Odiyan cast: Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Manju Warrier
Odiyan director: VA Shrikumar Menon
Odiyan rating: 1 star
Hollywood filmmaker Christopher Nolan earlier this year at Cannes Film Festival had said that each of his films in The Dark Knight trilogy belong to different genres. “Batman Begins follows a hero’s journey, The Dark Knight is a crime film, and The Dark Knight Rises is a war film,” Nolan observed. This grounded approach of Nolan to Batman films changed how Hollywood made superhero films.
So, what is the purpose of above reference in Mohanlal’s Odiyan review you ask? While there is no one right way to make films (especially superhero films), but a filmmaker should, at least, be able to clearly define what his movie is about.
Debutant director VA Shrikumar Menon pegged Odiyan as Kerala’s first superhero film and I am unable to see how he arrived at that conclusion. The myth around now-extinct Odiyan clan is horrifying. The members of the Odiyan community were believed to have practiced sorcery and performed human sacrifices to gain superpowers that allowed them to transform into animals. The superstitious folklore is shrouded in mystery and tales of horror.
When Shrikumar said he has made a superhero movie based on a sorcerer, who terrified people for money, I was thrilled by the idea. I was looking forward to seeing how he and writer Harikrishnan have reimagined a dreaded supernatural assassin as a superhero. But, what the director-writer duo has offered us is a sanitized version of a dark folklore. And to top it all, the filmmakers have turned Odiyan into a hero-worshiping exercise.
Odiyan opens in Varanasi, where Manikyan, now in his early 50s, has become a sage. His hair has grown long, and his mustache and beard are bushy enough for a sparrow to lay nest in it. He spots a woman being dragged along a boat in Ganga river. He jumps in and swims so fast that he could put dolphins to shame. The woman he just saved, identifies him by his name Odiyan Manikyan, a legend in Thenkurissi village in Palakkad district.
Manikyan is back in his hometown to settle past scores and what the woman said, forcing him to end his self-imposed exile, is forgotten until the film inches close to climax. And, while the village recognises who he is, the young chaps, who had not seen Manikyan’s “plays” in his prime, bullies him into a parley. Odiyan picks a target and promises to leave him terrified for life in the cover of the dark.
Staying true to the folklore vein, the narration builds the Odiyan legend through the stories of people who have had the opportunity to experience Manikyan’s “superhero” abilities first hand. Manikyan’s Odiyan services are for hire to the highest bidder. He wears cotsumes and scares people in the cover of night. He flourished at a time when electricity was yet to reach many parts of Kerala.
But his business takes a hit when communism and street lights begin to gain ground in Thenkurissi. But, no worries, he side-hustles as a house help at Prabha’s (Manju Warrier) home. He spends most of his time here as he is in love with Prabha. But he never acknowledges his feelings for her. Is it because of the caste difference between them? No, the film doesn’t get down to the nitty-gritty. Harikrishnan has written a yawn-inducing monologue to explain why.
Manikyan’s side-hustle as a house help also includes warding off Mr. Nair’s (Prakash Raj) overtures to Prabha. Mr. Nair’s dark skin is often used as a metaphor to cristise his dark heart. Isn’t that a bit, uh, racist?
In the opening minutes of the film, when Mohanlal’s Manikyan makes an entry, your heart fills with excitement to learn about his Odiyan’s powers. That was, as a matter of fact, the selling point of the movie. Instead, you get a Mohanlal who appears to have dressed up for a fancy-dress competition at his school for overaged men. The idea behind portraying the abilities of Odiyan is a massive let down. It, perhaps, has to do with the filmmakers’ intention to whitewash the hero hailing from a family that practices black magic.
The pre-climax action scene brings the much-needed energy to the screen that was missing from the beginning of the movie. In the sequence, Manikyan takes the form of an assassin. His costume suddenly assumes some meaning and seriousness.
The lackluster pace of the movie drags down even the performances of seasoned actors like Prakash Raj and Manju Warrier. Mohanlal, more or less, looks lost in the film. It feels like he was so occupied by his weight loss achievement that he failed to notice that the film is not allowing the actor in him to perform.