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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Devasuram – A Malayalam Classic with masterful performances by Mohanlal and Revathi

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Devasuram [The God Demon] was recommended as a classic must watch Malayalam film from 1993 — one of the best of Mohanlal’s career.  It’s also considered one of the finest of director  I. V. Sasi.  The film was written by Ranjith who based the character of Mangalassery Neelakantan (Mohanlal) on his friend Mullasserry Rajagopal.   Rajagopal, bedridden for years, had a passion for music, and his wife was devoted to him.  He evidently joked that “Ranjith had not managed to show even half of what he did in his life.”

Mohanlal is Neelan, running through his inheritance from his father, a bit of a rowdy and a womanizer, but known for his love for music and the arts.  He has a devoted land manager/servant who is really a father figure to him, and a small group of rowdy friends.  The rowdy friends try to be loyal to him, but end up getting him into touchy situations.

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This film really has it all.  Mohanlal is this macho manly figure, not afraid to leap into a fight, but who has the soul of an artist.  He has a feud with a rival family that is revenge after revenge back and forth.    There’s a fantastic hate-to-love romance with Revathi, a young woman who is ready to start a career in professional classical dance.  (And we have established how much I LOVE the hate-to-love trope.)  Revathi is off the charts amazing as Bhanumathi, daughter of a feckless drunkard father.  She is so arrogant and proud, and she explodes at Mohanlal’s rowdies, who have come to ask her to dance at a temple event Mohanlal is sponsoring and help her fall down drunk father home after they find him in a ditch outside the house.  She assumes they are the ones who got him drunk in the first place, and yells at them to leave her property.

That sets up the whole course of events to follow.  Mohanlal seems to apologize to the father and make peace, but instead tricks them and the performance is to be for him and his friends at his house.  Her first dance performance should have been an auspicious event at a temple, and he treats her like a courtesan.  Her father cannot pay back the performance money, so she must dance.  This scene I have watched over and over and over again.  It is simply amazing.

Revathi’s classical dance performance is full of fire and anger.  The expressions she gives!  I’ve just started taking an Indian dance class, and while I’m no expert judge I think Revathi is an exceptional classical dancer.  The whole dance is a battle of wills.  He winks at the accompanying singer to try to trip her up, then he sends one of his friends to offer alcohol to Revathi’s father in the middle of the dance, and Revathi just glares and shakes her belled foot.  Then at the end Mohanlal motions to a cymbal player and another drummer to increase the tempo faster and faster, but nothing fazes Revathi and she just swirls and pounds her feet like a whirling dervish by the end.  She finishes the dance to acclaim, as she is left pouring with sweat and panting for breath.

The clip above has no subs, but she says to him, “You think you’ve won?”  He replies, “I always win.”

“You are not worth my dancing bells.  You’re an insult to my art.”  And then she takes off her bells from her ankles and throws them at him, vowing to never dance again.

She has cursed him, and suddenly all sorts of horrible things happen to Mohanlal.  Revathi and her family don’t fare much better.  They lose their home, and still she is too proud to take Mohanlal’s servant’s offer for help.  But when she is almost sexually assaulted at the home they are staying in, she finally gives in and they move into Mohanlal’s huge mansion house.

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Mohanlal and Revathi avoid each other, but she can’t help see the depression and changes he undergoes at the death of his mother (and she overhears him rage in the rain one night, learning that he discovered he is a bastard at his mother’s deathbed.)  He tries to get her to dance again, and take up her career, but to her that would be losing and letting him win.  She is so full of pride!

One night he is beaten horribly by his rival and his goons, and he ends up paralyzed on one side.  Mohanlal’s character goes through so much in this film!  Revathi is chastened, and feels that it was her harsh words that did curse him, so she prays at the temple for him to recover.

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The romance grows slowly.  As he reforms, he’s a redeemed rake that doesn’t think he is worthy of Revathi.  He is determined to see her dance again, and to give her the career she should have had.  She retains her pride for a long time, not wanting to “lose” to him again. Once he is nearly bedridden, he begs her, “You said you would only dance again when I was dead.  I’m nearly dead, please let me repent this one sin before I die.”  She dances joyfully for him to give him a moment of happiness, and that’s what starts his recovery.  Both characters are so full of charisma, each with their own deep flaws.  They both need their own redemption, it’s not the usual one-sided story.

The film ends with an absolutely riveting confrontation between Mohanlal and his rival Shekaran.  If he fights back, they will harm Revathi who has been kidnapped.  So Mohanlan takes blow after blow until he sees she is safely rescued.  Then, this man who had been handicapped, comes roaring back like a lion.

I don’t know which actor I loved more.  Revathi was such a little spitfire in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Mouna Ragam.  But here, she was even better, plus she got to show off her classical dance training.  Mohanlal is the heart and soul of the whole film.  It is his master performance.  The supporting characters are particularly good, too, especially Innocent as Mohanlal’s father figure servant and Nedumudi Venu as Appu, Revathi’s (Bhanumati’s) father.  Napoleon, who plays Shekaran, is quite the villain — with a notable scene pinning down the paralyzed Mohanlal on the floor with his foot — “Get well so I can cut you into pieces next time!”

I’m so glad I bought this one on DVD so I could watch it with subtitles.  This is a movie I’ve already rewatched multiple times, and just that dance sequence alone many times.  Each time, I see something I didn’t see before.

This is justifiably a true classic, not just of Malayalam film, but of all Indian cinema.

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The whole film is available on Youtube, but without subs (but you can overlay a subtitle file through a Chrome extension.)

There’s also a great discussion of the film on Don’t Call It Bollywood.