Adhik Ravichandran: Mark Antony is my ode to retro mass masala films
Adhik’s films have always carried a strong sense of Tamil retro, and Mark Antony is no different.
CHENNAI: When we reached out to Adhik Ravichandran for a phone interview, SJ Suryah’s uproarious dialogues were running in the background. Stepping out of the theatre, there is palpable excitement in Adhik’s voice. “Audience members are enjoying scenes that I didn’t even expect them to. But again, honestly, we didn’t have any expectations when we started making Mark Antony,” says Adhik, with equal parts happiness and humility as he basks in the positive response to his film.
Mark Antony is a madcap time travel adventure with a generous dollop of ‘masala’ cinema. However, it is not just one flavour of masala the filmmaker lathers on top of the sci-fi genre. He combines the unapologetically colourful aesthetics of Telugu cinema with Hollywood’s own masala, the Spaghetti Western. Leaning harder on the food analogy than I did, Adhik says, “I basically love Andhra food and I also love Spaghetti Westerns. So I wanted to combine that energy with something I would like to call ‘Royapuram sci-fi’. Thankfully, that blend ended up being perfect this time. I don’t know if it will work all the time but for now, I am happy.”
Adhik’s films have always carried a strong sense of Tamil retro, and Mark Antony is no different. In fact, the film itself is set in the glorious 70s with creative liberty playing a part in the incorporation of 80s music. When asked about his fascination with that era, the director pulls memories from his childhood. “When I was in school, I used to watch a lot of films on channels like Raj Tv and K TV. I just love 80s films. Those films had a healthy combination of story and mass masala entertainment.
Later, our films split into story-oriented drama films and commercial films that don’t always emphasise on the story. Mark Antony is my ode to retro mass masala films,” he shares. Despite the wackiness, the film never forgets the sci-fi half of its genre. The rules of the time travel device and its restrictions and limitations are the first things to be set up in the story. “However, I didn’t want to take the science fiction aspects too seriously. I was just focused on making sure that the audience weren’t confused.” This approach had its drawbacks because certain elements were left out of the story.
“When the characters use the time travel device for the first time, they float in the air because it affects gravity. It doesn’t have that effect the second time because it gets used to the person. This has a connection to the dial gauge you see on the phone’s handle. Even though we worked on intricacies like this, I had to edit them out due to time constraints,” shares Adhik, who lets us in on other aspects that had to be sacrificed on the edit table.
“The initial narration runs for three minutes, and we wanted someone to convincingly hold the audience’s attention. Karthi sir came to mind because we were in awe of how he held his scenes in Ponniyin Selvan. It was very sweet of him to do that narration. In fact, Karthi sir’s cameo had a twist towards the end. We also had more scenes for Sunil sir and Selvaraghavan sir too. But we had to cut them down.”
‘Mark Antony is my ode to retro mass masala films’
If what was left out tells a unique story, what was incorporated in Mark Antony after several drafts paints an interesting picture too. “Mark Antony was originally conceived as an intense action film. After finishing the script, I sat down with the writing team to see where we could add the lighter moments. That became a huge strength for the film,” he says.
While this might be true, another addition to the writing is finding its fair share of criticism. While Hollywood is currently debating the ethical conundrum behind using the digital likeness of late actors in films, Adhik brings a version of that controversy home by resurrecting Silk Smitha for Mark Antony.
When questioned whether it is right to use a person’s likeness when they are not around to give consent, Adhik responds, “Every filmmaker has their own moral responsibility as well as their creative freedom. Earlier, Sathyaraj sir’s films had used footage from older MGR films. They have done something similar in Telugu and Malayalam films as well.
The censor board knows what is best for the audience and no one has the right to question what is appropriate for the audience beyond the censor board.” One of the greatest strengths of the film was SJ Suryah’s unhinged performance as the gangster's father Jackie Pandian and his son Madhan Pandian. Deeply appreciative of the actor, Adhik says,
“We wrote everything down so there was no room for on-spot improvisation but even before we got on set, Suryah sir imbibed the script completely and gave a lot of inputs. He would ask me to come to his place and get homework from me so he could work on it later. His inputs were invaluable.” After a string of failures, Mark Antony is shaping up to be a career-defining success for Adhik.
However, the director shows an almost philosophical dissonance with the response to his film. “In cinema, you can never let yourself be defined by a success or a failure. We can never afford to believe that we are solely responsible for the success,” says Adhik, who goes on to posit a string of ‘what ifs’ to prove his point. “What if the producer didn’t believe me? What if Vishal sir didn’t trust me? What if Suryah sir didn’t come into this project?
A lot of what-ifs fell into place, and a lot of belief was entrusted to me for this to happen.” But it wouldn’t have been easy for a filmmaker who was saddled with the burden of having to prove his credentials as a filmmaker eight years after he made quite a successful debut with Trisha Illana Nayanthara (2015).
“I am not affected by this success because I never let my failures affect me. Coming from a middle-class family I know about the impermanence of success. People ask me why I am not excited about this success. Honestly, I guess it hasn’t hit me yet,” he says, before continuing,
“In fact, this theatre visit is not one of those usual theatre visits where the film’s team does theatre-hopping to gauge the audience response. Considering my film is actually receiving good reviews, I dropped by this theatre to buy tickets for my friends. I just want to share this moment with them,” signs off Adhik with a smile.