Okkadu Migiladu, which loosely translates to ‘the lone survivor,’ is a war cry where the protagonist Surya, played by Manchu Manoj, urges the audiences to think about what freedom means and why is it that we are erecting barriers in the name of religion, region and country among many other things.
In the film, Surya is a Sri Lankan refugee, whose family flees their nation in the midst of the civil war. However, it does not take him too long to realise that no matter where he lives, he might not be part of any nation, and that he will always be treated as an outcast. For a film which has such a well-intended message, it is hidden in a maze.
In one particular scene, Manchu Manoj asks “Manaku Desham anedhe ledha? Memu Manishulam Kaadha? (Don’t we have a nation of our own? Aren’t we human beings?).” What could have been an extremely poignant sequence turns into a melodramatic sermon which makes you wonder why everyone in the film is hell bent on waging a war on the audience. And it all boils down to what Ajay Andrews, who directed the film and also played a key role named Victor.
Throughout the film, he addresses multiple issues and the film deals with three different themes. This makes the audience unsure of what to focus on. Are we supposed to empathise with Surya’s fight for justice in his university? Are we supposed to feel the pain of refugees living in a foreign land? Are we supposed to be angry with the Sri Lankan army for all their atrocities on Tamilians during the civil war? Whose side are we supposed to take? Are we supposed to root for the survival of refugees who are running out of time in the middle of the sea?
None of this is complicated, and for almost three decades, we have read about (or come across) such incidents. The problem with the film is that it takes a simple but profound question — Where do we belong? — and extrapolates to so many other issues that watching the film feels like you are playing Pinball. It is all over the place. Perhaps, the only question which feels relevant here is — “Why did Victor cross the sea?.” Because he wanted to survive. End of the story. But subtlety is shot dead right in the opening frame of the film and everyone hams it up so much that the war cry of the film turns into a sound of a million crickets stridulating in the middle of the night. It’s beyond painful.
Okkadu Migiladu, however, does prove three things about Manchu Manoj — 1) He can cry 2) He can emote while crying 3) He can even emote what it might feel like if he is stabbed with a knife. That is all you need to know. Everything else is just bonus and he just keeps shooting one monologue after another. It is not Surya whom you see in this movie. It is Manchu Manoj. And the kind of emotion he brings to his character is, for the lack of a better word, exhausting. I can only imagine what he must have felt like while performing the scene. Phew!
Then, there is Ajay Andrews himself who plays the most important character in the story — Victor. He is the bridge between the past and the present, and he does a fine job to portray all the intensity that is intrinsic to his role. While the actor in him has a looming presence throughout the film; as a director, he pays a huge price in the end. The finesse in his thoughts to wake us all up from our slumber to realise that we are better together, does not translate to either his writing or direction. Everything about the film looks amateurish, especially in terms of its production design, editing, cinematography.
And let us not even talk about its ‘novelty’ factor. If a filmmaker chooses not to have ‘songs’ or ‘comedy’ in the film and retain a serious tone, it has to result in something exciting in terms of the narrative. On the contrary, at a runtime of close to 140 minutes, Okkadu Migiladu feels laboriously long — as long as rowing a boat for 14 days out in the sea. By the end, I felt like a Lone Survivor myself. This is a painful film, both for the characters in the story and also those who watch it. Two big thumbs down.