Wouldn’t blame V.A Shrikumar if he is tempted to think that his personal D-Day at the Box Office was as bad as the one the Allied had on the beaches of Normandy. On the eve of the release a hartal was declared and fans unleashed their wrath on the social media pages of the political party in question. The makers went on to announce that the shows wouldn’t be cancelled and social media was rife with jokes in no time. Today as i write this, the jury has been out since the wee hours and I woke up to a spate of distasteful comments on the social media pages of the movie and the director though even the most vile of detractors would think twice before doing that on the lead actor’s page considering the kind of clout and sway he holds over the Malayalam film industry and the viewers at large. But the fact remains that the box office is a different beast entirely, impervious to any kind of influence. Most of the comments blamed the director of sky rocketing expectations with the pre release hype. By the time I was in for the film, people were talking about how the movie should be inducted as a case study in business schools. Well, did you expect an ad-man -turned – director to not market his debut film with the biggest star in Malayalam using all the tricks in his bag? Dude’s got brains and you have to hand it to him and I for one do not feel that he has taken me on a ride, having watched the 10 am show in the UAE today.
The movie starts off in Varanasi and wastes no time in presenting an aged but heroic Odiyan Manikyan before the audience. Mammooty then takes over during the titles narrating a brief history of the Odiyan clan which ends with the return of the dreaded Odiyan to his home, the rustic Palakkadan village Thenkurissi. Most of the story is told in flashbacks which takes us to a time when electricity had still not reached the lands. The odiyan relies on darkness and the psychology of fear to practice his “art” as he prefers to call it. To put things in perspective for the uninitiated, the odiyan is not too different from the Batman Nolan presented before us in Batman Begins but unlike Batman, odiyan’s services are on sale for those in need and that’s how he makes his living when he is not helping in the household of Prabha, played by Manju Warrier. Batman again was trained by Ras Al Ghul in Ninjutsu while Manikyan is trained by his grandfater, an odiyan himself. The much hyped younger avatar of Mohanlal dominates most of the screentime in comparision to the aged odiyan. The makers have tried to portray the craft of the odiyan realistically here. Though V.A Shrikumar claimed early on that the CGI would be world class, you can’t but help notice that not much of it has gone into the depiction of the actual odi act, which is not a bad thing if you ask me and more importantly the director and the writer have taken care not to insult the intelligence of the viewer. You would find yourself thinking that maybe this is indeed how the legendary odiyans went about their profession, in the dark. You see a deliberate choice on the part of the makers to stick to reality and to not cross over into the realm of fantasy for most parts, though there are indeed some conflicting sequences. In addition to electric bulbs, playing the antagonist to Manikyan is Prakash Raj as Karuman Nair who is obsessed with Prabha. The references to the color of the skin are borderline racist and I wouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t go down well in this age of political correctness. Shammi Thilakan interestingly dubs again for a Tamil actor playing villain to Mohanlal and is obviously a deliberate tribute of sorts by Shrikumar to the iconic Devasuram. There is some unforced humor in the film mostly delivered by a restrained Siddique.Sana Altaf and Kailash have done justice to their roles too.There are more than a couple of songs and the one that stands out most is Kondoram. Though a bit untimely, its the most beautiful in terms of music and visuals too, thanks to a stunning Manju Warrier. It is indeed refreshing to see a leading lady on the other side of forty giving the younger crop a run for their money, and how.
The story proceeds at an even pace and there are quite a few number of scenes where Mohanlal and Manju Warrier get to flex their acting muscles. The younger odiyan is all smiles mostly but the aged odiyan is someone who regrets his actions and is weighed down by guilt. He believes that he bears the curse for the actions of his ancestors. Mohanlal has translated this shift in odiyan’s perspective in his inimitable style, in the most subtle of ways, so much so that you wouldn’t realise this until long after you have left the theatres. The action sequences might not blow you away but are decently executed. Mohanlal briefly engages in a stick fight reminiscent of the Kilukkam dhobi ghat fight. While most of the movie worked for me, the climax came of as a bit disappointing and gave the impression that the director lost his vision and rushed through the proceedings towards the end. Despite Peter Hein the final showdown doesn’t quite work. The movie deserved a better ending and this could be attributed to Shrikumar’s lack of experience in feature cinema but then again it’s uneducated speculation on my part. The movie is indeed a tad too long, at three hours but hey, I’m not complaining. Having said that, V.A Shrikumar has made more than a decent debut if you ask me. Yes, the movie is not Narasimham but that was almost two decades back and even I have moved on , as a fan. Believe me when I tell you that the film certainly did not deserve the kind of onslaught that was meted out early on, literally. By the time the first half of the film was over, I was angry and relieved, for the right reasons. But given the events in the recent past that rocked the Malayalam film industry which involved the major names associated with the film, there’s always room for malice. The movie gets cocky too when it takes a dig at Communists. That might not go down well especially when the leading man’s political ambitions are a topic of hot speculation in the state. But none of these factors should stop you from finding out for yourself, after all I am a self confessed fan. Not a fan boy though.There’s a difference but I’ll save that for another day.