Movie Soundtracks

‘Mersal’ soundtrack review: Plenty of Tamil pride but only one really stunning song

AR Rahman’s score for the Vijay-starrer ‘Mersal’ tries to accommodate the requirements of a mass entertainer.

There are plenty of emphatic declarations in the soundtrack of Tamil star Vijay’s Mersal (Stunning). If Aalaporan Thamizhan Olagam Ellame (A Tamil man will rule the entire world) is the album’s most hummable track, in Mersal Arasan (A stunning king), a string of superlative phrases announce the arrival of a ruler (most probably Vijay’s entry song). Composer AR Rahman accentuates the effusive lyrics by beating the drums heavily at the turn of each phrase.

Mersal is Vijay’s 61st film and will be released on October 18. It stars Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Kajal Aggarwal, Nithya Menon, SJ Surya and Sathyaraj. Co-written by KV Vijayendra Prasad and Atlee, the film will reportedly see Vijay in three roles across time periods: a panchayat head, a magician and a doctor.

Vijay gets hailed as the son of the Tamil soil in at least two songs. Aalaporan Thamizhan is the first such song. The politically loaded lyrics reflect a foregone conclusion, and there is little room for debate: “Vayillada maatukku avan neethiya thandhane” (The Tamil man secured justice even for the voiceless cattle).

Rahman swaddles the high praise with steadily rising beats, as though at a victory procession. A female chorus sweetly opens the song before making way for the men to sing their praises. Then the drum beats get their own voice. Finally, the field is thrown open for singer Kailash Kher to announce the entry of the quintessential Tamil man through his full-throttle singing.

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Aalaporaan Thamizhan, Mersal (2017).

Rahman’s use of a variety of percussion instruments makes the track stand out. The composer breaks the steady pace of the composition in his typical style: by giving singer AV Pooja a slow solo portion. The drums return with renewed vigour to close the composition.

Mersal Arasan, the title track, does not quite leave an impression even though the a cappella opening is remarkable. In this too, Rahman relies heavily on the use of drums along with a variety of instruments, but fails to create Aalaporan’s mood. Halfway into the song, the lyrics become preachy. Sung by Naresh Iyer, Vishwaprasadh, GV Prakash Kumar, Sharanya Srinivas and AR Rahman, the song attempts to embody the thriving spirit of the street but ends up with just the noise.

It is with Neethanae, a track sung with Shreya Ghosal, that Rahman makes amends. Neethanae is a traditional duet, a song of a declaration of love with cheesy lyrics (Aren’t you the sound of the beat that touches my heart?). Yet, Rahman’s tendency to reassemble familiar sounds and ideas of music and render them unfamiliar works well yet again. The veena interlude pinches the highest notes and returns gracefully, accompanied by Ghosal’s voice on its way down. Rahman even explores the music hidden in fragments of words to give the regular duet a different flavour.

The biggest disappointment is the Sid Sriram-Shweta Mohan number Maacho. The lyrics are in near incomprehensible Tamil-English (Kannu whistledadi, speakitta, beautiful memoriya treatarein). The mangling of two languages does not work well, and even Rahman’s musical touch does little to make the song appealing. Rahman has tried the Tamil-English song before – Azhagi from Kaatru Velyidai – but each of the languages were given their due and the lyrics were not contorted in this manner.

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Neethanae, Mersal (2017).
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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.