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A time travel comedy for the ages – Beyond Bollywood

Though ridiculous to begin with, director Adhik Ravichandran’s film later pans out into a sublime sci-fi campy drama.  S.J. Suryah is hilarious in his dual role. Lead actor Vishal though cuts a sorry figure.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

When the going is tough, the well-wishers would pacify an individual by saying ‘tera time kharab hai’ [these times are bad]. 30 minutes into Mark Antony [2023] felt like penance for past sins. The chaotic opening, stretched introduction of leading characters, and their respective story, tested this reviewer’s nerves.  Jeez, how does one express his/her frustration in this moment?  Your reviewer cheekily whispered to a fellow critic that the embargo on review of this Tamil film should only be lifted two weeks later. There’s nothing that you can do save curse your luck. The philosophical viewer would say, “This is a classic case of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time of time“. Hey, but writer-director Adhik Ravichandran’s film rides on time.

An ill-timed move in 1975 cost Antony [Vishal] his life. 20 years later, his son Mark Antony [also played by Vishal] is striving hard to disassociate himself from his father’s checkered history which has threatened to break his relationship with Ramya [Ritu Varma].  To have a better future, Vishal must eradicate the family history.  Destiny presents the Chennai man a unique opportunity to rectify the past that would change his present. It’s an impossible task in the real, but the reel world can be altered through time travel.  This is made possible via one mad scientist Chiranjeevi [Selvaraghavan] who spent years in developing a time travel telephone [machine]. 

Chiranjeevi opens the film and for close to 15-odd minutes, he strikes you as the protagonist.  As things unfold, it becomes clear that Chiranjeevi is more like the creator of the fabled lamp, while Vishal is the Aladin in this time travel action comedy. Early on, Ekambaram [Sunil] is the Jafar here, but as the plot thickens, the villain turns out to be someone close.  The subsequent events mirror that of Aladin, where the time travel telephone has turned Vishal’s life. When the dial changes hands, it’s the antagonist(s) now striving hard to alter their history.

After a ridiculous opening 30-35 minutes, Mark Antony [2023] pans out into a sublime sci-fi campy drama. The principal architect of this turn around isn’t Vishal, but S.J. Suryah who single-handedly carries this roller-coaster narrative. He does so in a dual role-playing Jackie Pandian and also his son Madan.  The father-son duo is the only family to Mark Antony. In fact, Jackie loves Mark more than his son. Is that love for his former best friend’s son real though?

S.J.Suryah as Jackie Pandian

Just one look at Jackie Pandian is enough to suggest that there is more to this man than it meets the eye. His excessive buttering of Vishal makes you instantly suspicious of him. If this concept was made into a Hindi film in the 90s, then a Jackie Pandian would have turned into Nandu Pandey with Shakti Kapoor bringing his brand of humour, villainy to it. The 1975 Jackie also partly rekindles memories of Shiv Rindani’s iconic campy character Captain Zatack from Hum [1991].  One is laughing out loudly when during one time travel plot, Jackie is going berserk after finding sex symbol Silk Smitha on the same bus. He has a clean image to keep, so, his drooling is only imaginative. Huh, his dancing, excitement, whistling is akin to cartoon characters drooling over a sexy lad , poodle or cat.

Be it Jackie or Captain Zatack, the sheer outrageous persona is what brings cult status to these campy characters. We’ve watched Mark Antony in dubbed Hindi. The VO artist simply revels in the madness, funkiness of Jackie and embraces that cheesiness of Madhan. Not all have a taste for campy films/ characters but in due course of time, the Jackies, the Madhans are given their due respect.  S.J. Suryah has you splits in his dual roles.  Arguably, he is more hilarious as Jackie.

Vishal as Antony

It’s a dual role for lead actor Vishal, too, but he largely cuts a sorry figure. Save for the cool bald, neck isolating, funky avatar, Mark Antony is an extremely loud character. The Hindi VO artiste goes overboard with the accent.

Pushpa [2021] fame actor Sunil shows different shades as Ekambaram. He hams as the baddie, but is endearing in the positive avatar. Young Ritu Varma, too, makes a fine impression.

Time travel is still a relatively untapped genre in Indian cinema and often soaked in humour to appeal the masses.  Technology here serves as an upgrade in life standard, but Mark Antony is more a formulaic tale of friendship, love, deceit. It’s the toughest genre which requires directors to ensure that actors don’t go overboard in their imagination.  In a way, Mark Antony is like a spoof on time travel dramas.  The late Leslie Nielsen made a career out of spoofing iconic characters. Now either one is in or out of such spoofy tales.  Mark Antony [ the film] divides opinion. When it’s bad, it is really bad. When it feels good, the Tamil film is hilarious.  It’s largely the S.J. Suryah show that has you in splits. The long climax is a laughter ride thereby one is ready to downplay the early chaotic screenplay. After 150 minutes, you experience a gamut of emotions. Mark Antony is not for your purists, but it isn’t your leave-your-brains behind saga. The sci-fi merits the viewer’s attention. The Tamil film is slso inclusive as it pays tribute to Hindi cinema legend Raj Kapoor. Maybe, Hindi theatrical audiences will have mixed views. However, we’re confident that the South-tadka loving Hindi belt will watch Mark Antony time and again on television. Here’s a time travel comedy for the ages.

The Tamil film released in South India on 15 September. Distributed by Reliance Entertainment, the dubbed Hindi version will be released in Hindi markets on 28 September.

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