Mercury Review: Karthik Subbaraj’s ‘Silent’ experiment is a let-down of sorts
Karthik Subbaraj’s latest film Mercury begins by paying tribute to “Pushpak” & various other silent films of the past. Of course needless to say it is Pushpak (or Pushpaka Vimana or Pesum Padam depending on the version that you saw it in) that would most likely be the film on our minds from the time we probably heard of Karthik Subbaraj’s attempt to make a silent film. What gets cleared in the opening few minutes is the fact that Mercury isn’t a Pushpak or “The Artist”, a recent silent film that we are all aware of. Unlike in case of the earlier silent films, here the filmmaker has not attempted an out & out silent film. There is a clearly designed reason for the absence of dialogues, perhaps a little too convenient at that.
And therein the whole experiment appears pale of sorts, let me elaborate on that in a bit. Reminiscent of a real life corporate linked environmental hazard in the recent past, Mercury alludes to a case of mercury poisoning caused by a factory in a hill station & the effect it has on people, including one or more characters in the film. There are only 6 principal characters in the film; we are never revealed their names at any point of time. What we do know right at the very beginning is that 5 of them, 4 men (Deepak Paramesh, Anish Padmanabhan, Sananth Reddy and Shashank Puroshottam) & a lady (Indhuja) are childhood friends and they have all made a trip to a hill station for an alumni meet back in their school. All of them are deaf-mute, communicating comfortably in sign language with each other. After a night of drunken revelry they go on a late night drive, only to end up facing an accident & having to contend with a corpse in the process. Soon they find the corpse to be shockingly missing & they land up at the abandoned Corporate Earth Factory. What happens from thereon in the lives of all the 6 characters is what the rest of the tale is all about.
At the very outset the usage of sign language among the principal characters appears in an untrained & not so professional sort of manner. Unlike in case of the recent Hollywood film “A Quiet Place” where the usage of sign language is done with precision & there is a usage of subtitles to let the audience remain clued in to the proceedings, nothing like that happens in Mercury. Also the entire 20 odd minutes at the start before Prabhu Deva’s entry could have been reduced by a considerable length. Why are the youngsters who are otherwise deaf playing party music loudly for a considerable time is something that beats me. Also despite the relatively short length of the film (108 minutes) there is hardly anything in the first half that keeps us hooked to the proceedings, Karthik Subbaraj’s writing turning out to be disappointing especially in terms of the first half.
To give due credit to Karthik, the second half does manage to keep us engaged, this is when the film actually steps into the territory of films like “Don’t Breathe” & “A Quiet Place”. A menacing Prabhu Deva on the prowl of the 5 friends in the abandoned factory is something that is riveting and also well shot (cinematography by S.Tirru and art direction/production design by Satees Kumar deserves credit). Santosh Narayanan’s BGM & Kunal Rajan’s sound design also lends an extra edge to the proceedings in the 2nd half. However just when one is inclined to accept that the post interval proceedings ensure Karthik’s back in his stride, we are unnecessarily given a backstory of Prabhu Deva’s character which seems to be an attempt to make him appear justified in his actions & not really an evil entityl. This is followed by a forced social message of sorts being communicated with the end credits. Now pray why was this necessary when all along the audience has been evolving with your films, Karthik?
Among the 5 friends its Sananth Reddy & Indhuja who get maximum screen time and both of them are effective. Remya Nambeesan in a cameo does what is expected out of her while it’s interesting to see Prabhu Deva in a never before seen avatar, he seems to have had a blast playing the antagonist. Overall Mercury is a film that does bear a few traits of Karthik Subbaraj’s filmmaking, but it is an experiment that is ultimately flawed.
Karthik Subbaraj’s attempt to make a silent movie had potential but it isn’t written and executed in the best possible fashion. If you go in to watch Mercury expecting another Pushpak, then be warned that you would end up disappointed.