Saravanan (Prem) is about to sell his parents’ house, and we are told of a buyer who is ready to buy the place immediately. The film cuts to Meera (Tamannaah) and her family as they begin a new day. You think they are the new owners. But are they? Ghosts are spotted, which obviously paves the way for overused jump scares. But, but… are the people whom we suspect really ghosts? This isn’t a huge reveal, mind you. The posters and trailer give you enough to guess the answer. But again, the mild doubt the premise creates is quite fascinating. You don’t usually see the ‘ghost’ get petrified, do you?
Petromax does have quite the scope to be hilarious. Four people - Senthil (Munishkanth), Thangam (Kaali Venkat), Kaali (TSK) and Nandha (Sathyan) - decide to stay in the house to prove that ghosts don’t exist. Senthil is weak-hearted, quite literally. To handle pressure better, he laughs when he is scared and vice-versa. This is given a bogus name as well, but you don’t care much about it.
It gives us a funny moment. Thangam is an unabashed alcoholic, Nandha is hearing impaired. Their battles with the ghosts again do give a few jokes. But the best of the lot belongs to Kaali, who is an aspiring actor. And guess how he gives it back to the ghosts? With punch dialogues from Anniyan, Baahubali and the funniest of the lot
Singam. Even a Saravana stores’ ad finds a mention! Unfortunately, these few moments of pure fun are few and far in between, and buried under cliches. The stories aren’t novel, neither are the jokes. The scares are predictable, and the screenplay reeks of convenience. An important character turns up at just the right moment to be the saviour. Four men with sob stories just happen to meet each other, and hear each other’s sob stories.
The coincidence would not have felt so contrived had the jokes and the absurdity worked at all the places. It doesn’t help that the characters are all Trademark Kollywood templates. Meera’s introduction, for starters, is a classic. She is drawing a kolam, her wet hair wrapped in a towel, with flowers showered upon her. Where have we seen this before? Every Tamil film ever.
Films like these get me thinking about the potential of our supporting actors and what they can do. Petromax is held together, even if loosely so, by its performance — especially of the four comedians, who hold the court even when their jokes fall flat. The film looks quite sophisticated as well. While Tamannaah doesn’t really push boundaries with her role, she does give a performance that works.
It is quite hard to conceive that Petromax has been made by Rohin Venkatesan, who made Adhe Kangal. I quite liked the latter, which for all its rough edges, is satisfyingly original. Petromax, on the other hand, feels like a highlights reel of Tamil cinema. Not to forget that the film is a remake in the first place, of the 2017 film, Anando Brahma. I was also wondering why they chose to name the film Petromax. Maybe it was Rohin’s reaction to having to remake Anando Brahma?
Director: Rohin Venkatesan
Cast: Tamannaah, Munishkanth