‘Odiyan’ is a film that needs to be analysed for what it was to be, and what it actually turned out to be. It’s a film that lets a captivating folklore wash effortlessly down a drain, its magic mercilessly muddled by the murk and mud around.
The final scene of Shrikumar Menon’s ‘Odiyan’ is one that is petrifying enough to make you want to jump out of a stupor; a mild sedation that the film had steeped you in, over its running time of about fifteen minutes short of three long hours. Prabha (Manju Warrier), with a loud grin on her face stands in wait with a bunch of lotus blooms clasped close to her, as a deer darts in through the gates of the mansion, steering its way towards her.
I am sure it sounds pretty ambiguous, but this is exactly what it is, and this is one of those write ups that merit a reading, post watching the film. Not that there are any spoilers in store, but ‘Odiyan’ is a film that needs to be analysed for what it was to be, and what it actually turned out to be. It’s a film that lets a captivating folklore wash effortlessly down a drain, its magic mercilessly muddled by the murk and mud around.
Odiyan Manikyan (Mohanlal) returns from the sacred shores of Varanasi to his homeland Thenkurissi, from where he had fled in the dark of the night fifteen long years ago. Ravunni Nair (Prakash Raj), his adversary isn’t pleased at Manikyan’s return, and neither are the young men of Thenkurissi to whom the Odiyan tales are nothing but hearsay that is as amorphous as the wind.
The build-up is phenomenal; anecdotes as to how the Odiyan once ruled over the land are laid out painstakingly, tales of horror uttered under muffled breaths. The sinister figure with the power to change forms into beasts of varied sizes and shapes that lurks under the folds of the black blanket and disappears swiftly into the dark contours of the night, is therefore, with ample reason anticipated with bated breath.
And when he finally arrives, he leaves you startled with a kick in the teeth; a half baked, almost droll caricature of a man-beast, sporting what suspiciously looks like a two horned metal helmet. It’s a mighty fall for the character from the heights at which the writing had positioned him in; a sharp anomaly where the visual strikes you as a gag of sorts, almost deriding the grandeur, and in this case the elusiveness that you had associated with the character.
Menon also commits the fatal folly of opting for a habitual tale that has all the routine spikes of a common place yarn, where the man of a lower caste emerges a guardian angel for the lone Nair woman, even as her other admirers gaze on in disgust and rage. Every known character that would render the tale complete is pulled in, be it the sly and envious suitor Ravunni or the easily swayed husband Prakashan (Naren), the villain’s concubine Thankamani (Sreejaya), the staunch devotees of the protagonist as Govindan Maash (Innocent) or Damodaran Nair (Siddique) or the numerous other figures that occupy the fringes of the narrative.
Dialogues get excruciatingly tiresome, like for instance the lengthy, tedious sequence that involves Manikyan and his grand dad, who playfully debate as to who the greater Odiyan among the two is. The scene finally draws to a close with Manikyan assuming the form of a tusker, establishing once and for all as to who the greatest of all Odiyans is.
Mohanlal gives in his very best to play the title role, but ‘Odiyan’ sadly isn’t the spectacular role that you want to see him finish off his current cinematic year with. Manju Warrier wrings herself into a character that you have very rarely seen her in and gets to mouth the most inane of sentences, while Prakashraj who looks like a schoolboy whose makeup for a stage play has gone terribly dark, gawks and rolls his eyes awkwardly throughout. To cut a long story short, ‘Odiyan’ isn’t a film where you hunt around for dazzling performances.
Equally disappointing are the action scenes by Peter Hein who reworks his dry-leaves-act yet again; swirling up a torrent of dust and dead foliage all around as Odiyan makes a go at his assailants. For the climax however, he goes a step further and clouds the combat behind smoulders and fire, even as metal clad aggressors assault Odiyan with spikes and chains. The musical score by M Jayachandran is remarkably good, but a striking song like ‘Kondoram..’ is so dreadfully mislaid and so outrageously visualized that all you can do is to drop your head down in disbelief.
‘Odiyan’ lacks that lingering ambiguity that could have made its central character one-of-a-kind, and neither is the film rife with symbolism or other visual challenges that could have rendered it a diverse experience. It’s a wannabe mythological masterpiece that seriously lacks the randomness or volatility that is warranted in films as these, and emerges a rambling flick that fails to keep you keen.
NB: The least a gargantuan film as this that has raised a mountain of expectations, that will be closely scrutinized as a contemporary Malayalam film and that is expected to be screened across thousands and thousands of cinema halls across the world could do, is to get its title cards spelt right. When you misspell a word as ‘dialogue’ in the titles in a mammoth project as ‘Odiyan’, it’s not just the language aficionados or the vocabulary enthusiasts that take note; it strikes you as sheer indifference to the intelligence and sensibilities of the audience, and a disquieting trend to let sloppiness simply be.