Someone recently put up this tweet congratulating Aamir Khan for subtly dealing with several societal issues in his latest production, Secret Superstar (starring Zaira Wasim of Dangal fame). I found myself nodding to it very vigorously.
The plot is seemingly simple: a young girl studying her class X wants to be a Bollywood playback singer but her orthodox, middle-class upbringing doesn’t allow much elbow room to even consider it as a part-time career option.
Underneath that surface lies several layers — domestic abuse, female foeticide, single parents, inter-religious school crushes (the lead character belongs to a Muslim family), routine instances of Bollywood sexual harassments … basically, a whole bunch of topics that we all love to shove under the carpet everyday. But here’s the thing: none of them scream out loud on your face. Nor are they spelt out by a star who puts himself on a raised platform. It fits snugly within the story arc. This is very much a mainstream movie and has a good serving of every item on a traditional Indian emotional buffet. It was supremely satisfying. Has Aamir Khan perfected the art of delivering a movie with several messages? Can all the mainstream Tamil filmmakers (Samuthirakani, nudge, nudge) actually take a cue from him?
Mersal, as with every other Vijay film from the past decade or more, screams ‘soora gethu Thalapathy’ from the word go. The good news was it was less annoying than Bairavaa. It’s a tale of revenge, in case you haven’t watched it. It’s also a fight against the overall healthcare industry, for their corrupt practices and lack of empathy. The hero’s wet dream is free, universal medicaid for all. Nothing wrong with it. Except it’s also doubling up as Vijay’s political bandwagon and reinforcing this annoying ‘Tamizhan da!’ pride (can’t begin to describe how much this pseudo concept sickens me).
It’s 2017, and our directors cannot think beyond the format of a TV interview or an (apparently) rousing speech outside the courtroom where the hero unburdens his chest of all the half-baked statistics borrowed from FB posts and whatsapp forwards. All of which stands out independently of the plot. This must be the laziest method of breaking the fourth wall. Why bother with the false veil of a three-hour film? Just do one of those Put Chutney-style rants, guest-starring Thalapathy. We can alternately do a Thala version for the self-belief and life motivation audience segment. Simple.
How much longer will this Shankar-on-steroids assault go on? The era of Ramana and Mudhalvan is over. Done, dusted. Go home and do a rewrite. It’s almost certainly a flash in the pan that you managed to provoke some thin-skinned politicians and get this undeserved extra PR for a most mediocre piece of cinema.
But that was the plan all along, wasn’t it? We who rant about it are the jokers in the end. Sigh. Vaazhga Tamizh.