Director Venkat Prabhu’s Maanadu tells the story of Abdul Khaliq (Silambarasan), an innocent-looking Dubai resident on a trip to India for his friend’s wedding. On the way back from the venue, Abdul gets involved in an accident. One thing leads to another, and before long, he finds himself wielding a gun and taking an aim at the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in a crowded rally at the behest of a twisted cop. A life-altering moment later, Abdul is jolted (figuratively and literally), as he realizes he is alive and well, wondering if this is a dream or a time-warped phase he is living through.
As fascinating as the premise sounds, Maanadu makes a wayward start. With a lousy introduction for Silambarasan, our patience is tested, just as much as that of the passengers in a crowded plane, as his character alights belatedly from one aircraft and makes his way to another. Later on, the other leading man of the movie – S J Suryah playing the role of the corrupt cop Dhanushkodi — gets an equally ludicrous slow-motion-studded introduction as he exits a vehicle (thankfully, it is an automobile on the ground, and not another aircraft) puffing, chewing and biting at his cigarette. All the disclaimers warning viewers of the harmful effects of smoking are damned. In a shocking parallel scene, we witness the misogynistic portrayal of women which involves the leading lady of the movie as a God-fearing, timid human being with a fear of flying and who mutters prayers when there’s a hint of turbulence in the air. So much for gender parity.
Watching the initial reels of Maanadu is like reliving the concepts of a feedback-based control system from an Engineering Physics class. The scenes land all over the place first, and then with every iteration, the movie finds its footing. Shifting the focus to the narrative after all the pandering, Vikram Prabhu restores some semblance to proceedings, transforming the plot into a delightful cat-and-mouse game between Dhanushkodi and Abdul Khaliq, with each trying to outwit the other. By inserting Dhanushkodi as a part of the time-loop premise – he is the only one apart from Abdul Khaliq who is living the day over and over again – the plot unfolds in an organic manner, with the recurring day syndrome becoming a playground for the two. By unraveling the plot through the eyes of Dhanushkodi, Director Vikram Prabhu successfully demystifies the contrived central conceit, making the movie accessible to a broad audience despite its alien nature. Enlivening the scenes with his sharp humor, SJ Suryah comes to his own in the second half.
Maanadu gets the more difficult portions right while making a mess of the seemingly trivial portions, like the scene where Abdul Khaliq makes a mockery of the exit protocol in an aircraft. Or the scene in which, with his limbs tied, he launches himself in a superhero-like fashion, to get himself under the tiniest of weapons, so he can die and relive the day again (I never thought taking one’s life was so simple). On paper, Maanadu had the potential to become the Vikram Vedha of this decade. Instead, thanks to its numerous failings, all we get is an entertaining thriller, albeit one whose sum is surprisingly more than its parts.
Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.