Filmmaker Venkat Prabhu takes a mainstream Hollywood trope and converts it into a work of ‘masala’ cinema. The result? We get a thrilling film in ‘Maanaadu’
In Maanaadu, the first plot point arrives at the half-hour mark. This is what happens: amidst a sea of party cadres, a civilian takes the gun from his shoulder bag and pulls the trigger, aimed at the Chief Minister of the State. He kills the CM in a single shot from what appears to be a distance of at least 100 metres from the podium.
Let’s assume that the civilian is an unwilling participant and all of this is orchestrated with careful precision by a third party of superior force. Even if we were to go by that logic, the probability of killing the Chief Minister in the first shot is a one in a hundredth scenario, given that he is just a normal person with flesh and bone. In another film, this probability would have been a worrying factor and probably absurd too. But in Maanaadu, the absurdity of events is the fun; you derive pleasure from the hero Abdul Khaaliq’s (Silambarasan) frustration of being caught in a time-loop, where events go round and characters talk in circles. And the chewable bit for the audience is the lived experience of having sat through the sequences again and again; like a merry-go-round but one manned by someone who seems to know the machine in and out.
- Cast: Simbu, SJ Suryah, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Premgi Amaran, SA Chandrasekhar and YG Mahendra
- Director: Venkat Prabhu
- Storyline: Abdul Khaaliq is trapped in a time loop where the events repeat themselves. Caught amidst a political campaign in which the Chief Minister gets assassinated, Khaaliq has two options: either live with the weight of reality or die.
It is not fair to call the events in Maanaadu absurd. These are smartly-written and wonderfully put together by editor Praveen KL; it is as much a writer’s film as it is editor’s. But to get to the main ‘plot’, you will have to cross the bridge of fanservice, which, too, gets an updated treatment here. Like for instance, the film inserts the Manmadhan theme at a certain point, perhaps, to massage the late coming fans — but, at the same time, it seems to acknowledge the political incorrectness of that film in the said scene where Seethalakshmi (Kalyani Priyadarshan) suspects Khaaliq of a creepy stalker. There is also a fat joke but on Simbu himself. It begs us to ask this: Is Simbu willing to correct the several wrongs of the past? It’s hard to say. But it sure is a fine step forward.
Abdul Khaaliq finds himself in an infinite loop of time where if he dies, he wakes up and the sequences repeat themselves. Think of Source Code. On paper, Venkat Prabhu seems to have had two issues a) how do you break the complexity of the screenplay in a language understood by the ‘mass’ audience and b) how different should each component of the screenplay be designed, to escape from familiarity. If you are going to present a high concept film without compromise, the conventional audience is going to reject it. So, how do you give them a sweet pill? Venkat Prabhu, who tries to toy within the conventions of genre, like he did in Mass Engira Masilamani of which I’m a fan, does something brilliant.
He takes a mainstream Hollywood trope and converts it into a masala film, thereby making the final product look refined. Full disclosure: I adore filmmakers who are unapologetic for the liking of masala cinema. Part of the reason why Maanaadu is thrilling is because, in essence, it is good masala that hides behind the facade of time-loop.
It’s masala because usually, in a film that deals with time as a concept of subversion or inversion, it is usually the hero who has to triumph and find an exit statement. But here, Venkat Prabhu adds another layer to the loop and we get a Catch Me If You Can kind of a cat-and-mouse game between Simbu and SJ Suryah (the film exploits his over-the-top performance for its own good). Suryah is called Dhanushkodi…it doesn’t seem like a happy coincidence at all. The first half ends on a bang — literally — and I saw myself reading a news report about a possible Bollywood remake already.
Three fourths of Maanaadu is constructed around a political event involving the Chief Minister (SA Chandrasekhar). While the film may not claim to be overtly political, it does not refuse to take a stand either. If you dig its surface deeper, it is about Islamophobia. Some of the (real) events mentioned are reconstructed to deliver a statement about today’s communal politics.
But it does suffer from the trouble of taking WhatsApp forwards seriously, when Seethalakshmi tries to give Khaaliq and audience a plausible explanation for time-loop as a concept. It is as pretentious as Christopher Nolan’s fans claiming Interstellar to be a stellar work of science and fiction. We also get a backstory about Khaaliq’s mother who was rescued by a Hindu family during the communal riots right after the Babri mosque demolition. This is as ‘safe’ as Venkat Prabhu’s short film about the Hindu-Muslim riots.
Maanaadu is the latest addition in a, hopefully, long list of films where the idea of ‘hero’ is changing for the better. Consider this: a Tamil cinema star never dies. This is a given clause even in our masala cinema’s rulebook. But here, we have a star in Simbu willing to let himself die multiple times and in multiple forms for the larger good. Exciting times ahead?