Odiyan Movie Review: Mohanlal Shapeshifts To Become A Dozen-odd Animals, But The Film Remains A Wild Bore

VA Shrikumar Menon’s mega-budget action drama offers a few flamboyant fights, a moment or two, and a whole lot of disappointment
Odiyan Movie Review: Mohanlal Shapeshifts To Become A Dozen-odd Animals, But The Film Remains A Wild Bore

Language: Malayalam

Cast: Mohanlal, Manju Warrier, Prakash Raj

Director: VA Shrikumar Menon

In Chennai's Rohini Theatre, where I watched Odiyan, it took around an hour for the film to begin due to a 'technical issue'. Four hours later I was still waiting for the film to really take off…such is its dullness.

Can anyone explain how a film, about something as cool as therianthropic assassins, became so lifeless…so bland? When Odiyan opens with Mammootty narrating the legend of the odiyanmar – a clan of hired tricksters who have mastered the art of deception – one felt it was the writer (Harikrishnan, who won the National Award for Kutty Srank) getting the important details out of the way so he can focus on the tale of one deadly odiyan — Odiyan Manickan (Mohanlal), who is also the last of them.

And that's what he does. We dive into Manickan's life when he plunges into the Ganges at Banaras to save a drowning woman. But it isn't just any random woman he has saved…she's from Thenkurissi, the village Manickan hails from and a place he's vowed to never return.  (Apparently, you find Malayalis even under water). But alas he does, after 15 years, to a new generation that grew up listening to stories that paint him as a ruthless murderer. The film follows a non-linear pattern to fill us in on the details that led to his ostracisation, seen through the eyes of either people who were affected by the Odiyan or the man himself.

In one of these flashbacks, we get a Karate Kid-like training montage, where we see Manickan learn the tricks of the trade from his grandfather. We also get a terrific fight sequence where Manickan flies, crawls and swings to fight away a bunch of goons. And then we meet Prabha (Manju Warrier) and her visually-impaired sister Meenakshi (Sana Althaf), who are both widows. The entire village believes that it is Manickam who killed both their husbands and his return to Thenkurissi, in a sense, is him seeking redemption.We also get Ravunni Nair (Prakash Raj) a dreaded landlord and Prabha's cousin who has been lusting after both sisters for decades. We keep switching back and forth between flashbacks to the present (a time when Niram is running in theatres), when Manickan has threatened to execute one last odi on Ravunni's cocky nephew.

There's a great scene in one of these flashbacks, when we're shown a dejected Manickan stare at his shadow, which no longer takes the form of a man. Instead, it looks like that of a bull, one of the animals the odiyan turns into. He struggles to shake away that image, no matter how far he runs…and that's until daybreak. This could so easily have been a deeper film about the 'image' society imposes on a person and how he remains imprisoned in it. Odiyan could also have been about a man's inability to escape his past even though he's an expert at hiding and the 'king of darkness'. But these aspects are never really explored…they're just tossed around in a scene or two.

The film never rises above a typical revenge drama, with no real surprises or twists. I kept getting reminded of Mohanlal's own Chandrolsavam, which was about another man who returns to his village to clear himself of a charge of murder and reclaim his widowed childhood sweetheart. And if the team thought we'd be shocked to realise Prakash Raj was behind the murders, then I guess they'd not seen Ghilli. In fact, the only thing that's as inconsistent as the Palakkad accent of the actors is the shades of black paint that gets applied to make Prakash Raj darker. Even the major climactic fight isn't half as good as that of Pulimurugan's. The film is well shot and has a great score and songs but one can never see the big budget entirely on screen.

Mohanlal has proved many times that there aren't many characters he can't play. With movies like Puli Muguran and Odiyan he's proved that he can play a few animals as well. But it really is the director that seems to have failed Odiyan. He could have chosen to make a very personal film about the irony of such a character. He could also have made a mad action entertainer that all of us were expecting. In his efforts to do both, he's ended up making one of the most disappointing films of the year. He has claimed that the film made Rs.100 crores even before it released. Good for him. Maybe he can learn a trick or two from Manickan  and escape into oblivion.

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