Mersal (2017)

Mersal

After drought ravaged farmers in Kaththi and violence against women in Theri, Vijay latest crusade is against corrupt medical practitioners in Atlee’s Mersal. There are few surprises in the storyline which follows a standard revenge formula, but the approach is stylish and the addition of a magician does ensure a few unexpected tricks. Vijay takes on a triple role that puts him front and centre for most of the film, which is just as well since it’s mainly his charisma that lifts Mersal above its well-worn story. But there are also energetic dance numbers, excellent special effects and a credible and suitably nasty villain making Mersal a major improvement on Vijay’s last film and worth catching on the big screen if you can.

Vijay plays a triple role – two brothers (one who is unaware of the other’s existence), and then their father in an extended flashback sequence. The story jumps around a lot as well as moving in and out of flashback so it’s deliberately not always clear which character we are watching at any given time. The film starts with the abductions of 4 men, all connected in some way to the same hospital, although it’s takes a while before we find out who they are and why they have been abducted. The police receive an anonymous tip off which leads them to arrest local hero and all round good guy Dr Marran (Vijay) who is known as the ₹5 doctor due to the fees he charges his patients. His arrest almost sparks a mini riot but once Police Officer Rathnavel (Sathyaraj) begins his interview (which for no good reason is conducted in a derelict building on a construction site) the story of the two brothers starts to unfold.

The other brother, Vetri (Vijay), is a magician and uses his powers to take revenge on the men he feels were responsible for his father’s death. It’s never clear how the brothers ended up separated or why Marran is brought up by his foster mother Sarala (Kovai Sarala) in ignorance of Vetri’s existence, but then Atlee seems to prefer focusing on the result rather than bothering with such basic explanations. Vetri is ably assisted in his magic and in his revenge by Vadivu (Vadivelu) who also moonlights as Maaran’s helper. This means Vetri knows exactly where Marran is and can use that information to his own advantage. While in Paris (really Poland, but close enough), Vetri meets Anu Pallavi (Kajal Aggarwal) who is acting as a general gofer for the rather greedy and lecherous Dr Arjun Zachariah (Hareesh Peradi). Dr Zachariah is the polar opposite of Maaran, believing that good medicine is commercial medicine and the only reason to be a doctor is to turn a huge profit and benefit from the misery of disease. Maraan on the other hand is a proponent of universal free health care as a basic human right, although he doesn’t seem to have really thought through exactly how this style of medical care will be funded if his dream is to become a reality.

While Vetri dances his way into Dr Anu’s heart in Paris, Maaran meets journalist Tara (Samantha) during an interview on a TV talk show. Love blossoms through another song but Maaran’s TV appearance has brought him to the attention of Dr Daniel Arockiyaraj (S.J. Surya) who recognises Maaran as being the spitting image of his father. Daniel and Vetrimaaran (Vijay) had an acrimonious history and Daniel immediately sets out to find and destroy the son of his enemy.

The best part of the film is the extended flashback after the interval which focuses on the reasons behind Vetri’s revenge and Daniel’s antipathy. S.J. Surya revels in his role as a conniving and deceitful doctor in wide collared shirts and spectacular flares but Vijay steals the show here with his performance as a villager with a big heart and even bigger muscles.  Nithya Menen is also superb as Vetrimaaran’s wife Aishwarya (aka Ice), although she does have the best of the three female roles. Her Ice is passionate and inspiring in her devotion to the idea of readily available health care in their village, and she gets the chance to really bring out the emotions of her character well. She also has excellent chemistry with Vijay and this is the relationship that works the best out of the three, although to be fair both Samantha and Kajal get little screen time with the hero and little chance to develop their respective relationships.

There are a few oddities in this part of the film though. There is a sudden jump between Ice’s admission into the hospital and her final fate without much explanation of what goes wrong. Also, a potential fight between Vetrimaaran and Daniel’s henchmen is over before it begins with the gang all lying on the ground bleeding and moaning seconds after they approach Vetrimaaran. I’m not sure if these cuts are an Australian specific issue since I haven’t seen any mention of them in any other reviews, but it does seem odd and makes these final flashback scenes seem rushed and a little confusing.

Although the main focus of the film is Vijay, the rest of the support cast are all good, including Rajendran as an unlikely Health minister and Kaali Venkat as an auto driver whose daughter died due to corruption in the health service. The music from A.R. Rahman doesn’t stand out as anything special, but it does fit into the screenplay well while Atlee places the songs wisely throughout. G.K. Vishnu works wonders with the cinematography and the effects are magical despite the sometimes cheesy nature of the tricks. Watch out for a scene where Vijay fights with a deck of cards – the fusion of the magic storyline into a standard masala tale is a better fit than I expected. Of course the real magic here is that Vijay seems to be growing younger with each new film and he’s just as energetic as ever too.

However Mersal is more than just a revenge drama and there is a definite political slant to the story. To start with, medical negligence and corruption is an emotive topic, that has been much in the news recently with a series of high profile deaths in the Indian medical system. Vetri makes a rather political statement towards the end of the film as he speaks to the crowd outside the courtroom and asking why India can’t fund heathcare as well as Singapore when the Indian government collects a much larger amount of GST. This is much more direct than Vijay’s message about suicidal farmers in Kaththi and does come across as a warning to the current government that they are being judged as lacking leadership in this issue. Vijay underscores the political theme with several nods to MGR, including a scene where Vetrimaaran walks in to a cinema to accuse village officials of corruption just as MGR strides onto the screen in the background. Is this the next stage in Vijay’s political campaign or is he just making the best use of his star power and philanthropic tendencies? Only time will tell, but in Mersal, Atlee has combined politics and entertainment without diluting the message or preaching to his audience- something a lot of Holywood films could do well to emulate.

 

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Mrugaraju

Gunasekhar’s film is a remake of the Ghost and the Darkness – but with Mega Heroics instead of Val Kilmer grimacing. Having seen both (not very good) films, this is actually my pick of the bunch. It makes no sense, the sound team may have been drunk, and everyone forgets about the lion far more than they should. But Simran and Chiranjeevi are good, the songs are fun, and it just never lets anything (particularly geography) get in the way.

Aishwarya (Simran) volunteers to take over a bridge building project that has come to a standstill following a number of lion attacks. Raju (Chiranjeevi) is the legendary forest guide and sharpshooter hired to keep the workers safe. Eventually we find out that Raju and Aishwarya had been married and that sparks a long lion-free flashback to explain their back story. Aishwarya thinks he deserted her knowing she was knocked up and he can’t believe he has a kid (in a happy way). So he sings a sad little song that has the effect of luring his daughter out into the night and towards almost certain death. Will they get back together? Will the lion kill again? Will anyone ever finish that bridge?

I liked that Aishwarya started out as a practical professional woman. Her character is on the receiving end of a lot of unfortunate comedy uncle buffoonery and sexist remarks from Raju. Simran plays Aishwarya as pleasant but firm, and she wasn’t afraid of confrontation. She realised her fiancé Vicky was an arse and at her own engagement ceremony, strode down the aisle and asked Raju to marry her. Good move! But because you can’t have The Heroine on an equal footing with The Hero, many of her skills failed to manifest at crucial times. And her lion catching plan is in MS Paint. I don’t think anyone on the crew consulted an engineer about what good construction looked like (surely half the crew WERE engineers?). I’m not sure about Aishwarya wearing beaded chiffon sarees around camp either, but each to their own. She has nice chemistry with Chiranjeevi and does her best with the stupid screenplay.

Raju is a fairly straightforward good guy character but Chiru’s acting chops drew out the emotional tension in some of his scenes with Simran. Of course he could beat up packs of drug dealers with one hand behind his back, poachers better beware, and he always knows best. But for a renowned hunter he was frankly hopeless. They come up with a plan to have Rajanna up on a platform, with a baboon tied to a tree nearby as bait. Aishwarya startled an eagle which knocked Raju to the ground, just as the lion shows up. I really wish they’d watched a proper wildlife doco or two. He was too chatty and smoked incessantly so ensured the lions knew exactly where he was, he dropped his gun ALL THE TIME (a strap? Did anyone think of a strap?), seemed constantly surprised by animal behaviour, and his clever plans resulted in several unnecessary deaths. He apparently had a no-kill policy which is laudable, but then he wore so many animal teeth I had to wonder. The action scenes range from standard fights to more complex stunts and Chiru throws himself into it all with vim and vigour (and a bit of overacting).

Chiru really shines in the songs, which is hardly a surprise, and they are highlights of this inconsistent adaptation. It was odd but not unpleasant hearing Udit Narayan sing for him in Aley Ley Aley Ley as I tend to associate his voice with SRK. And yes, Chiru provided the vocals for Chai Chai in a spirited Sprechgesang.

Nagendra Babu is a tribal man supervising the villagers work. He and Raju have a lion claw type gesture in place of a bro fist. At one moment that was supposed to be emotional I was shouting “He’s gonna do the hands” and he did and I laughed and then I felt bad but hey…It’s like lots of things in this film, under thought and over used. But I always like seeing Naga Babu as a good guy sidekick. I just wish he didn’t have to die so often.

Prakash Raj and Kovai Sarala are Raju’s befeathered parents. They love their boy and have faith in their tribe’s way of life. And they ham it up at every opportunity. Anyone who can overact when their character is dead really needs to take look at themselves. But they’re not alone. Brahmi is a Hindi speaking doofus who adds nothing. MS Narayana dressed up as a bear to scare Aishwarya, only to have a real (man in a suit) bear drag him away with, er, romantic intent…Jeez. I understand the traditional requirement of a comedy track but it doesn’t sit well against what could have been a suspenseful action oriented story.

Where this bridge is located is debatable. While all the people speak Telugu, the government departments seem to be Indian, and the place names are Indian there is a sizeable population of giraffes, along with a few rhinos and those pesky lions. The “tribal” people don’t help with narrowing down the continent either. The cultural appropriation extended to Australia as Raju also wielded a very sharp edged boomerang. There is so much geographic inconsistency – are they in a jungle or grassy plains, where did those mountains come from and why are they so easy for a toddler to climb up and back down again…

The lions were very diverting. Due to shonky CGI and changing perspectives they sometimes appeared to be hippo sized, then sometimes like a small terrier. Seeing what looked like a tiny lion speeding by with galloping pony sound effects – hilarious. I also liked the lion strolling along a log made to look like it was climbing a tree. Very 1960’s Batman. There were some stuffed lions too. I think I paid more attention to the lions than most people in the film. Aishwarya spends a lot of time wandering around the long grass looking picturesque and edible, and Raju spends more time singing motivational songs than actually being on task.

I was also reunited with an old friend – the jungle bunny. Aishwarya nearly shoots a fluffy white rabbit thinking it is a lion, but it fakes death until revived by Chiru breathing on it. And then in what may be an act of rabbit revenge, local glamour girl Sivangi (Sanghavi) chases a fluffy white bunny that leads her into the lions’ den; a cave filled with skulls and bones. I reckon either the rabbits are in cahoots with the lions or they are the real evil masterminds.

Mruga Raju is not a very good film, Gunasehar lacked focus and the execution is clumsy. But Chiru is very appealing (once Raju eases off the sexist BS), and Simran is a good partner. It plays a lot better with judicious use of the FF button, but the songs are worth a watch. 3 stars!

Desamuduru (2007)

Desamuduru

There are a number of reasons why I love this film, although they can be summed up easily as plenty of Allu Arjun and dancing! A lot of work has gone into showing off Bunny’s six-pack throughout the film, and I definitely approve.  In addition, there are some great fight scenes (where Bunny follows the Salman Khan principle of removing your shirt wherever possible), Cinema Chaat favourites Ajay and Subbaraju appear as villains, and it’s one of the very few films where Hansika doesn’t irritate me to the point of switching off.  And there is of course this:

Don’t be put off by the picture – there is nothing of Ali in this clip!

The appeal of Desamuduru definitely lies with the cast and their energetic performances rather than a good storyline or even well-written and believable characters – because it doesn’t have either of those.  Desamuduru was Puri Jannaadh’s follow-up to Pokiri, and perhaps after such an exceptional effort, he just ran out of new ideas.  The plot is paper thin and the story follows a well-used formula without anything novel in the execution.  Perhaps as compensation, the director ups the pace, meaning that the lack of a storyline tends to vanish in the constant confusion of fight scenes and action shots.  At least the high energy ensures that Desamuduru has mass appeal, even if it doesn’t rise to the dizzy heights of Pokiri.

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Bunny’s Bala Govind is an arrogant young TV reporter working for his father on the crime beat with Maa TV.  He has a basic idea of what is wrong and right – for instance, killing people is wrong.

Desamuduru

But beating them up within an inch of their lives is apparently perfectly OK.

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Some of the detail in these scenes is excellent – I love how the drunk pulls his bottle of booze out of harm’s way, and how Bunny’s shirt slowly rips as he flexes his muscles – classic!

Bala’s latest altercation ends up with Murugan (Subbaraju) in hospital and Bala under threat from Murugan’s father and local gang boss Tambi Durai (Pradeep Rawat).  Bala however escapes to film a travel program in Kulu Manali – a little bit of a change from crime reporting, but apparently travel is where Bala feels he has his calling. Anyway, swapping the mean streets of Hyderabad for the mountains of Himachal Pradesh seems perfectly reasonable, especially when there is a gang of Tamil thugs baying for blood as incentive.  Plus it means we get this song along with a backdrop of snow-clad hills and slightly bemused looking locals.

Bala has a traditional Telugu approach to love – see, instantly fall head over heels, stalk and wear the girl down until you can convince her to marry you.  Sigh.  This time the unwilling heroine is Vaishali (Hansika Motwani) who is a Sanyasin and appears completely uninterested in Bala despite his total belief in his own irresistibility. The rest of the word sees Vaishali as a demure and quiet Sanyasin, but this is how Bala see her, which seriously makes me question his fashion sense even in fantasy dance sequence land.

Hansika is surprisingly OK here in a role that doesn’t require her to do very much.  I didn’t particularly  like or dislike her the first time I saw this film, but compared to subsequent appearances I think this is one of her better performances.  She looks suitably demure at the beginning as a Sanyasin and manages to bop around reasonably convincingly in the songs.  Later on in the second half when the romance quotient is reduced to almost zero, she continues to hang in there, and acts appropriately wimpy in the subsequent fight scenes.

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There isn’t a lot of chemistry between her and Bunny, but some of that is down to the plot, particularly since no sooner does Vaishali declare her love than the film switches back to action and fight scenes rather than playing up the romance.  At least that is until we get to the ultimate fan-girl song in Manusuley.  Even the song’s similarity to Dil Se helps bump up the heat factor and when you add in Allu Arjun drenched in litres of oil smouldering at the camera it definitely reaches sizzling hot! Except I tend to think: all that sand with all that oil – ouch!

Bunny at least seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout.  He looks very happy to be surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in the songs, and in a number of the scenes with Subbaraju and Ajay I’m convinced that they ended up ROFL most of the time.  It’s one of my favourite things about Bunny that he seems to be perpetually about to crack up, so I end up smiling every time – even if it’s totally inappropriate.

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There is a tedious comedy track involving Ali which starts out bad and just gets worse as it goes along, but thankfully that’s it for comedy uncles.  Much better is the comedy provided by the altercations between Subbaraju and Bunny, and the histrionics provided by Telangana Shakuntala as Murugan’s evil mother.  Jeeva also does his evil henchman sidekick while Ajay is excellent as a thug who cannot talk and adds both to the mayhem and the comedy in equal measure.  It all adds up to a lot of this – Reeey!!

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A number of the fight and chase sequences are excellent with some good choreography and wire work,  and it’s just a shame that they aren’t connected together by a better storyline.  There is of course the obligatory item number featuring Rambha which pops up at an odd time and doesn’t add anything at all to the film, but it’s a least one more opportunity to watch Bunny dance.

Desamuduru is a hodge-podge of a film which relies on a charismatic cast, fast action (and even faster dance moves), along with the appeal of beautiful scenery in Manali .  It’s a film I watch over and over again, just for the songs and Allu Arjun’s dancing.  Not just for those shirtless scenes – of course not! It’s not a film for everyone but if you can leave your brain at the door and just sit back for the ride there is plenty to entertain – although judicious use of the FF button makes it even more enjoyable.  Desamuduru gets 2½ stars for story and execution, but 5 stars for enjoyment and re-watch potential!

DesamuduruIt sure is!