The camera follows Jayaraman (Mohanlal), panning his walk in slow motion, as he passes the dead body, and then, in the crowd, you see the killer’s visage, a child in his arms, a lady next to him. You do a double take, but Jayaraman passes him by, even though he’s had a deadly scuffle with the killer in an apartment after discovering the dead body. And then, he senses something and retraces his step back, even as the killer turns away. And it’s the interval calling card that allows you to breathe easy.
Director Priyadarshan fills Oppam (Together) with many such delectably tightly wound scenes, and it is these masterfully orchestrated sequences that make this enterprise such a worthwhile watch. Writing the screenplay himself, based on a story by Govind Vijayan, Oppam travels into the lair of suspense and much to your relief, returns unscathed and shining in cinematic mini-glory, even. For, one of the toughest acts to create and execute is the genre of the nail-biter. If there’s a killer twist (pun intended), say, as in Rajiv Rai’s 90s saving grace, Gupt, or the end-of-the-60s Ittefaq, you purr in contentment. But it is the suspense genre that can make you shiver in anticipation or release ho-hum melatonin, depending on how the whole script and movie progresses.
To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, the master in his genre, if a bomb goes off suddenly, you and the hero share the heart-thumping, albeit, transient shock. If, on the other hand, you know that there’s a bomb about to go off, but the hero doesn’t, you’re on the edge-of-the-seat, and that’s suspense. There’s no bomb in Oppam, and certainly there’s no chance of melatonin doing its work here. And that in itself is an achievement. And director Priyan (as he’s fondly called) hooks you into Jayaraman’s story, he a blind lift operator in a swanky apartment complex in Kochi. Jayaraman’s crushed by debt and his sister’s impending marriage, and has to come up with money to ensure the proceedings go on smoothly. Because of his earlier training and practice, he’s gotten an enhanced functioning of his senses, plus, as you and others discover later, he’s capable of some mean action moves as well.
In the apartment itself, Priyan weaves some complex stories that also might have a connection to some newspaper headlines, causing the now-to-be-transferred cop Ganga (Anusree Nair) to investigate the news stories. There’s also retired judge Krishnamoorthy (Nedumudi Venu) – who takes Jayaraman on some mysterious trips – and his maid Devayani (Vimala Raman); the riotous pair of the Muslim-name-rattling security guard Kunju “Kunjikka” Mohammad (Mamukkoya) and Veeran (Hareesh Perumanna); a love story in the apartment between two youngsters – played by Devshi Khanduri and Arjun Nandhakumar – and during whose wedding in the complex that the murder takes place; two seemingly unoccupied apartments where the lights mysteriously go on; and then, as the cops get involved there’s a marvelous lineup of actors – Renji Panicker, Pradeep Chandran, and Chemban Vinod Jose; there’s also the judge’s daughter from an illegitimate affair, Nandini (Baby Meenakshi) who he’s protecting from some lethal, mysterious force; an autorickshaw driver, “Mala” Babu (Aju Varghese) who plays a pivotal role in a blood-bathed scene chillingly filmed in an under-renovation school; and of course, the lethal weapon and killer, Vasudevan (Vasu), played with clinical menace and precision by the superb Samuthirakani – who was also absolutely brilliant in the hard-hitting, marrow-rattling Visaaranai.
And there’s no spoiler in knowing who the killer is, for that is the suspense and beauty of this project. The director plots a superb and masterful cat-and-mouse game between Jayaraman and Vasu, where each character tries and stays one step ahead of each other, but it is the former who’s fearful, as you are, knowing that if Vasu catches up, it’s curtains. And in that sense, there’s quite some pairs in Oppam who’re together, for good or worse. The aforementioned pair, each circling each other in a tense circle-of-survival; Jayaraman and Nandini holding on to each other for support and love; director Priyan and cinematographer N. K. Ekambaram crafting a clammy, insidious atmosphere that claws insistently on your nail-biting instincts. The lighting and camera angles are inertly clever and sharp; the well-lit, bustling street that houses the grocery store that in turn houses the public phone that becomes another prop for the hide-and-seek game; the police torture scenes bathed in alternating orange and dark shades of violence; or, the climax on the rooftop, awash with darkness, occasionally lit by the Diwali fireworks that explode in the sky, lighting up critical paths in the final face-off, their exploding sound a distant echo of the terror that’s playing on the terrace.
In addition, the action scenes are a plus, believably choreographed and filmed, with just the right amount box-office pizazz and spunk, yet completely life-like. The songs, composed and orchestrated by 4 Musics – may seem anachronistic in their on-paper description – but aren’t – are absolutely tops, seeped in melody and simplicity, yet very, very effective. Chinnamma Adi is a beauty, with traditional instrumentation and a flow that’s as soothing as the backwaters; or, the childlike innocence of melody in Minungum Minnaminuge that’s bound to warm your heart – and where M.G. Sreekumar sounds so much – and in a nice way – like the melodic shadow of Yesudas. The background score by Ron Ethan Yohaan could have used some subtlety, but fortunately isn’t jarring.
Oppam is also, finally, a celebration of the together director Priyan and actor Mohanlal. In this pairing is also where the movie is at its triumphant best. Mohanlal shows why he’s easily one of the best ever actors across film industries, globally. Sans the typical rapid-blinking-and-hands-out role playing one is used to seeing in movies, he embodies his sightlessness with an unerring actor’s vision that’s as perfect as it is unnerving. In every scene, he’s masterful without flexing his undeniable craft. For, who else could make such an apartment and its complex challenges seem like child’s play, all the while actually making you wince at the thought of the bomb that’s never there for it to ever go off?
Oppam is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition).
Director Priyadarshan Running Time 2h 37 min
Stars Mohanlal, Samuthirakani, Nedumudi Venu, Baby Meenakshi, Vimala Raman
Genres Crime, Drama, Thriller
Watch the trailer of Oppam here: