CHENNAI: Mersal has had its share of trouble. The Madras High Court had issued an interim stay on the usage of its title before eventually dismissing the case. Then the multiplex strike threatened to affect the film’s release.
And finally, there was some issue regarding the procurement of an NOC from the Animal Welfare Board as well. Advance bookings have opened though, and director Atlee has no doubts about releasing it on Diwali. “We’re releasing it as originally planned. Our team is working towards that,” he says.
It’s the second time he’s teaming up with Vijay after Theri (2016), which Atlee remembers being very apprehensive about. “I didn’t know how audiences would react to it. They’d seen only Raja Rani (2013). Now, I know better about what they want. Mersal will be a notch higher than Theri in everything — appeal, story treatment, dialogues, etc. The challenge was in figuring out how to present Vijay differently. I am confident of Mersal,” he smiles.
Atlee compares directing a mass film to playing a T20 match. “Last five overs remaining...all I need now is to win the game,” he says. “I can’t cheat the audience with just Vijay’s heroism. Commercial films should appeal to the elite audiences too. Mersal has that.”
He thanks Vijayendra Prasad (director Rajamouli’s father) for being a huge pillar of support.
“I approached him after seeing the film Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015). He has an amazing sense of humour and a great presence of mind. He reminds me of stalwarts like Sujatha (Rangarajan) and Balakumaran who understood what the audience wants, and know how to write a script that sells,” he says.
Atlee wasn’t the only one who wrote the script for Mersal. “Ramana Girivasan, VP of Vijay TV, wrote it along with me. He also worked with me on Theri. We completed the script in 45 days,” Atlee says.
Vijay had three looks in that film, and in Mersal too, it’s being said that he’s playing a triple role. What’s this fascination with the number 3? Atlee laughs. “I don’t conceive these characters with predetermined ideas. I do what the story demands. That’s the core of a film.”
Social media has been abuzz with speculations about the story line. Some say it’s about a policeman, while others claim it’s about Jallikattu. But Atlee denies both. “It’s the story of a common man. Vijay’s films usually address a social issue. Mersal does too but the concept is completely apolitical. Despite technological advancements, we miss out on some things. Part of the story is about that.”
Mersal also has three female lead characters, and Atlee does not want to call them heroines. “Nithya Menen’s role is high on emotional quotient. Samantha provides humour, and Kajal Aggarwal’s portions will be breezy and classy.”
Being a former assistant of Shankar, Atlee’s films naturally find some inspirations in his master’s work.
“If somebody tells me Mersal’s is like a Shankar film, I’ll be overjoyed. Shankar is a visionary, who has remained at the top of Tamil cinema for the last 25 years. I can only dream of directing films of that quality. I can never be him,” he says. Atlee is a self-confessed fan of Vijay and thinks it’s essential to be able to write a script that suits the star.
“Very few directors get to work with actors they idolise. I am lucky to direct him for the second time. He’s more than a brother to me. I may also team up with him for a third time after this film,” he says.
AR Rahman’s soundtrack has received mixed reviews, but Atlee points out that the songs are a hit.
“Right from Alaporaan Thamizhan, Neethanae, Maacho to Mersal Arasan, the entire album has become popular and topped all FM playlists. In recent times, no other Tamil album has had a reach like Mersal.”
Atlee is excited to show the audience the magic portions in the film.
“Vijay is a quick learner. Another actor may have taken at least six months to learn the magic tricks. But he did it in 10-15 minutes. I can’t reveal anything more, but all of us learned about illusion tricks.”