Odiyan Review: Visually rich but marred by familiar ideas
The Mohanlal-starrer is essentially a big-budget arthouse film with a few action set-pieces that overdose on slow motion
The Odiyan Manikyan character, played by Mohanlal, has been marketed by its makers as a 'desi superhero', and the whole film was riding on Mohanlal's stardom and the larger-than-life image he established through Pulimurugan. However, this is no Pulimurugan, and anyone expecting the same here is bound to be disappointed. It's clearly not meant for a 'mass' audience. I didn't go in with the same expectations and so I wouldn't say I was fully disappointed.
This is essentially a big-budget arthouse film with a few action set-pieces that overdose on slow motion and are occasionally incoherent. There is less of 'mass' in the film than old-school melodrama. This is the film's strength and also its weakness.
Cast: Mohanlal, Manju Warrier, Prakash Raj, Sana Althaf
There is a lot in the film that worked for me and a lot that didn't. It doesn't break new ground in terms of storytelling even though it introduces viewers to the fact that long ago there existed a community that was hired to terrify and paralyze people for selfish gains. These 'shapeshifting' men come out at night tricking people into thinking they are encountering a wild beast or a reptile. This was a time when there was no electricity, and given the abundance of supernaturally inclined people, the 'odiyans' naturally benefitted a lot.
What they wouldn't do, however, is murder. They were not really assassins, really; they had ethics. This makes them no different from an iconic comic book character, Batman, who also indulged in similar tactics. In fact, there is a thrilling action sequence where Manikyan fights his opponents looking like a bat. Hey, he also flies -- like Batman. It looks very much like Batman's intro scene in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins.
When two characters are murdered, Manikyan becomes the prime suspect. There is a brilliantly staged scene where a distraught Manikyan sees the shadow of a bull (one of his disguises) wherever he goes. This emotionally charged scene is one of the film's standout moments. We get to see here and there traces of the Mohanlal from Vanaprastham. After a self-imposed exile of 15 years, Manikyan returns home for some unfinished business. This is not the first time that Mohanlal is playing a character like this.
Take a little bit of the Mohanlal classics Vanaprastham, Narasimham, Aaram Thampuran, and Spadikam and put it in a blender -- you get Odiyan! This familiarity isn't necessarily a bad thing but given the mythical nature of the character presented to us, you wish for something more unconventional than 'a guy framed for murder comes back to have his revenge'.
Prakash Raj, who last collaborated with Mohanlal 21 years ago in The Prince and Iruvar, is very effective as Manikyan's rival Ravunni. A manipulative and despicable character who casts lustful glances at Prabha (Manju Warrier) and her blind sister Meenakshi (Sana Althaf), Ravunni oozes enough menace to make us hate him but a little of that gets wasted in the dubbing. Plus, he goes around saying and doing things that you expect him to do because we have seen this sort of villain many times before. There is nothing unpredictable about him.
It's Manju Warrier who shines the most in a role that evokes some of her memorable roles from the early 90s. The chemistry between Prabha and Manikyan is undoubtedly the main highlight of the film, and it's their moments that revive the film on more than one occasion. A woman who ended up with the wrong man, Prabha has an air of warmth and mystery and you're constantly wondering why she and Manikyan aren't a pair already. The best song in the film, Kondoram, depicts the couple's dreamy romance in the most spectacular fashion.
While not exactly an earth-shattering debut, director Shrikumar Menon deserves kudos for his visual flair. He is a skilled scenarist who, aided by ace cinematographer Shaji Kumar, brings an elegance to every frame. The night sequences are atmospheric and carry the necessary amount of dread. Also, I've not seen Manju Warrier framed this beautifully in a long time. All these moments seem straight out of paintings, and they are enough to keep you watching right till the end. This is not a bad film by any means. It simply needed a different marketing strategy.