In Maanaadu , a supremely entertaining high-concept movie, Venkat Prabhu superbly Indianises the time loop concept and delivers an edge-of-the-seat masala movie. After the set-up, the film moves at a breakneck pace, hardly letting go of either momentum and drama.
The plot involves Abdul Khaliq ( Silambarasan ), who, along with his friends Moorthy (Premgi) and Syed (Karunakaran), and Seethalakshmi ( Kalyani Priyadarshan ), a co-passenger from his flight, is fleeing from a wedding to get the bride Zarina (Anjena Kirti) married to Moorthy. They stumble on a plot to assassinate the chief minister Arivazhagan (SA Chandrasekaran) and Khaliq is forced to be the fall guy. The CM is killed and so is Khaliq. But then, the latter wakes up and discovers that he is on the flight he had taken to go to the wedding. He realises that he is stuck in a time loop and learns that Paranthaman (Y Gee Mahendra), a senior minister, and Dhanushkodi ( SJ Suryah ), the cop who has got him into this situation, are plotting to use the CM's death to stage a religious riot. Can he stop them?
Maanaadu marks a welcome return to form for both Venkat Prabhu, who is at his inventive best here, and Silambarasan TR, who seems to have regained the energy and charisma that made him a beloved star. You instantly believe the fact that Khaliq has managed to figure out that he is in a time loop because effortlessly portrays him as a smart guy. We constantly see what's going on in his brain — how he is figuring things out, learning from his mistakes and planning his next step — even while trying to navigate the events happening around him. He also makes us buy into the emotional reason behind Khaliq's need to stop the tragedy. These portions — about how the Muslim community gets painted as terrorists — could easily have become message-y, but Venkat Prabhu makes them very organic to the plot by giving turning Khaliq into a mythical figure. He also cleverly uses this to explain why the time loop is triggered. Instead of sci-fi, we get mythology, which easily helps him to Indianise the high-concept and make it easily accessible to our audiences.
The director also does something fiendishly clever with the plotting. After giving us Khaliq's experiences in the time loop, he turns the film into a battle of wits between him and Dhanushkodi, who is quite a foxy customer. In the second half, both these men have to quickly figure out the steps of the other so that they can stop them from achieving their goals. And SJ Suryah is terrific in this role that calls him to act his heart out. Just like he did with Nenjam Marappathillai's Ramsay, who was also an intentionally campy villain, the actor turns the character of Dhanushkodi into someone so entertaining that we can't help cheering for him even though he is the bad guy. The scene in which he has to stop Paranthaman from killing Khaliq, who is goading the latter to do so, so that he can redo things differently once waking up is a cracker. And we also get a deliciously dark twist to the Vaazhapazha Comedy scene in Karagattakaran.
Venkat Prabhu's crew also come to his aid in a great way. Working with predominantly two themes — the incredibly earwormy Maanaadu theme and a theme that he uses for Dhanushkodi — composer Yuvan Shankar Raja elevates the momentum of the scenes. Then, there is editor KL Praveen (for whom this happens to be his 100th film), whose razor-sharp cuts ensure that scenes never lag and at the same time clearly communicate Khaliq journeying through the time loop. This is best reflected in a well-choreographed stunt scene (Stunt Silva is the action choreographer) set in a wedding hall. Here, we see Khaliq losing 'lives' and progressing level by level, learning from his mistakes. Praveen cuts these scenes in a way that resembles a player's progress in a video game. It is his nifty editing that turns this film into an adrenaline rush.