Release Date: 25/11/2021

Platform: Sony Liv

Cast: Silambarasan T.R., S.J. Suryah, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Y.G. Mahendran 

Director: Venkat Prabhu

I waited for enough people to watch Maanaadu before I expressed my views about it as this was a film about which I couldn’t write without giving out spoilers. There is so much to celebrate about the screenplay, editing, and execution that spoilers are unavoidable.

Now that the film is out on OTT and evidently enough people have watched it, I can safely share my spoiler-filled opinion about it. I still urge those readers who haven’t watched the film and don’t want it spoiled to pause reading right here, watch the film and then come back to this review for some juicy spoiler talk about the film.

The Plot 

Maanaadu is the story of Abdul Khaaliq (Silambarasan T.R.), a minor celebrity who is attending the wedding of Zarina (Ajena Kirti) in Ooty to help her elope with the love of her life, Moorthy (Premgi Amaren). Everything goes according to plan and Khaaliq is successful in his mission but as he is about to leave Ooty, he accidentally injures a man called Rafique who seems to be a person of interest for the local police.

Dhanushkodi (S.J. Suryah), a senior police officer forcefully recruits Khaaliq to carry out the same mission that Rafique was supposed to undertake for the police in return for his freedom. The mission is to gun down the chief minister of the state. Khaaliq soon realizes that he is being set up for a murder that will result in widespread riots and the transfer of power.

Before he can do anything to stop the tragedy or clear his name, he is gunned down by the police. Shockingly, Khaaliq reanimates at the beginning of the same day and lives through it again and again and again as if he is destined to correct the wrong that is being committed.

The screenplay

The biggest strength of the film is its intelligent and wonderfully constructed screenplay. While there might be some who might find the initial 15-20 minutes of the film a bit of a drag, I assure you that every second of those minutes are important and necessary for what unfolds in the next 2 hours. A thriller involving time loop is not something new.

Hollywood has milked the genre and similar plot elements in many successful and well-made films. The makers of Maanaadu accept and appreciate that fact in a scene through the dialogs between the characters and this makes the film strangely self-aware and yet believable. What makes this film special are the plot elements and how the screenplay unfolds.

The protagonist is clueless, to begin with. With every subsequent iteration, the story gets messier but the protagonist gets smarter. Khaaliq gradually realizes who the killer is. He traces the killer to his hideout and unfolds a sinister plot to cause a riot through the next few iterations. This is followed by the unveiling of the man who is behind the sinister murder plot and why is doing the same.

The same man then in one of the iterations gives the protagonist a vital clue that ultimately leads to his downfall. As the protagonist inches closer to putting an end to the tragedy, the leverage that Khaaliq has due to the loop keeps getting thinner and thinner.

This culminates in the last loop when the audiences know that this is the last chance that the hero has to undo all that has happened. It wasn’t an easy task to stitch all these different elements together into a coherent, intelligible, and thrilling screenplay, but Venkat Prabhu has done a phenomenal job in constructing a nearly flawless screenplay with harmonious mix of drama, comedy, action and thrills.

The twist in the tale 

While in every time-loop thriller, the time loops for generally one character of the story, Maanaadu takes a giant leap forward and makes the time loop for two characters. Yes! The character of Dhanushkodi is also experiencing the same predicament that Khaaliq is and after a while, he starts using his knowledge of the day to make Khaaliq’s life increasingly difficult.

There comes a time when the antagonist narrows down Khaaliq’s location to the beginning of the day and that too at a place from where he cannot escape. Thus he is left with one last chance to do what he can to stop the assassination plot. The makers present this tightening noose around Khaaliq’s neck in a wonderfully nuanced and thrilling manner that keeps raising the stakes and increasing the tension and the thrill of the film.

The action, editing, and background score

The film has atleast two memorable action sequences and both these sequences are rendered even more interesting because of how they are choreographed and edited. In one of the action sequences, we see Khaaliq go up against a large number of goons in a building.

This sequence is special because of how it is envisioned and executed. Khaaliq reanimates and leads into certain points in the fight in multiple iterations through the editing. This not only gives the fight thrust and gusto, but it also feels like a very stylish and immersive way of watching the protagonist make use of the time-loop predicament.

One has to give brownie points to the editor of the film, Praveen K.L. for keeping every iteration of the same proceeding fresh and imaginative simply by how the sequences are edited. It must also be noted that it was the editing that had to be on point for the audiences to understand the events and the variations clearly and also grasp the multiple loops in the same narrative space thereby appreciating the central theme of the film. 

The performances by Silambarasan T.R. and S.J. Suryah

STR and Suryah nearly play out the entire film between them and they are so animated in the rendering of their respective characters that it will be hard to take your eyes off them. I enjoyed Suryah’s performance more than that of STR purely because of the conflict, frustration, and the animated expression that he brought to the character as the story progressed and his stakes mounted.

There are multiple moments when he is frustrated out of his soul because of his constant reanimations. His outbursts in these scenes will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. One scene in particular that made me burst with laughter was where he explained his predicament to a minister, whose speech from that day, he spells out without missing a beat.

What makes his frustration funnier is the fact that he doesn’t reanimate on his own but does so every time Khaaliq is killed and he knows about it too. This was probably one of the craziest things that Venkat Prabhu could have done with the character and he does so with finesse and aplomb.

STR holds his own in Maanaadu and makes some of the more serious scenes believable and affecting. He is his best version in the scenes that he shares with Suryah. It must be added that he renders the protagonist believable and also gives it a distinct character and charm that makes the character likable and one that can be cared for.

Final words 

Maanaadu is outrageous and bonkers and yet is somehow believable and affecting. The film is able to thrill, amuse, and also make the audiences laugh with its storytelling, technicalities, and bravura performances. Venkat Prabhu keeps tabs on minute details and presents them in a manner that the audiences are bound to notice and appreciate. For all this and more, Maanaadu is an extremely entertaining, enjoyable, and investing watch that should be experienced at least once.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Also read: Year In Review: Our favourite Indian films of 2021

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