Oppam Review: Priyadarshan’s Return to Form? Well Almost
There’s a family gathering in the ancestral home and the protagonist who is visually impaired is seen to be the near perfect son of the family, ever sacrificing for his siblings. As he prepares to return back to the city he happens to mention Kalaripayattu for a brief moment with someone on the way. He goes on to follow that with a semi classical rendition while on the ferry ride back to the city. As the opening credits roll we are given a clear perspective, albeit in a nutshell of what the filmmaker is attempting with the film and in the process we get an introduction to the protagonist. The film in question is Priyadarshan’s latest release, Oppam and the leading man is none other than the popular filmmaker’s trusted collaborator, Mohanlal. It is a clean and precise way of starting the tale and reassuring us that the evergreen director-actor combination is going to deliver with this film.
It is common knowledge that Priyadarshan has been out of form for a long time now, both in Hindi and Malayalam cinema. None of his films in the recent past seem to have appealed to either the critics or the audience making even his die-hard fans question his ability to make a solid comeback. He did try to revive the old magic along with Mohanlal on a couple of occasions in the last few years, first with Oru Marubhoomikkadha (2011) and much more recently with Geethanjali (2013). The first one was a comedy and a mishmash of several of their earlier hit films and somehow worked commercially to an extent while the second was a horror film whose output literally spooked one and all. Hence with Oppam getting announced one was hoping that it would actually work but then one couldn’t say that with confidence. The promos thankfully looked good, something that has not been the case with most of Priyadarshan’s recent films.
Coming closely on the heels of Vismayam and Janatha Garage, Oppam is one of the Onam releases and was certainly a film to look forward to. Jayaraman (Mohanlal) is visually impaired but with exceptionally well developed sense of smell, sound and touch. An all-rounder of sorts, he works as an elevator operator in an apartment building but is more of the trusted go to man for all the residents there. Justice Krishnamurthy (Nedumudi Venu), a retired Chief Justice is an old man who only trusts Jayaraman. He has some secrets surrounding the existence of his alleged daughter Nandini (Baby Meenkashi) who is away in a boarding school, with only Jayaraman being the single point of contact with her. One night the retired judge is found murdered in his flat and unfortunately Jayaraman comes under the radar of the police due to circumstances. Now not only does Jayaraman have to find out the killer and prove his innocence, he also has to protect Nandini from the reach of a serial killer.
This is a true blue thriller from Priyadarshan where he makes sure to ensure that the audience support lies firmly with the protagonist. In fact the antagonist almost clearly appears to be one up over the protagonist for most part of the film and that’s interesting in a way. This is not a whodunit but more of a cat and mouse game of sorts. There are references to some old Mohanlal films of sorts including Priyadarshan’s own Kilukkam (the retired judge and the mystery daughter angle) and countless family films of the superstar like a Balettan. But it’s all in good taste and does not stick out thankfully like a sore thumb. The music by the new composer group 4 Musics is quite good and the songs, especially “Chinnamma Adi” (lyrics by Madhu Vasudevan and vocals by M.G.Sreekumar) and “Minumgum Minnaminunge” (lyrics by B.K.Harinarayanan and vocals by M.G.Sreekumar and Shreya Jayadeep) bring in a nostalgic feeling. N.K.Ekhambaram’s cinematography is a highlight, especially the way the night/dark shots have been canned.
There is an attempt to infuse some humour via Mamukkoya and Chemban Vinod which succeeds partially and at the same time there are also some logic defying moments in the film. The attempt to create a forced romantic moment between Jayaraman and Devayani (Vimala Raman) looks extremely amateurish while there is also a strange recognition of producer Antony Perumbavoor brought in thanks to a lingering moment which remains longer than required at the start. Samuthirakani is utilised very well by Priyadarshan and he does well as the strong adversary of Jayaraman. Baby Meenkashi, Nedumudi Venu, Mamukkoya and Aju Varghese also register their presence. But if there’s a reason that the film manages to hold out on its own then it’s certainly due to Mohanlal who enters the cat and mouse game confidently, with an attempt to stay afloat and prove to be the winner. Mohanlal is a natural and carries off the performance with the required maturity and grace.
Make no mistake, Oppam is no modern classic and neither is it anywhere close to the best of Priyadarshan. But this is the closest he has ever got to showing that he has still has it in him to impress upon us the fact that he is still in contention. Ultimately the Priyadarshan-Mohanlal combination manages to hold our attention, though they may not have turned up with a complete turnaround film of sorts.