The magic realism thriller also marks the film debut of noted ad filmmaker Shrikumar Menon and features noted artists such as Manju Warrier, Prakash Raj, Innocent and Siddique in important roles. Peter Hein, who won over Malayali audiences with his stunt scenes in Pulimurugan, has choreographed Odiyan's fight sequences.
The movie centres around the clan of Odiyans who lived in the Malabar region of Kerala during pre-electricity days. They are said to have been hired to scare people to death by shape-shifting into animal forms.
Odiyan has been in the limelight thanks to the drastic makeover undertaken by Mohanlal, who shed a whopping 18kg to reprise the role of the protagonist, Manickan.
Speaking to City Times, the actor said: "I have done some challenging roles earlier such as in Vanaprastham, to name one. But in Odiyan, I have gone through a great physical challenge to be convincing to look in my 30s as a younger version of Manickan. I have gone through a very tough, challenging regime to get that look. I portray two ages of Manickan in his early 60s and early 30s. Manickan is a character, which demanded a lot of emotional and physical exertion. So, in a way, I would say playing Manickan was a challenge."
Director Shrikumar is said to have showed Mohanlal his version of Odiyan Manickan by way of a character drawing. This convinced the superstar to undergo a physical transformation. "It was a very tough and intense programme I underwent with a group of experts," the actor observed.
On why he had to go to such pains to play a character at this stage of his career, Mohanlal quipped: "The character demanded it, so I went for it. Age is just a number."
A dream debut
Odiyan is a dream debut for Shrikumar Menon, who has helmed over 800 ad films. "My background in the ad industry has been an advantage. I have worked with top celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohanlal, Mammootty, Nagarjuna, to name a few. I know how to handle and work with stars, so that gave me confidence," he said.
The promoters of Odiyan believe it will be the first Malayalam film to gain pan-India acceptance. It will be released in 37 countries and 3,500 theatres globally on December 14. It will also be released in all major Indian cities.
Odiyan has already created a record of sorts by becoming the first Malayalam film to be in the Rs1 billion club pre-release with rights and pre-booking worldwide.
However, the director refuses to compare Odiyan with the opulence and scale of Baahubali, made on a budget of Rs2.5 billion. Drawing a parallel, Menon said Odiyan would help Malayalam movies transcend borders akin to how Baahubali helped Telugu movies get wider acceptance.
"Until now, Malayalam movies have been restricted within the state. Currently, producers only spend on average Rs40 million to Rs50 million, as they believe Malayalam movies do not have a big market. Odiyan intends to prove them wrong. There is already excitement building up ahead of the movie release. It will have the same bandwidth as any Tamil and Telugu movie. Odiyan will help create a new market for Malayalam cinema and this will generate new revenue streams. People will be willing to spend much more money to make Malayalam cinema henceforth," added Menon.
In the same vein, Mohanlal stated that although the Malayalam industry is known for making quality motion pictures, the films have not been able to find a market beyond Kerala.
"GCC is the only other market outside Kerala for Malayalam films whereas other South Indian films have penetrated to new markets beyond their state. So, we also need big budget films, big canvas and a wider audience. Odiyan will be the first crossover film, which will open up markets for Malayalam cinema in other states. Fingers crossed," Mohanlal continued.
A desi superhero
The biggest challenge for the makers of Odiyan was to visualise the lead character since it is part of of folklore. It has mostly been confined to grandma's tales and there is no photographic evidence of the character.
"My ad background came in handy and my visualising team helped to create an imagery for the character. The VFX in the movie will appear seamless," explained Menon.
Also, the movie was shot across 145 days and 60 per cent of it involved night shoots. This is because it is believed that Odiyans only attacked at night. Odiyans used darkness to scare people and they withdrew once there was light.
"Even the climax was challenging to shoot since it was filmed across 33 days," shared Menon.
The film is set primarily in the pre-electricity days. So, the makers also had to recreate an imaginary village called Thenkurissi in Palakkad district of Kerala. "Most parts of this place have become a town now. We had to recreate three looks for the village as part of three different eras. Our production designer had to recreate the costumes and the properties. So, all this was challenging," recalled the director.
Veteran Tamil actor Prakash Raj plays the anti-hero in Odiyan in a character called Ravunni, which Menon claims will be one of the finest villains in Malayalam cinema. This is the first time Mohanlal and Prakash Raj are reuniting after Mani Ratnam's Iruvar in 1997.
"It was exciting to work with Prakash Raj after Iruvar. He is a wonderful actor and it took almost 20 years for a film together. Our combination was widely noted in Iruvar and you can watch an awesome portrayal of Prakash Raj as Ravunni," said Mohanlal.
The director also described Manju Warrier's performance as the heroine in Odiyan as one of her career best.
The movie also features a 15-minute-long action scene featuring Mohanlal.
"I have always enjoyed doing action scenes and I like to go for something innovative every time. When Peter [Hein] and I teamed up for Pulimurugan, we could create some wonderful action sequences. Peter is an extremely creative action choreographer who follows high safety standards. So, it's fun to work with him. In Odiyan, you can watch some thrilling action sequences, which have not been seen before. So watch out," added Mohanlal.
The actor, who will next be seen in Prithviraj's directorial debut Lucifer, has also sung a folk song in Odiyan. "I love songs and I love singing a bit. I am open to singing songs, which I think are suitable for me. I have sung a folk song in the movie and it's well received. An actor with several talents is more accepted," explained Mohanlal.
Superstar Mammootty has also been roped in for a voiceover in Odiyan. "As the movie spans 40 years, we needed a narration for people to know the major developments," divulged Menon.
Meanwhile, Odiyan has also been in the news for its unique marketing techniques. These include official merchandise such as T-shirts and caps featuring Odiyan, an app and an interactive game, and life-sized installations of the lead character in theatres across the world. This is besides the extensive use of social media and road shows.
"I felt we needed the audience to engage with the lead character before the movie release. We have positioned the character of Odiyan as an Indian superhero and devised strategies treating the movie as a product. We analysed the success of Pulimurugan to devise new ways to attract the audience to theatres," divulged Menon.
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