Oppam – Mohanlal’s Masterful Performance as a Blind Man Accused of Murder Elevates This Thriller

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In the thriller Oppam [Together] Mohanlal plays a blind man suspected of murder.  Mohanlal was predictably fantastic and subtle in the ways he portrays his blindness.
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Because it’s Mohanlal, with his innate intelligence, we can totally believe that the blindness of his character has led to super senses of smell and hearing.  He’s not quite  Daredevil level superhero, but he does have a couple of dramatic fight scenes.  He’s proficient in martial arts despite his blindness.  (Of course he is.)
I still need to see Drishyam (the DVD is in my pile!), so this is my first Mohanlal thriller.  Without him, this film just would feel formulaic.  Mohanlal brings just that extra special something to every film.
The film starts with the negotiations at his home village for his sister’s wedding.  Innocent has a nice cameo as Mohanlal’s uncle (shades of Devasuram!)  There’s some money issues as Mohanlal has loaned someone money and hasn’t had it returned, and the family is worried that there will be enough both for the wedding and to keep the ancestral home.
 This is just the beginning of the lengthy setup before any real action occurs.
Mohanlal is an elevator operator at a fancy apartment building, but he has a close relationship with a retired judge who lives in the building (Nedumudi Venu).  The judge has secrets, even from his own family, but entrusts Mohanlal with them.  He explains that he made a mistake in an old rape case and the perpetrator’s entire family committed suicide.  (This part was a little confusing to me, and I felt like the subtitles left something key out.)  He drives Mohanlal out to the country so he can meet with someone involved with this old case, as he has heard that anyone involved with it has been murdered with their index finger cut off.
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Then he drives Mohanlal to a boarding school.  Mohanlal is the  guardian of this young girl, but the judge has been paying all her school fees.  The judge’s family think it’s a bastard born out of wedlock, but she has something to do with this old case.
 The song sequences in this film were all just delightful.  This one, Minungum Minnaminuge shows the close relationship of Mohanlal and Nandini and how he teaches her a song for her class assembly.  He is the father figure in her life, the only one that she has seemingly ever known.  Baby Meenakshi as Nandini is one of the better Indian child actors I’ve seen.  She did a great job.
The murder happens during a wedding scene, which is kind of brilliant.  The judge has helped broker an interfaith marriage when two young people are found in a compromising situation in the apartment complex.  The wedding celebration is at the apartment building and there are tons of extra people around for it.
This song sequence was my favorite of the whole film.  I think the marriage is a Sikh girl and a Hindu boy so the lyrics seem to be a mix of Malayalam and either Punjabi or Hindi.   The dance goes from bhangra which the girl’s relatives teach the groom, to garba all wonderfully mixed together.  Mohanlal manages to dance along, as a blind man, and make it believable, which is not easy.
Who the villain is, is never a surprise to the audience, and Mohanlal fights with him at close quarters after he discovers the body.  But since he is blind, he can’t identify the man, except by his smell.  There’s a really unnecessarily long Who’s On First type attempt at a comedic scene with the police officer who comes to investigate as he questions the watchman.  “So he saw the body first?”  “No I saw it first after he found him.”
Chemban Vinod Jose as the police officer just wants to solve this case quickly, and is happy to frame a blind man for it.  The second half of the film is this cat and mouse between Mohanlal and the villain who keeps turning up.  There’s a really great scene in an elevator with the villain and Mohanlal.   Mohanlal is desperate to keep little Nandini safe, as he’s convinced she will be the next victim.
Malayalam films can be so sprawling, and a thriller like this could just be more tightly edited to be more scary and effective.  I felt like the film dragged at several points.
I also have issue with the music background score —  Not scary enough!!  I kept thinking that while we needed quiet in certain scenes for Mohanlal’s super sense of hearing to work, some soft tense violin held notes would have done wonders for tension.
Mohanlal has almost ninja like fighting skills in a couple scenes, but there is one police beating scene that gave me flashbacks to Devasuram.  There’s something about seeing big Mohanlal beaten that just really gets to you.
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He is so intelligent and so great an actor, that I could fully believe he had super smell and super hearing like a blind Sherlock Holmes, but this big bear of a man is also completely vulnerable with his handicap.
I wasn’t shocked or stunned by the ending reveal, and while I jumped a couple of times, I think there could have been more tension and thrills in this film.  Mohanlal is what elevates the whole thing, and I just adored the special relationship he had with little Nandini.
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