Note: spoilers ahead.
Tamil star Vijay’s latest movie Mersal (slang for awe) opened on October 18 to crammed theatres, solid box office collections, and controversies over references to the Goods and Sales Tax and the Digital India initiative and the portrayal of medical malpractices.
The Tamil Nadu branch of the Indian Medical Association is so outraged by the corrupt doctors who litter Mersal that it has asked its members to pirate the film. However, the organisation did not object to what surely amounts as a medical miracle: two Vijays, born to the same father a few years apart with matching physiognomy and physicality despite not being twins.
Vijay plays three roles in Mersal, which has been directed by Atlee and written by him and Vijayendra Prasad. One of Vijay’s characters is called the “Rs 5 doctor” because he treats his patients practically for free. After Maaran is falsely accused of torturing and murdering four corrupt doctors and medical representatives, a flashback reveals that Maaran has a father, Vetrimaaran, and a sibling, Vetri (also played by Vijay).
Vetrimaaran is revealed to be a noble soul who builds a hospital and provides free medical care for the residents of his village in Madurai. When he is murdered, his sons Vetri and Maaran, who are born a few years apart, carry on his good work. The sons appear to be twins despite the age gap, with little to physically tell them apart. They are differentiated by their personalities. While Maaran believes in saving people’s lives, Vetri is a magician and a vigilante.
Several actors have played the roles of both father and son, including Kamal Haasan (Oru Kaidhiyin Diary and Indian) and Amitabh Bachchan (Aakhri Raasta, a remake of Oru Kaidhiyin Diary, and Mahaan, in which he plays the father and twin brothers). In Deiva Magan, Sivaji Ganesan plays the father and his twin sons.
Miracles apart, medical malpractice is the movie’s main villain, rather than SJ Surya’s Daniel Arokyaraj, a money-minded doctor who deceives Vetrimaaran and takes over his hospital. Doctors are shown as intentionally delaying treatment, pushing for C-section births over normal deliveries, swindling money and taking advantage of the poor.
The IMA functionaries were probably most incensed at a sequence in which an enraged doctor berates Maaran for criticising corruption in the medical profession in a television show. “There might probably be two or three out of ten doctors who are scheming, and those are also the ones who get easily riled up,” Maaran coolly responds.