Choreographer, actor and director Prabhu Deva’s masterful footwork has featured in almost all his films. But in his latest venture Mercury, there is no dialogue, leave along dancing. This is what made him the right fit for the silent thriller, according to filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj.

Written and directed by Subbaraj, Mercury stars Prabhu Deva, Sanath Reddy, Deepak Paramesh, Indhuja and Remya Nambeesan. “I wanted somebody unique and wanted someone who hadn’t done anything like this before and Prabhu Deva sir was the right person,” Subbaraj said at a press event in Mumbai on Tuesday. “He was out of this zone since there is no song or dancing in the film.” The dialogue-free film will be released on April 13.

The film is loosely based on the 2001 mercury poisoning case at a thermometer factory in Tamil Nadu. Around 600 workers were exposed to toxic mercury vapours at the Hindustan Lever factory in Kodaikanal. The plant has since been shut down. “The film speaks about big corporate companies exploiting small towns,” Subbaraj said. “There was a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal where they dumped mercury into the river and that affected a lot of people.”

Mercury (2018).

Prabhu Deva, who plays the antagonist in the film, agreed. “It is very different from what you have seen,” the actor said. “But it was not challenging because the director was very easy to work with. When Karthik first told me that it was a two-hour silent film without any dialogue, I was surprised. But once I heard the story I was instantly convinced.”

Subbaraj made his feature filmmaking debut with the acclaimed Vijay Sethupathi-starrer Pizza (2012) and went on to direct Jigarthanda (2014) and Iraivi (2016). He will next direct Rajinikanth for a Sun Pictures production. But the young filmmaker first rose to fame with his short films, which were popularised by Tamil filmmaking reality competition show Naalaiya Iyakkunar.

The idea for a dialogue-free feature came from one such short film. “I did a 10-minute short film called Black and White, which just has two lines of dialogue, with nine minutes being silence,” Subbaraj said. “That time I thought the technique was really interesting and thought I should try making a feature. I then started writing a thriller without giving any dialogue and it worked out. The concept of Mercury is universal and is relatable.”

Subbaraj said the technique helped him take the movie to a bigger audience. Although the cast and crew of Mercury are from Chennai, the movie is being released all over India.

Since there was no dialogue, attention had to be given to every shot, Subbaraj added. “The challenge was to finish the script and then came the acting and the other technicalities,” he said. “Usually you relate to any actor because their voice is their strength. For instance, take Amitabh Bachchan sir. People relate to him because he says dialogue in his style. This film does not have that scope. We had acting training workshops for the actors over a month.”

Though Prabhu Deva might not be seen dancing on the screen, his body language has helped him emote without dialogue, the actor said. “Subconsciously, my dancing might have helped my body language,” he said. “There was minimal preparation because it had to be spontaneous since this role is very different. The sequences in the film were so interesting that I was eager to go and act in every scene.”

The actor, whose next appearance is in Vijay’s dance-themed drama Lakshmi, is hopeful that fans will accept the movie even though there is no fancy footwork. “Everybody was appreciative and did not really complain about missing my dance upon watching the teaser,” he said. “The audience is ready.”

Mercury (2018). Image credit: Stone Bench Films/Pen Studios.