Malayalam Reviews

Odiyan Review: Mohanlal’s Fantasy-Drama Is An Unimaginative White Elephant

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Director: VA Shrikumar

Cast: Mohanlal, Manju Warrier, PrakashRaj

Composer: Gopi Sunder, M Jayachandran

Debut director VA Shrikumar’s Odiyan is centered around Manikyan (Mohanlal), the last standing member of a village’s once-flourishing community of therianthropes – Odiyan – who can shape-shift into any beast at night and attack human beings. Though despised and feared by most of the villagers, the man considers himself the practitioner of an ancient art. “I am an artiste. Let me be,” he tells a local politician who tries to bully him in an early scene. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem to have a manifesto.

Unlike Pulimurugan who wanted to save his hamlet from man-eaters and notorious drug-lords or Hollywood’s vigilante superheroes, Odiyan has no purpose in life. He likes to gloat about his nocturnal adventures, but almost never do we get to know what he stands for, or the details of his social milieu. A line in the film tells us of his love for the village, but it is never explored. The film is built up on a feeble foundation of a bitter love triangle, the narration of which follows a done-to-death pattern. The rest – the philosophical lecture, many action scenes and the fantasy elements – turn out to be pointless additions to a movie touted to be the costliest in the history of Malayalam cinema.

The film begins from Varanasi, in a badly-conceived scene (topped by a laughable VFX shot) where Manikyan rescues a drowning woman who identifies him as the wizard who fled her village, Thenkurissi, many years ago. Manikyan, now a brooding old man, returns to the village in the next scene. The film spends no time in letting the audience develop an emotional connect with him, and that renders the long-winded scene of face-off between him and the villagers ludicrous. Manikyan, wrapped in a thick black blanket, a gift from his ancestors, is seated beneath a tree at the village square, sipping a cup of tea offered by his bosom friend, Dinakaran (Siddique). Come bullies one after another, and together they threaten the quiet. All the while, composer Gopi Sunder plays a loud and exhausting background score. Dialogues in this portion are down-right ridiculous, crammed with information. Every character is eager to narrate or at least spill clues to a past the audience has no access to yet. And finally, when the flashback sequences reveal what had caused Odiyan’s 15-year-long exile from the village, you might want to let out a sigh for the events are too mundane to justify the build-up.

For a film that sets itself around a beautiful mythical character, in a space that’s home to many folktales, Odiyan suffers from a dire dearth of imagination. It begins with a theatrical voice-over by Mammootty, introducing to the audience the modus operandi of Odiyan community. This voice-over is used several times during the film to take the narration forward, and it further pulls down an already-mediocre cinema. The scenes where Odiyan transforms himself into a beast evoke more cringe than amazement, staged like a spoof, with the man pouncing on his rivals wearing a bull helmet and a costume that resembles an amateur cosplay.

Despite having many stalwarts working behind the camera, Odiyan is more stage than cinema for the most part. The core love story in Odiyan bears uncanny resemblance to Ranjith’s Chandrolsavam. Only here, romance is non-existent. Manikyan comes across as a loyal servant to Prabha (Manju Warrier), an upper-caste woman whose household his family has served for many generations. They exchange smiles, a few friendly greetings and at one point, when she can’t take sexual harassment from her cousin Ravunni (Prakash Raj) anymore, she seeks his help. Almost never do we see them in a romantic connect.

Ravunni has pitch dark-complexion, and the screenplay is teemed with references to it. Every character make mention of it, in various degrees of insults. Prabha says his heart is darker than his face, while Manikyan warns he would turn him into a “pitch black zero”. The film does little to flesh out the character of Ravunni, a feudal lord. Instead, it bases all his evilness on this physical feature, which is strange, given this is a movie about a lower-caste man.

The sole saving grace is the movie’s melodious soundtrack, composed by M Jayachandran. The song ‘Kondoram’ bring some respite to the bland narrative, although the picturisation is disappointing. Mohanlal’s physical make-over does little to add to the storytelling. The actor looks stiff and inexpressive as young Manikyan. Warrier, on the contrary, makes the most of the half-baked role written for her, and delivers a decent performance as Prabha.

Most of the action scenes are awkwardly placed and badly choreographed (by Peter Hein), masking the climatic fight using smoke and fluttering dry leaves. The action sequences look like they were later-additions to a film that was conceived differently, as a slow-paced tale of an odd man who returns to a village that broke his heart. The film, unfortunately, ends up as an outrageous mess that is hard to sit through.

*****

The Odiyan review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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