Chennai Palani Mars Movie Review: An outlandish travelogue that quickly runs out of fuel
This story, written on the basis of Hindu mythology, is one that needed a far better filmmaking style than the one employed
The last time Vijay Sethupathi wrote a film was also the first time he ventured into production, with Orange Mittai. He is probably the busiest actor in the industry currently, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn, via the opening credits, that Vijay Sethupathi had not only co-produced, but also co-written Chennai Palani Mars. What's even more surprising is the subject at hand. Chennai Palani Mars, for all its faults, is one of the most outlandish films that has been written, shot and presented to the Tamil cinema audience in quite some time.
It is not just because it looks, sounds and behaves like a stoner film. It's also because it talks about humanism and existentialism, something that Sethupathi had first explored in Orange Mittai. First up, the names that these characters are given. Aakash (Praveen Raja) is a guy whose aspiration is to go to Mars through mind waves, because Ravana had done so with Pushpaka Vimana, back in the day. He keeps expanding his mind with drug usage to a point where he feels that he has understood space travel. However, unlike the vast sky, which is a protection from all things harmful, Aakash is the progenitor of negativity, so much so that you could well call him a bully. One character likens his nature and his behaviour to that of Russel Crowe's in A Beautiful Mind, which is again a story about a man who, while trying to save the vast world, becomes entrapped in his own mind. There is another character called Thiruparkadal Kannan (Vasant Marimuthu), who is named after a god supposedly present at the end of the road to salvation. Here, Kannan is a policeman, who provides an escape into (purported) peace for the ones who are stuck with the sins of the world. Yet, he is not who he appears to be.
Cast: Praveen Raja, Rajesh Giriprasad, Vasant Marimuthu, A Ravikumar, Paari Elavazhagan
It is quite interesting that none of the film's characters are people you want to root for. Chennai Palani Mars is a film full of dark characters, who might have the lightest of white shades to them. Yet, it is through their stories, and backstories told in spurts, that we begin to piece together a world that has been crueler to them than the other way round. They are the outliers, who have either been completely subjugated by society or whom the society has boycotted. They have been bullied, leered at, told to follow the rules, and at one point, they just couldn't take it anymore. You want to feel sorry for them. For their story.
However, this story, written with a firm basis on Hindu mythology — clues to which are splattered throughout the film, either in the form of texts (there is a book called In the Light of the Vedas) or songs sung by Aandava Perumal (a scene-stealing Rajesh Giriprasad) — is one that needed a far better filmmaking style than the one employed. The cinematography and the music try their best to keep this travelogue of Aakash and Aandava Perumal interesting, but the screenplay, pacing, dialogues are all awry.
Take, for example, Paari Elavazhagan's Karthik Krishnamurthy. Here's a man who wants to commit suicide. But to treat his world-weariness as just material for laughter, in a film that tries its best to keep mental health front and centre, is quite sad. There is also a lot of dead air in and between the scenes, which makes the two-hour runtime feel longer than it should.
Towards the end, when the film does end with a solution, the story of Icarus, narrated by Aakash, comes to mind. While Icarus lost his wings due to flying too close to the sun, Chennai Palani Mars, for all its ambition, doesn't even achieve lift-off.