Odiyan Malayalam Movie Review
V.A. Shrikumar Menon's directorial debut, Odiyan, is about a shape-shifter who assumes many forms under the guise of costumes to scare people. Oddly enough, he does it for a living. Odiyan Manikyan (Mohanlal) even shape-shifts into animals double his size and tricks people into believing the hokum. Do not ask how, for this excessively marketed fantasy film is best watched with the presence of a 12-year-old. It is recommended that you be one as you enter the theater.
We begin at Varanasi, sometime in the modern-day. The holy land where they burn corpse in big pyres is the setting that introduces the hero, who starts off the proceedings by saving a life from the waters.
We are told early on in Odiyan that Manikyan is part of a clan that passes down the shape-shifting "art" to the next generation and suggested that he is possibly the last remaining member of it. These people not only use costumes to assume forms but also operate in the darkness.
The early years of Manikyan, told in flashbacks, is set in an era prior to electricity. For its time, it is little odd that people in Thenkurissi, his home land, believe in the hokum. Odiyan Manikyan capitalizes on their fears and makes a living out of what he considers an "art" by taking the scare-others job in favor of money. The early exchanges in the movie are amusing although they are not sought out to be, especially one where he takes the form of an elephant. The eventual demise it causes is supposed to make us cry, but in Odiyan's world, it is an afterthought.
When unexpected things take place, people in Thenkurissi decide that enough is enough and they need to light up the land to counter the Odiyan disguises.
Odiyan has a lot of visual razzle dazzle, yet the film has little plot. To be fair, the premise aside, the film's plot beats the same tunes as Ranjith's "Chandrolsavam". The scenario where many love one girl, who is Padma (Manju Warrier) here, while one person lusts her. After a point comes the predictable villain of the story, Ravunni (Prakash Raj), who leaves nothing to the imagination.
However, what makes the film fascinating is the whole concept of shape-shifting itself. A shadow of conscience follows Odiyan right through, and Menon and his writer Harikrishnan covey this idea in a rather unexpected way. It follows organically out of the story, too. The music by M. Jayachandran is fabulous.
Another notable thing is the use of fire in the mythical storytelling - it raises and lifts like a living thing, out to consume everything in its path. So, Odiyan certainly has the look and feel of a fantasy. It helps that a physically transformed Mohanlal pulls off the razzmatazz with ease, in a role tailor-made for him. Then, there is the luminous Manju Warrier in an important role that is well acted. Together, they are a joy to watch on the screen, especially during that wonderfully visualized "Kondoram" song. However, one would have wished an A-list villain like Prakash Raj to be used in a more demanding role that requires him to do something other than indulge in a war of words with Lalettan's Odiyan Manikyan.
Nonetheless, it is the conflict that gives us the only thing about the film that will endure: the masterstroke of a premise, which suggests the fine line between identity and shape-shifting can at times be a double-edged sword. Yes, the premise wears thin after a point, although Odiyan's fantasy world full of urban legends and razzmatazz are good enough to merit a watch. Keep your expectations in check, though.
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