Written and directed by: Adhik Ravichandran
Cast: Vishal, SJ Suryah, Selvaraghavan, Ritu Varma
Runtime: 151 minutes
Available in: Theatres
In one of its most innovatively choreographed bits leading up to the intermission, you get a glimpse of what Adhik Ravichandran’s Mark Antony could’ve been. In a rundown club of the 70s, Vishal is seen battering his enemies to the beats of Ilaiyaraaja and Kamal Haasan’s ‘Varudhu Varudhu’ from Thoongathey Thambi Thoongathey (1983). The flickering yellow lights of the disco are interspersed with a scene from the 1990s (the present), where the tables have turned and a younger Vishal is on the receiving end of the said battering. The scene lasts almost for the length of the deliciously retro disco song — Adhik chooses this particular song because it is from a film that features yet another star (Kamal Haasan) in a double role. The scene encapsulates everything that Mark Antony set out to be: an unfiltered, unhinged campy actioner. Who knew the very campiness that slightly sets this film apart, would become its own undoing.
Mark Antony is a classic example of a misfire due to excesses. The film opens with scientist Chiranjeevi (Selvaraghavan) cooped up in his chamber, trying to fashion a time-travel medium. But unlike the scientists before him, he doesn’t want to make a teleporting machine. He is happy rewriting the past with just a phone call. Everything about Chiranjeevi is delightfully over the top. Right from his ridiculous wig to how he dramatically writes the cardinal rules of his machine, the director treads a thin line between originality and madness. The smallest of recoils would’ve been enough to poke fun at its ridiculousness, but the absurdity here is super fun and intentional.
Chiranjeevi's time-travelling phone finally becomes a success, and after redrafting a few personal goals, he sets off to find happiness at the bottom of a glass at a club. But what Chiranjeevi doesn’t realise is that this club has an inexplicable connection to his creation. For a film that revolves around time travel, Adhik’s Mark Antony takes its brief a little too seriously — it leaps into the past and future with almost a sort of irreverence, surprisingly enough never once spoon-feeding the audience of its dizzying plot.
Adhik’s love for loud and brash characters is apparent in the writing of his lead protagonists. Antony (Vishal) and Jackie (SJ Suryah) are inseparable friends and partners in crime, whose friendship is cut short by Ekambaram (a superb Sunil), a don from the enemy camp. So, when Antony is killed, Jackie vows to retrieve the head of Ekambaram, who has now gone into hiding. To thicken the already dense plot, we’re introduced to Mark and Madhan (also played by the same actors), who are sons of the best friends. But there is one difference between their equations. Unlike their fathers, neither Mark nor Madhan has the grit or style to command respect. Mark grows up to be a frightened mechanic in the shadows of Jackie, while Madhan grows to hate his father because of a frustration that gets a backstory towards the end. What happens when the sons learn the secrets of their past? Especially with a time-travel machine thrown into the equation?
While the tone of the film might be frivolous, this doesn’t extend to its eye for detail. Every time the camera cuts to another period, we’re informed of the year by a calendar placed strategically in the frame. If it’s not the calendar, we get witty markers such as a Pepsi Uma show running in the background, triggering a core memory among 90s kids. The film also takes the consequences of time traveling seriously. As we’ve learnt from Marty Mcfly’s adventures from the Back To The Future films, every action in the past has a reaction in the future, and this is never glossed over in Mark Antony.
SJ Suryah, in particular, is at home in Adhik’s world of absurdity, screaming at the top of his lungs and mouthing the most atrocious one-liners with his brand of characteristic nuttiness. But this is only when he isn’t being a womanising dirtbag on screen. In its effort to have mindless fun with our romance for nostalgia, the film also retains some of the cringey, obsolete elements of the past that deserved to be forgotten. The era’s (or is it the film’s?) transphobia is evident through a repulsive depiction of Gowri (played by YG Mahendra), an effeminate man who is obviously the butt of a few jokes that always begin with him being an “uncle-aunty”. Silk Smitha (featuring a lookalike) gets a debut in a stomach-churning scene that is clearly intended to titillate. What’s the point of celebrating the actress’ courage with a tokenistic dialogue, when she is dragged through the dirt to be incessantly sexualised, that too posthumously?
The sexual innuendos flow like a river into the second half, and the absurdity that once seemed original, becomes an overkill. It becomes difficult to keep track of the number of Vishals and SJ Suryahs in different time continuums, and the exhaustion gradually sets in. Every cliche — cheesy songs, cheesier backstories — that the film carefully avoided in the first half, is fleshed out in its second half. At one point, when Vishal’s Mark says, “Podhum. Aadina aatam la podhum (Enough playing games. Let’s put an end to this),” he is clearly preaching to the choir, the choir here being the audience.