depraved people in the garb of an educated elite? A resounding yes.
However, I get the outburst of the doctors against their portrayal.
Personally, I wouldn’t look at my family doctor differently when he prescribes me a medicine that isn’t Nilavembu for dengue.
I wouldn’t frown at the cashier who hands me the bill of a medical check-up that diagnosed me as a big, fat guy who needs to understand he is not a pygmy shrew to eat three times his own weight.
But, there are people who get influenced by their matinee idol spouting dialogues and it could be a major issue in the field of medicine where Google and WebMD are fast replacing oncologists and general physicians.
Right from certain babas to gurus to your next-door neighbour who knows a distant relative’s second cousin’s wife’s pet dog’s previous owner being diagnosed with cancer after having similar symptoms like you being our go-to-doctors, the anger and the dire need for creating the right kinds of awareness is justified.
The doctors even used a novel way to protest against this movie.
Doctors started to abet piracy and shared links for watching this movie online through social media applications to try to give the makers’ revenue a hit.
The legality of it or even the logic of it is debatable but would it have had a major effect on the box-office collection is something we would never find out.
Tamil Cinema met its old friend – Politics.
Politics and cinema have always been walking hand-in-hand since the 1950’s in Tamil Nadu.
Cinema has decided the fate of the state for the last 60 years and the present Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy and the deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam are the first heads of the state who do not come from a filmy background.
After years of commenting from the sidelines, it is just now that Kamal Haasan, who has moved in close quarters with the doyens of cinema who later became decision makers of Tamil Nadu is planning his political entry.
With his contemporary Rajinikanth finally ‘confirming’ his own entry into the political sphere, it is easy to understand the trepidation of the present political class whenever an actor decides to express anything that is remotely related to politics.
History of Tamil Nadu shows that its people have always sided with the stars and relegated the ‘other’ politicians to the background.
The politicians are understandably miffed with the recent developments of actors deciding to make their political entry because the years of groundwork done by a politician can easily be outclassed by an actor who got paid even more handsomely for a few dialogues that seemingly alter the voting pattern of the audience.
It is completely expected of politicians to want to piggyback on these stars to fuel their own ambitions and gain a temporary spot under the limelight.
In probably the only decent magic performed by the lead actor who also plays a magician, Mersal has now magically become the biggest unifying factor against the ruling BJP.
Tamil Nadu BJP which is still not a major player in the state’s politics decided to vehemently propose the removal of ‘objectionable’ scenes where Vijay is involved in criticising GST and demonetisation.
Political parties cutting across state lines started rallying behind this movie and used this opportunity to take a shot at the BJP for its divisive politics.
Right from the opposition leader of the state, MK Stalin, to the prince waiting for coronation, Rahul Gandhi, everyone had a say in this issue.
With the national media deciding to showcase this controversy, it became a full-blown war about censorship, re-censorship and freedom of expression.
It had become #MersalVsModi
The BJP in Tamil Nadu shot itself in its leg when one of the leaders referred to the lead actor Vijay as ‘Joseph Vijay’.
Nope, one doesn’t just get away with painting a communal picture to Tamil Nadu’s matinee idols.
But, again, it got me thinking how many major stars does Tamil cinema have who was/is not a Hindu? That’s a discussion for a later day.
Vijay or Joseph Vijay as H Raja from the BJP would like to refer to him has been at the centre of such controversies for quite a few years now.
Ever since the turn of the decade when he started moving away from the usual commerical fanfare and started doing movies that fit someone else’s idea of him hinting towards his entry into politics, he has been hounded.
After MGR flouted his new party AIADMK and became the Chief Minister with the support garnered by his choice of movies and politically charged dialogues written by his later political rival and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi, there has been a lull in the big names of cinema involving themselves in politics.
Though there were stars like Sarath Kumar, Karthik and Vijaykanth who took the plunge with varying degrees of success, they don’t quite enjoy the mass hysteria that surrounded actors like MGR, Rajinikanth and now Vijay.
If Thuppakki faced issues with the religion police, Thalaiva faced political pressure from ‘unknown’ outfits and ‘Kaththi’ faced the ire of pro-Tamil groups who protested against the producer of the movie who had Sri Lankan origins.
Unlike Kamal Haasan, who for many years had been the major recipient of such unwarranted and unnecessary controversies, Vijay was not used as just a tool by many political parties to gain publicity and earn a foothold in the political sphere of Tamil Nadu.
Vijay’s political ambitions if any were stifled and certain political bigwigs wanted it to be nipped right at the bud.
Kamal Haasan and his movies have been at the receiving end of threats from various outfits ranging from right-wing, pro-Tamil, ‘secular’ and other national organisations cutting across political beliefs, whereas similar themed and even named movies have gone ‘unnoticed’ by the same organisations.
However, he has always waged a lone battle. All these major voices that have now cropped up against the ruling BJP were characteristically silent when the issue was anything else.
All the political parties including the ones who are now raising their voice against BJP’s call for removal of scenes from a censored movie have been responsible for asking similar things when a movie/book/painting/art/song/music was against their belief and ideals.
The hypocrisy is so clear and yet the collective anger towards the BJP’s statements and propaganda is pushing the other parties’ flaws under the rug.
The people blame the political class for using the “leave-art-to-be-art” argument whenever they please and drop it whenever it is used against them.
We people are no different. We do not always take the cudgels against injustice.
We always have utmost propriety and insane amounts of bias.
We are as hypocritical as we blame the politicians to be.
Everyone is at fault. Everyone of us. Everyone of them.
2017 has been a year where many movies from across the country including Udta Punjab and Haraamkhor have been discussed more outside the theatre and longer than its theatrical run.
Amidst all this, a movie that was any way going to ring in the cash registers has now magically found more takers outside Tamil Nadu as well.
I partially agree with the Tamil Nadu BJP when they say they want certain scenes to be removed from the movie.
I too want something similar, but only because they don’t make sense in the movie.
My reservations with the issue of taking the plot of Aboorva Sagodharargal and tampering it with can be a separate post altogether.
The issue is not as much as with the plot lifting as it is with adding unnecessary and poorly written pointers to the society.
Aboorva Sagodharargal is a revenge story about two sons. One son plays an automobile mechanic and the other a circus clown. The dwarfed clown vindicates the murder of his parents by a group of villains who are bumped off one by one, while the mechanic is implicated in the crime.
Replace the words mechanic and circus clown with doctor and magician, you have the plot of Mersal.
This is my biggest grouse.
An unoriginal movie that is bereft of even the ‘moments’ that make a star vehicle, lacks colourful ‘punch’ dialogues and solid character arcs for the heroines who are as unnecessary as the controversies surrounding it, has now become the face of Tamil Cinema.
In a year, that had movies like Maanagaram, Rangoon, Kurangu Bommai and even Vikram-Vedha to an extent, this is the movie that the rest of India will associate with Tamil Cinema.
It has become this huge money-spinner and will give the director a bigger budget next time to pull off something even more audacious.
It was supposed to be a movie that just makes money and sinks into oblivion.
It was supposed to be a movie that will just fizzle out after a few days once the dust created by the die-hard fans settle.
It was supposed to be a movie that joins the list of commercial movies this year that bit more than it could chew to end up as a half-baked harmless movie that some term entertainers while others just want to forget.
Alas… It will not be so.
What have you done BJP?