Director: Biju Viswanath
Cast: Praveen Raja, Rajesh Giriprasad, Vasanth Marimuthu, A Ravikumar
Nobody could have written Chennai Palani Mars with a straight face. The writing credits of this film about a Mars mission, something that is really a MacGuffin, is shared between Biju Viswanath and Vijay Sethupathi. Aakash (Praveen Raja) and his father have been trying to go to Mars not via any scientific or technological procedure, but a method couched in the mystic. Or rather his father has been doggedly trying while he has steadily lost patience in the last twenty years. The film opens with all of this with admirable lack of irony. It talks about dreams, journeys, ambition, disappointment, depression and mental health over the course of 120 minutes. People break into laughter at inopportune moments all the time but the film itself, initially at least, refuses to laugh at its own inane setups. Accompanying Aakash, also a drug addict going cold turkey, is Aandava Perumal (Rajesh Giriprasad), an aspiring musician with a penchant for breaking into Carnatic songs. He’s got one for every situation.
Biju Viswanath is a director interested in films where the main characters are part of a journey – physical and spiritual. In Orange Mittai, it was about a man trying to find a hospital and another trying to find his father. In Chennai Palani Mars too, there is a man with a complicated relationship with his father. He finds himself in a de-addiction centre the morning after he solved an equation that would help his father’s cause. Also, his friend, a fellow addict, is missing. In its essence, the film is something like Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed. An out of whack plot line serves a film that’s made of moments where several lives cross, not always with reason or logic, and scenes do not always follow from one to the other. The lines have this quality too – the film is strewn with non-sequitur. Along the way, we meet drug peddlers and gangsters. Two incompetent policemen with the subordinate trying to extract revenge by gaslighting his senior. An unnamed character goes through unsuccessful attempts at suicide. He says he got the idea of killing himself by putting his head through a microwave oven from someone famous. Was that Sylvia Plath? Plath too made several unsuccessful suicide attempts.
Every character in Chennai Palani Mars (they are all men, there isn’t a single woman on screen for 120 minutes) has their unique aspiration. And they’ve all come up short and are trying to deal with it. Some of these stretches are funny and organic. There is a distinct visual style in the first half – the sound of a broom sweeping the ground accompanies Akash and Perumal planning to escape the de-addiction centre. The sound of a bag’s zip opening and closing jars Aakash’s thoughts as he decides on one final attempt in reaching Mars. While that earnestness in translating this acid trip material is clear in some places, it is stretched too far in others. There is also an uncomfortable homophobic moment, and, in some parts, jokes are mined out of mental health issues.
Chennai Palani Mars wants to talk about ambition, and how there isn’t and shouldn’t be any limit to it. It could be as simple as a musician wanting to perform on stage. Or a frustrated IT employee hoping his work alone is enough for that big break. Or it could be about reaching the fourth planet from the sun. It also wants to reinforce that disappointment can sometimes be proportional to the level of one’s ambition but only because it is cumulative. Only if you reach for the stars now, someone after you will at least reach the moon. It takes a long, winding, uneven road to say this. The film follows its philosophy a little too closely – it is sincere and ambitious but doesn’t necessarily hit its targets.
The Chennai Palani Mars review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.