Mersal director Atlee hints at a hat-trick: 'Vijay and I may team up for the third time'
Director Atlee, a long-standing associate of maverick filmmaker Shankar, made his directorial debut with the blockbuster multi-starrer romance drama Raja Rani and carved out a niche for himself in staging romance sequences.
Atlee and actor Vijay rubbed shoulders with each other on the sets of Shankar's Nanban, an official remake of Aamir Khan's mega-blockbuster 3 Idiots. Although the duo got along so well, never did Atlee realise that he would go on to work with 'Thalapathy' Vijay in consecutive projects (Theri in 2016 and now, Mersal) in the initial stages of his career.
"After the success of Theri, I narrated the script of Mersal to Vijay sir last November and he was excited about the idea. And, we went on floors immediately from February 2017. I felt Raja Rani lacked action sequences and I wanted to rectify that in my sophomore outing Theri. That's how I use my learnings from my previous film. Mersal will have something which the audience didn't experience in my earlier films. It will also have both action and romance elements in appropriate proportions," Atlee told Firstpost in this exclusive chat.
Atlee is supremely confident about Mersal which marks the prestigious 100th production of popular banner Thenandal Studios Limited. Atlee initially wanted to choose a poetic title for the film before zeroing in on Mersal. "I had a lot of poetic options in mind but most of such titles were already taken. So I wanted to choose a contemporary yet colloquial title. That's how Theri and Mersal were named," he says.
Spilling the beans on the basic premise of Mersal, Atlee said, "When a film deals with the problems faced by a particular community, its target audience will be limited. Mersal revolves around a critical issue faced by people of all sects of the society. Every common man would have encountered this problem."
In Mersal, Atlee has joined forces with Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan writer Vijayendra Prasad for the first time. "I met Vijayendra Prasad sir the next day after I handed over the first copy of Theri. I admire his writing a lot, especially in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I sought an appointment to meet him and expressed my wish to collaborate with him. He has offered immense support with the screenplay of Mersal," said Atlee.
"A considerable portion of the story had to be shouldered by one of the female leads, and I needed a performer for that specific role. Nithya Menen is undoubtedly a good performer, and I wanted her to do that part. Kajal Aggarwal's portions will be classy and breezy. Samantha's role has been written a lot of humour and will appeal to masses," he says.
Atlee met AR Rahman at the audio launch of Kanidhan and was thrilled to know that he was hearing a lot about him from his peers in the industry. "When he shook hands with me and told that he is hearing a lot about me, I was so happy. So during Theri, I met him with three scripts, but Mersal was not one of them. With hardly two months to start the shoot, I met Rahman sir again and narrated him the story and he immediately agreed to do the score for Mersal. He delivered one song a month, and that's how the album was made," recalled Atlee.
Asked about the sensational hit number 'Aalaporaan Tamizhan' from the album, Atlee said, "When I told Rahman sir and Vivek about making a song that will make every Tamilian feel proud about their identity, Vivek came up with the lyrics 'Aalaporaan Tamizhan' within minutes of our discussion. I even thought of changing the title from Mersal to Aalaporaan Tamizhan but later decided to use it in future. That song will have the best picturisation out of all the songs I have done till date."
Showering praise on Vijay's dedication, Atlee said, "There's a wrestling sequence shot in Rajasthan where Vijay sir has to wrestle without his shirts at a temperature of 58 degrees. I was entirely bowled by his dedication while shooting that sequence. We didn't use a body double for any shot. The flashback portion plays a crucial part in the film. It will surely linger in the minds of audiences. For the 'magician' portion, we never relied on CGI at all. Vijay sir has learnt all the tricks quickly and performed brilliantly."
With Mersal all set to hit screens worldwide on 18 October, reports have already surfaced that Atlee will team up with Vijay for the third time after the latter completes his next project with AR Murugadoss. "I wouldn't rule out the reports. Yes, we may team up for the third time. It all depends on Vijay sir," said Atlee.