The Mohanlal starrer Odiyan is rumoured to be the most expensive film ever produced in Malayalam cinema. Odiyan reportedly cost Rs 50 crore, and will be released on December 14 in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.

The period fantasy thriller, written by Harikrishnan (Kutty Srank), explores odividya, a black magic practice, and the myths and folklore surrounding its shapeshifting adherents, who are called odiyans. Mohanlal, popularly known as Lalettan among Malayalam audiences, plays Manickyan, the last living odiyan in the world. The visual effects-heavy production counts Manju Warrier and Prakash Raj in the cast, and marks the directorial debut of advertising filmmaker VA Shrikumar Menon.

Menon started out wanting to be a chartered accountant. A friend suggested starting an advertising agency, and Menon, who wanted to marry his college sweetheart, agreed. That was in 1993. A couple of months into the business, Menon found himself in debt when a client didn’t pay up. He started all over again and is now the owner of the advertising and public relations company Push PR. “Films was the natural next step,” 54-year-old Menon told Scroll.in.

You have worked in advertising for more than two decades. Why films and why now?
I’ve been an ad man for over 20 years now. I’ve worked with stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Nagarjuna and Sushmita Sen. It was time for me to take the creative step to the next level, move on to a bigger canvas. Films was the natural next step.

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Odiyan (2018).

What exactly is odividya?
There are folktales in the Malabar region of Kerala, especially Palakkad, which is where I’m from. It’s not just a myth. There were odiyans in the early days when there was no electricity. An odiyan is someone who can technically be called a hit man. He could be used to scare someone at night, wearing something creepy like a black coat. In Malayalam, we call it “odi veykukka”. There was a community of odiyans, but it was wiped out over time.

So the film is based on what happened to the odiyan community?
The story is completely fictional. It’s more like the legend of the last odiyan. The story is about how Mohanlal’s character, the last remaining odiyan, defies light.

I teamed up with National Film Award-winning scenarist Harikrishnan for the film. Mohanlal’s character is based on stories that our grandmothers used to tell us about odiyans. You could say it’s a superhero film, since Manickyan has great athletic powers.

‘Odiyan’ is also about shapeshifters.
Legend has it that an odiyan could transform into an animal, most often a buffalo or an ox. It could have the body of a human and the limbs of an animal. It’s exciting, this transformation, from beast to man and vice versa. This is the most visual effects-backed Malayalam film ever. The climax is one to watch out for. It was shot at Ajay Devgn’s special effects studio.

Mohanlal in Odiyan. Courtesy Aashirvad Cinemas.
Mohanlal in Odiyan. Courtesy Aashirvad Cinemas.

Why did you choose Mohanlal to play the lead?
Lalettan is the only actor who can play this kind of role. His character goes through a lot of emotional turmoil. As an odiyan, he is emotionally vulnerable, yet an athlete. He has superb action sequences. Peter Hein, the action choreographer, is responsible for these.

We see Mohanlal’s character when he is 30 and also when he is 65 years old. Then, of course, there are Manju Warrier and Prakash Raj in the film. We last saw Mohanlal and Prakash Raj together nearly 20 years ago in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar.

Mohanlal has undergone a remarkable physical transformation for the role.
Lalettan had to lose a lot of weight for the role of the younger odiyan. So we shot the film in reverse. We filmed his scenes as the older odiyan first. He went through a properly monitored weight loss programme. We brought in trainers from France, who work with elite athletes. There was also a strict diet regime and skin tightening plan. In Odiyan, people will see the Mohanlal they saw and loved in the films he did 20-30 years ago.

We also researched how a man could run like an animal. Since Mohanlal is very flexible, he could do this easily.

It’s not often that a director gets to make his debut with Mohanlal, and on such a large scale.
It’s the credibility factor, and also the experience factor. I’ve already made big-budget ad films with big stars, so that worked in my favour.

VA Shrikumar Menon.
VA Shrikumar Menon.