Tamil cinema has a peculiar way of handling science fiction genre, especially the mainstream ones. Most of them use western concepts and to explain such concepts to a wider audience, they masala-fyed them by adding Indian mythos to the concept. Which isn't inherently a bad thing, in fact the ones which use it as its biggest strength happens to be Enthiran, 24, Indru Netru Naalai, and now Maanaadu. Here, the explanation behind what causes the time loop STR's character Abdul Khaliq goes through, it brings elements of Indian folklore stories like Kala Bhairava and Vikram-Betaal experiencing time loops themselves. This Venkat Prabhu science fiction-political thriller aptly described as "Groundhog Day meets Vantage Point", not only seemed like something the director would make, but also find its star STR as the lead who's subjected to a time loop which in a way seems like a redemption arc for both of their careers.
...Let's get what doesn't work out of the way, the movie oddly enough has a shaky start...
The movie revolves around Abdul Khaliq (a nod to Yuvan Shankar Raja's faith, the music director) who comes back from Dubai to help avoid his best friend's lover's marriage by picking them up from Ooty but events leading to it eventually lands him at the center of a political assassination. The problem he faces: whenever he dies, he experiences a time loop and wakes up the same day but with new knowledge of what would transpire later on. As ACP Dhanushkodi (played with deliciously wickedness by S.J. Suryah) surmises how Khaliq and later on himself faces the events, "Avan vandha, sutta, satha, Repeat-u". Let's get what doesn't work out of the way, the movie oddly enough has a shaky start. It almost glorifies the hero to a point one of the politicians attending the conference gives him a calling card assuming he's a big shot. There are moments where the mainstream Tamil cinema tropes are on full display here: the heroine is a bit of a loosu ponnu (Kalyani Priyadarshan, in an otherwise likable role who serves a purpose of the movie), the hero worship scenes from the first intro shot to his fitness (I'll forgive the latter though considering he went through a dark phase of his life). But it gets going when the character begins to experience the time loop, the movie immediately shifts to the 6th gear with some tightly paced action sequences and storytelling.
Venkat Prabhu acknowledges the movies using the time loop by giving them a name drop within the movie itself. What he gets it right here is that the screenplay has a lot of fun with what-if scenarios for the lead to learn from his mistakes. A fight sequence involving some goons dressed up as religious zealots is edited in a way, (splendidly edited by Praveen K.L. which happens to be his 100th film) it reminds you of the videogame Hotline Miami. Like instantly whenever he dies, he remembers each and every move which is shown like a flashback. STR is perfectly cast here as Abdul Khaliq who not only has some scenes to emote but also his physicality is evident when he does the action sequences or when he sprints away like Tom Cruise. S.J. Suryah also plays a compelling villain in the form of ACP Dhanushkodi, who has the menace of Prakash Raj and the theatricality of Sivaji Ganeshan. The latter style is reminded when he recites a speech meant for his boss played superbly by Y.G. Mahendran, who himself plays a slimy politician who planned the conspiracy.
But it's the behind the scenes here who shine throughout the movie. The production design here well utilizes the scale of the political conference and the airport sequences as well, the editing as aforementioned is tight, the cinematography by Richard M Nathan is well shot, and of course Yuvan Shankar Raja's soundtrack is peppy and catchy with the song "Voice of Unity" being the standout. The real hero however is Venkat Prabhu's writing and direction here. His vision is so fully realized and laser focused, you find yourself wondering where was this guy all along? This is by far his best work since Mankatha and maybe over time it could rival his debut cult classic Chennai-600028. Who knows... time will tell. Until then, I might go for a repeat viewing for this!