The reported 32 crores of rupees are right there in front of you - both in the technical departments and in the vision. Yet, Yuganiki Okkadu is a difficult film to sit through. Not because it is an idea that the makers couldn't handle, but because the idea itself wasn't fleshed out in a palatable direction.
One problem with Yuganiki Okkadu is the tendency to focus on the novel and turn it into the bizarre. The casualty of the endeavour thus turns out to be the soul of the movie - of a story that might well have been thrilling right till the end.
It's a different matter that the Cholas won't be mighty flattered with having the name of their dynasty be an umbrella term for a semi-civilized tribe hidden in the netherworlds of Vietnam after fleeing Tamil Nadu. Or that there are no explanations - not scientific, but at least, the folk myths - for several things that happen in the film.
In the 12th century, the Cholas, defeated by the Pandyas, fled to a place in present-day Vietnam, and were not heard of since. A government-backed exploration team sets out to find out about the lost 'civilization'. The team is a mixture of army men and unsuspecting coolies, and the latter were literally cheated into this expedition.
An archaeologist who had earlier gone to explore the mystery never returned. His daughter (Andrea Jeremiah) is part of the present team, led by Anitha (Reema Sen). The way forward is fraught with dangers - both of the natural kind as well as of the supernatural kind. So deadly luminous sea creatures and violently hissing snake legions compete with mysteriously disappearing quicksand pits in finishing off half the contingent. The rest of the story is all about how they confront the long-lost people.
Yuganiki Okkadu is a compelling watch in the first half, simply because of the fresh treatment. The Hollywood-style hunt excites you, and the exotic perils and the mosquitoes feel real. Characters start to develop while steering clear of stereotypes. Most important of all, there's the intrigue of what lies ahead. Given what you studied about these those powerhouse dynasties they keep mentioning, you expect drama, costumes, royalty. Maybe not reality, but elegant grandeur.
And all you get is a freak show.
The second half is mostly a blaze of violence and savagery - in a display that can only be called vulgar. An ancient tribe and its issues are juxtaposed with a plot of deceit and betrayal, and an alarmingly graphic celebration of death and destruction is both the means and the end to that part of the story.
Karthi, as an uncouth coolie in the expedition has a reasonably well-etched out character, and he's the most expressive in the cast. Reema Sen looks good but has no real scope for acting here. Andrea Jeremiah has a marginally better deal. A lot of the cast is alien to the Telugu audiences.
Visually, the work shows. The larger-than-life special effects are fascinating, helped along with a riveting soundtrack. The songs shot in music-video-style are innovative, though songs don't really fit well into a story like this.
Yuganiki Okkadu can be visited by those strictly on the hunt for novelty, but for the rest, we doubt you will find this a forceful proposition.