Maanaadu – A Day of Deserted Desperation
Star Cast: Silambarasan, Kalyani Priyadharshan, S J Suryah, S. A. Chandrasekhar, Y. G. Mahendran, Premgi Amaren, Karunakaran, and
Cinematography by Richard M. Nathan
Edited by Praveen K. L.
Music Composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja
Written & Directed by Venkat Prabhu
Watched it in Prasad Labs (Screen 1), Hyderabad.
Why do we watch films? – You might have gazillion reasons for watching different films at different times of the day. For me, if any film excites me then my day is made. I would love to dissect, discuss and debate about the film at irritative lengths. I hope people around me understand that aspect of my life too. You might have your own habits that you cannot escape and expect people to just go with. Venkat Prabhu for me till Maanaadu came across as a person whose vice is not to think about “Why(s)” while writing a film. He is good at coming up with “What(s)” and “What if(s)” in the screenplay but “Why” makes a screenplay complete. Well, even Mankatha (2011) doesn’t come up with “Why” and concentrates more on “What if”…
Ajith Kumar just rose above the script and played the character of Vinayak Mahadevan like his life depended on it. But then Silambarasan decided to go exactly the opposite. He tried to underplay himself according to the script. There script had to incorporate the gigantic expectations of Ajith fans and then deliver the killer blows that Vinayak Mahadevan can only deliver. First being a family chocolate boy romantic hero Ajith ditching heroine. Secondly, having a random one-night stand without any regret. Thirdly, plotting to kill rather innocent in comparison youngsters and even cheating the person who trusted him to the core. Fourthly, Vinayak reveals his true self to everyone when he remarks on a very honest Sub Inspector’s phone as “Cheap Phone” and kills him too. This character of Vinayak doesn’t need an arc. He just grows from being subtly dangerous to a devil. We watch the film and then travel with the character either you like or hate it, depends on him and him only. Venkat Prabhu showed his prowess in creating “What(s)” and “What If(s)” in the film. But as many he too did not care about “Why”.
Even in Chennai 28, Saroja, Goa you get what situations that can go wrong and what if they go this way and what if they go in that direction. He repeated the same for Biriyani and those who expected more after Mankatha did not hail it as much as Chennai 28 (2007). Still, Venkat Prabhu delivered what is expected from him with Karthi as a lead. He opened up Karthi more in front of the camera. But Suriya is equal in the image to Ajith. That too after Singham films, he became one of the premium action stars. Trying to make a horror action film backfired for the director. Here, the problem of “Why” comes in. Suriya has to give his audiences a reason for being selfish and cowardly. Because even in a time travel film, he had said, “This is all common for me as I am a watch mechanic“. Jokes apart, had Venkat Prabhu thought about “Why” in Masss (2015), the movie story with horror elements would have been something fresh for the actor. Even though there is a motivation behind Suriya being able to see ghosts, the plot looked too overworked and the flashback seemed undercooked.
But in Maanaadu, “Why(s)” have finally won their battle. First Why? – Why should Abdul Khaliq be the chosen one? Here he used mythology and even gave Bethal-Vikramarka stories a new dimension to understand. Yes, they are a version of the time loop. Groundhog Day (1993), A Day (2017), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) give us three different types of heroes, and watching Mission Impossible hero as a coward did not work much in favor of Edge of Tomorrow at the box office, but it has solid Why(s). He could have used Revathi’s marriage story where Revathi had to travel with his father all lokas until he found Balaram, the lady remained young but they traveled to all lokas for nearly 1016 years according to mythology, Brahma loka, and Vaikunta time difference examples to explain the concept of time as to how our Vedas understood. It still wonders me how could they say that time works differently in above lokas from the earth and even in below lokas to earth. The concept of Earth being in a different dimension to these lokas is still explained in great detail in Yejurvana Veda. However true or false or manifested it is, those details really bend our brains. Will try to talk more about them in another review.
Third Why? – Why should only Abdul Khaliq react? Abdul Khaliq represents a community for sure but he is also a modern youth symbol. Not praising STR here, but he is well settled, works in Dubai, has enough money to come to India just to help his other community friend to marry a girl from his own community, and he is such a frequent flyer that airlines gave him importance over Member of Parliament. This aspect could be the director’s hope to see common people getting more respect than politicians. Also all these aspects, also tell us a few things about Abdul Khaliq, he is good-natured and mature, supportive, and responsible. Giving hero challenge after challenge and then making him stronger and stronger with knowledge as his only weapon, the superpower is commendable. In a way, Venkat Prabhu needed God to come and save humans from fighting against each other in his name and he found one with responsibility.
Fourth Why? – Why should the hero’s name be Abdul Khaliq? If he doesn’t represent a community the hero becomes a typical commercial hero who looks at a problem with one red eye and it vanishes or evaporates or he might give a speech too. But Abdul Khaliq feels like a common man and young Indian. Slowly, he transforms into a hero and then a God who fights the devil with equal powers. We can say they both become AI’s like in Person of Interest but as the director used mythos, let me stick to mythology. In another screenplay, the hero would have figured the first part of the plan in a few steps and hence, a cat & mouse game between him and the villains would have been ensued pushing him to take up political stands for the public.
Fifth Why? – Why not give the same power to Villain as well? Venkat Prabhu literally played with the idea of God who knows everything, who is omnipresent, being challenged by another wicked omnipresent God or Devil and in an inspired “what if” situation, neatly answered the question of how can a simple man turn into God and an overtly passionate man turn into a devil in the same situation with the same superpower. Knowing that the day will start again for him, the villain could have killed Abdul Khaliq 10,000 times to get 10,000 medals in 10,000 different situations and be immortal too. He could have easily become Chief Minister or Prime Minister himself. But for him, assignment is more important than his progress. If this assignment goes through as planned, he can remain at the top of his game due to the riots and the person who became CM will always be his thalaivare puppet, that is people’s leader but works on his command. This kind of indirect power helps him control more things easily than direct power. Indirect power will always give you an excuse to escape from responsibility but vice versa is untrue. At this point, I have to say this, no one absolutely no one could have understood the character like SJ Surya did. Being a director and writer himself, he knew what VP would want and he delivered it in his own style. Kudos to you sir.
Sixth Why? – Why not make them both time manipulators and make it a superhero-ish film? Keeping budget constraints away, this film doesn’t work if a common man doesn’t become God. Whatever puzzle you throw at him, he finds a solution and doesn’t give up. Abdul Khaliq could have been a good gamer too. The villain on the other hand turns the tables around and manipulates the hero to such an extent that even we ask the hero to not stop. This is where Venkat Prabhu’s what(s) and what if(s) came in handy.
Seventh Why? Why this Maanaadu and why this Chief Minister? – Venkat Prabhu very carefully doesn’t bring in any kind of political agenda into the game. It is easy to try and advertise one ideology. He doesn’t. He even doesn’t say to the hero that he should save CM because he is a good man. In fact, CM’s son is ready to meet the hero only because he is ready to invest. There are no very idealistic people in politics except for Tamilvannan character and that is what Venkat Prabhu subtly says. He even makes a villain character say to MP that he shouldn’t bring anyone into their lives without background checks. Since this Maanaadu can result in communal riots and another situation where another family might have to be rushed to a temple to give birth to a child, like his family, he is the saviour. Doesn’t it close the loop opened during his birth perfectly?
Each and every time, you think this is it, he brings in another what-if situation. Hero never tries to save the kid after saving her once and tells those who get affected during the day to leave the plane after 15-20 seconds. He is not your typical mass hero who saves the kid 100 times. Props to KL Praveen, the editor here. If some details are not required, we don’t get breathing space to think about them. At breakneck speed each edit, each repetition makes sense and increases our expectations from the situation too.
STR should be given props for identifying problems within himself and then hoping for the world to understand him. This film and success will definitely trigger others to look at him in a new dimension. Hopefully, he remains like this and decides to prove his acting prowess depending on scripts rather than outdated hero-worship material. SJ Suryah understood the dynamic that Venkat Prabhu wants and delivered it like a professional actor. But this kind of acting cannot be expected from a lesser actor. He could wake up frustrated 10 times in 10 different ways and give evil laughter, give subtle monologues too while being delightfully eccentric. Venkat Prabhu could not maintain the same tightness during the climax portion maybe he needed to find a solution within the given scenarios rather than going for an even bigger and proper resolution. Anyways, this still works and gives scope for comebacks. (Like repeat the day to find out who really caused the global pandemic, or changing some bad decisions.. )
On the whole, Venkat Prabhu, Yuvan Shankar Raja, and Silambarasan challenged themselves to make them better and shed off extra kilos of bad memories, habits. They turned a better page in their lives during their Day of Deserted Desperation. Now, they will be included and be looked up to, hope they kick start a streak of delivering good films from here on. Even they don’t, will always be happy to know that they had their day for us to keep looping on…
The movie will be released on the Sony LIV platform on December 24th.