Odiyan Review: Much Ado About Nothing
Prabha (Manju Warrier) and Odiyan Manikyan (Mohanlal) grew up together and despite belonging to very different backgrounds (Prabha belonging to an upper caste, respectable family while Manikyan belonged to a poor family from the Odiyan clan), they went on to inevitably fall in love. But while a grown-up Prabha professes her love for Manikyan, he tries to play it down by just pointing it out as a childhood attraction. Prabha doesn’t believe him though & later on when she expresses a wish to see him performing a shape shifting act for herself, he reluctantly agrees to do so at night and takes the form of a deer as desired by Prabha. What follows is a lovely romantic track “Kondoram” (composed by M.Jayachandran, lyrics by Rafeeq Ahamed and vocals by Shreya Ghoshal and Sudeep Kumar). The song which is largely a fantasy of sorts is something that charmingly conveys the mood and background of V.A. Shrikumar Menon’s Odiyan. You might wonder if I am charmed by the song and the movie, I’ll come to that shortly.
Easily the most talked about Malayalam film in recent times, a film that has been in the news ever since the production started, Odiyan has been keenly awaited not just by fans of Mohanlal, but also by followers of Malayalam cinema worldwide. With the spectacular success of Pulimurugan still fresh in our memories, it looked like Odiyan could follow the same success path if the end product has turned out well. But closer to the release it looked like Shrikumar Menon and his team were on a marketing overdrive, focusing on the tremendous pre-release business generated (supposedly) and other such stuff, instead of relying on just the traditional elements and allowing the film to speak for itself. Now I had this nagging feeling that the makers were either over confident of the film or didn’t really realize that they were going wrong in a way. All said and done I was genuinely looking forward to the film, not because I was impressed by Mohanlal’s sudden weight loss regime and his new appearance for the film. But the genuine interest in the film was to do with the subject, the mythical Odiyan clan and their legendary shape-shifting ability has been associated with various myths and folklores over time.
Odiyan is a tale which is narrated in a non-linear fashion, bulk of the tale is set in the mid 1980’s and the late 1990’s in rural Palakkad district. Out in Thenkurissi village live Manikyan and his grandfather Muthappan (Manoj Joshi), the last of the surviving Odiyans in the area. After his son abandons the family tradition, Muthappan takes great care to train his grandson Manikyan as a proficient Odiyan whose exploits soon spread far and wide. Manikyan dotes on Prabha and is always there to protect her and her visually impaired younger sister, Meenakshi (Sana Althaf). While Ravunni (Prakash Raj), the local landlord and Prabha and Meenakshi’s cousin lusts for her, the sisters end up getting married, only to turn widows soon after. Ravunni sets up the blame on Manikyan though he claims to be innocent, but soon when the going gets very tough he is forced to leave his village. Many years later he returns to Thenkurissi and the villagers are surprised. What brings him back and what does he go on to do from thereon are what we see as the tale progresses.
First of all it is disappointing to see that writer Harikrishnan and director Shrikumar Menon have failed to bring about anything special in terms of the writing and execution. For all the hype that the film had carried pre-release it is disappointing to see that not much care has been taken to come up with a well-crafted entertaining storyline. Okay so this is a period tale, fair enough but does that mean that scenes and dialogues have to look straight out of some old village based Malayalam film (in terms of the feeling it evokes)? Also it is definitely a let-down to see the way the shape-shifting aspect to Odiyan’s character has been depicted on screen; with the kind of money that was riding on the film couldn’t the makers have chosen to go in for some really good top of the line VFX work to ensure the same instead of the approach that they have taken?
A case in point is the climax fight, while Peter Hein ensures that the action choreography does pack a punch, the whole shape-shifting element looks tacky and uninspiring. What’s surprising is that the film does boast of the service of one of the popular VFX outfits in the country (NY VFXWAALA), clearly showing that it’s a missed opportunity in a way. Also while the segment described at the start of this review (Kondoram song and lead up to it) would have ideally looked good, the placement is so wrong, almost looking like an afterthought from the director to make the romance aspect appear strong. Also at nearly 168 minutes the film takes way too much time to come to the point, an aspect that Shrikumar Menon & editor Johnkutty could have worked upon. While the film is largely disappointing, it does have a few things going for it. The songs by M.Jayachandran certainly work well; the cinematography by Shajikumar and the art direction/production design by Prashanth Madhav lend the necessary charm to the rustic Thenkurissi.
In terms of the performances, Siddique as Damodharan Nair, the friend of Manikyan, Sana Althaf as Meenakshi and Manoj Joshi as Muthappan register a strong impact among the supporting cast. Prakash Raj as the antagonist Ravunni seems to have been given a raw deal, not in terms of the screen time but the way his character has been treated, especially the way his dark look has been conceived and the constant reference too it, reeking of a racist tone. Manju Warrier plays Prabha very effectively, looking radiant in the younger portion and dignified in the elderly avatar. It is hard to think of anyone else who could have played Odiyan with conviction the way Mohanlal has, but then the role and the story do not give him the scope to rise out of the ordinary and leave a lasting impact as he would have liked.
Odiyan eventually ends up as a lost cause, it is certainly not the large scale extravaganza it set out to be and that is it its biggest drawback.
Odiyan does not do justice to the kind of ambition it set out to achieve, suffering from poor writing and not so impactful execution; it comes across a huge opportunity lost.