Mohan Lal hunts in dark, leaves audience in despair
After playing a hunter of maneating tiger in Mannem Puli, Malayalam superstar Mohan Lal returns as fiery Odiyan, a tribe which hunts in the dark to terrorise people
After playing a hunter of man-eating tiger in ‘Mannem Puli,” Malayalam superstar Mohan Lal returns as fiery ‘Odiyan’, a tribe which hunts in the dark to terrorise people. Certainly, the premise of the film holds a lot of promise - a shape-shifting legendary hero who in equal parts is feared and ostracised by the society he lives in. The narrative alternates between the present and an unspecified period of time when there was no electrification in the said village, where Odiyan (Mohanlal) lives in.
The elements should have made for a heady cocktail but ‘Odiyan’ falls disappointingly short. The problem is the plot - it is contrived with lifeless characters. As Odiyan, Mohan Lal fills the screen with his presence. Each time he throws his black shawl around him or even when the camera is simply focused on his eyes, he brings a certain gravitas to the frame. Despite his girth, the actor is agile (like he was in ‘Mannem Puli’) as he transforms into a fearsome beast during his nocturnal sojourns. In one of the songs, when he begins to hate what he does for a living, there's a poignant moment when he catches the sight of his bull-shaped shadow. The surprise, fear, and eventual sadness on his face come within seconds, showing us once again why he remains as one of the best actors in Indian cinema.
But though the actor has given it his all, the script offers him too little to do - there are a few clap trapping moments and some stunning stunt sequences, but unfortunately, it is the theatrics which take centrestage, pushing Mohan Lal, the performer, to the background. Prakash Raj tries to salvage a poorly-etched baddy role. Adding to it, the back and forth narrative annoys a lot. Each time someone recalls what Odiyan was like in the past, we're dragged along to witness Odiyan's childhood and youth. Prakash Raj wants to make Prabha (and her hapless, visually impaired sister Meenakshi, played by Sana Althaf) his own. And this desire fuels him for years and years which is truly far-fetched.
The action adventure could have been the story of a shrinking tribe's fight for survival in the face of modernity - as the village is set in a period, what becomes of the man who frightens people in the darkness for a living? It could have been about the forbidden love between lower cast guy and upper-caste girl, offers only a glimpse of what could have been. The seeds of these storylines are there in the film, but for some inexplicable reason, the scriptwriter relied on the tested ‘lust’ angle which goes against the film. The climax action sequence is gripping and is captured impressively.