The drama surrounding the release of Maanaadu was sufficient to familiarise fans with the 'time loop' concept. Simbu has been dropped. He hasn't been dropped. The film is coming. The film is not coming. Oh wait, are we still on the same day when we were told it's coming? Till around 7 am on November 25, Thursday, there was no guarantee that the long awaited film would hit the screens. But it finally did, and one must say, it's well worth the wait!
Venkat Prabhu films are fun; the characters are usually happy-go-lucky people who drop breezy one-liners and find themselves in quirky situations. In Maanaadu, Silambarasan plays Abdul Khaliq. He's important enough for a flight to be held for his arrival, but till the end, we are never told why he's that important. He just is.
Abdul Khaliq is sitting next to Seetha Lakshmi (Kalyani Priyadarshan) who is terrified of turbulence. They strike up a conversation that leads to a series of events that ends with Khaliq dying. But then, Khaliq finds himself back on the same seat, in the same moment. And it keeps happening over and over again. Time loop films aren't new. Perhaps anticipating the reviews that will say the film is a copy of a Korean film, Russian Doll, Groundhog Day and so on, Venkat Prabhu smartly drops it into the conversation that the characters have. "Yes, this has happened in many films, but nobody discovered why it was happening," a frustrated Khaliq exclaims. With his dry sense of humour, deadpan dialogue delivery and ability to emote when required, Simbu carries the film on his shoulders. Premgi and Karunakaran play Khaliq's friends who become embroiled in the time loop along with him and Seetha. (Kalyani doesn't have much to do, but she pulls off the girl-next-door role with ease).
The writing is sharp, just giving us the information we need to understand what's going on in the film, without overstretching the repetition. The glass from the airport roof falls the very first time Khaliq steps out; watch out for how Venkat Prabhu brings it back towards the end. Though Simbu gets a stylish, hero's introduction, he isn't painted as infallible. The long fight sequence when Khaliq figures out the right moves to survive the battle is hilarious and brilliantly done. The camera pauses just for a second for us to get it, and then it begins again. I was charmed by the film's willingness to respect the audience's intelligence. The editing is smooth, navigating through the deliberately confusing premise and delivering a cogent narrative.
SJ Suryah appears as Dhanushkodi, a cop who is out to get Khaliq. The actor relishes playing the villain, and he's as entertaining as ever in Maanaadu, ably helped by Yuvan's background score that puts him on equal footing with the hero. His little bit with the junior cop who keeps dropping the sauce is outstanding. The cat and mouse game between Khaliq and Dhanushkodi has enough twists and turns to leave the audience guessing. I found myself chuckling quite a few times at the inventiveness of the script and the self-mocking references that the actors throw around (including Simbu's weight loss).
At a time when any film or series depicting interfaith relationships is being dragged through the mud, the idea of two Muslim men helping the Muslim bride elope with their Hindu friend struck me as pretty bold. It's the kind of filmy pop culture secularism we grew up on but cannot take for granted anymore in the communally charged atmosphere we live in now. Maanaadu also touches on Islamophobia, the Babri Masjid demolition, and how the state alienates Muslims. When was the last time a popular Tamil hero played a Muslim character and loudly proclaimed the name of Allah? But perhaps predicting a backlash, Venkat Prabhu does a clumsy balancing act by making the leader of a Hindu party the pure-hearted, good guy and lending evil, communal shades to a leader who was supposedly part of the anti-caste movement (ironically, the role is played by Y Gee Mahendran, who is known for his right wing politics). Yes, it's all fictional but it's still a dubious representation for which the inspirations are clear.
Not everything is answered at the end of Maanaadu, but is it good entertainment? Yes. Is Simbu back? Let's just say there's no need for a Maghaa Maanaadu if he retains his form after this outing.
Watch: Trailer of Maanaadu
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.