Ohm Shanthi Oshaana

Ohm Shanthi Oshaana

Ohm Shanthi Oshaana is a rather sweet love story that follows the exploits of tomboy Pooja (Nazriya Nazim) as she searches for a suitable groom to marry. The entire romance is told from a female viewpoint but with many of the usual Southern Indian romance tropes, so it’s Pooja who stalks potential grooms (literally!) and also makes the first moves. It’s not just about the romance either. Pooja also has career ambitions and plans for her future, making the film refreshingly different while still retaining all the charm needed for a successful love story.

The film starts with Dr Mathew Devasya (Renji Panicker) anxiously waiting the birth of his child at the hospital. After being initially misinformed that the child was a boy, he nonetheless is happy to learn that he has a daughter and the opening credits show Pooja growing up through a series of photographs. She narrates her own story, and perhaps there is some influence from the midwife’s mistake since, with hobbies including archery and riding a motorbike, Pooja is definitely a bit of a tomboy. Nazriya Nazim gets the balance just right here as she blends enough femininity in with her non-conformist and feminist attitude to ensure that Pooja appears to be a normal, well-adjusted teenager. Her two school friends, Neetu (Akshaya Premnath) and Donna (Oshein Mertil) both have their own personality quirks and these relationships are used to add more depth and colour to Pooja’s character. Another important relationship in Pooja’s life is with Rachel Aunty (Vinaya Prasad), a winemaker who dispenses worldly wisdom along with samples of her art.

After attending her cousin Julie (Poojitha Menon) arranged marriage to a balding suitor from the USA, Pooja decides that an arranged marriage is not for her, and instead she will choose her own husband. Immediately putting her idea into practice, she looks for the best possible option at her school – and she thinks she’s found the ideal choice in Yardley (Hari Krishnan), a popular boy who also seems interested in her. But before any match can be finalised, Pooja meets Giri (Nivin Pauly) and she instantly realises that this is the man for her.

There are however a few potential problems. To start with, there is a significant age difference as Giri is 7 years older than Pooja. Secondly, there is the problem of status since Giri is a farmer while Pooja’s father is a doctor. Finally, and most problematic of all, Giri was apparently left heart-broken after being jilted by Pooja’s cousin Julie, creating a potential reluctance to be further involved with Pooja’s family. However, Pooja isn’t one to shy from a challenge and after finding out that Giri seems to like more conventional girls, she learns how to cook, changes her casual clothes for saris and takes an interest in current affairs. But it’s all to no avail as finally Giri rejects her on Palm Sunday (the Oshaana of the title) and tells her to go and concentrate on her studies.

Being a sensible girl, Pooja does just that. She heads off to medical school and the film catches up with her in her 4th year when she is working as a medical resident. Actually working too – she’s shown carrying out ward rounds and dealing with patients, rather than the usual shots of the heroine simply looking studious in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck. She’s still friends with Neetu and becomes friendly with one of her tutors, Dr Prasad Varkey (Vineeth Srinivasan), who could be another potential life partner if Pooja could just forget about Giri. But just when this seems to be a real possibility, Giri comes back into Pooja’s life when his mother ends up in the hospital where Pooja is working.

What I really like about this film is that Pooja is a regular, normal teenager with the usual issues with school, her parents and typical teenager mood swings. Although she is portrayed as a tomboy, she can still be girly when she wants to be and rather than going for the more usual crazy airhead or too-good-to-be-true heroine, writers Midhun Manuel Thomas and Jude Anthany Joseph have kept her as a down-to-earth and believable character. Also well done is the change when she attends college. This isn’t shown as a type of ‘make-over’ where Pooja suddenly becomes glamorous or more feminine, but instead  is a genuine coming of age as all Pooja’s beliefs and mannerisms are retained but just with a more mature perspective. The only reason she dons a sari for instance, is to try and impress Giri’s mother. It’s all part of her campaign, and she doesn’t try to sugarcoat or hide her intentions in any way.

Nazriya Nazim is excellent here and suits the role perfectly, keeping her portrayal of Pooja quirky and sassy but without ever veering into annoyingly manic. She’s good as both an obsessed teenager and as a more self-assured medical student, but also impresses with her comedy, particularly in the scenes with her cousin David Kaanjani (Aju Varghese).  I liked her in Bangalore Days and I think she is even better here in a role that gives her plenty of opportunity to show a range of different emotions.

Nivin Pauly has the unusual position (for a hero) of not having much to do in a romance where he also has little say in the proceedings. He only appears as Pooja’s love interest and apart from appearing in her fantasies, periodically appears working in the fields or driving around the local area. Overall, Giri seems too good to be true, but as the character is only seen through Pooja’s eyes, this perhaps isn’t surprising – after all, she considers Giri to be perfect husband material. The few interactions he has with Pooja are characterised by his lack of dialogue, since Pooja usually has plenty to say for both of them, but despite these limitations there is still good development of their relationship as time passes. The romance is completely one-sided, but still very relatable as Pooja pines from afar for someone who seems unattainable despite all her best efforts.

Jude Anthony Joseph has crafted an enjoyable love story with a novel approach and memorable characters. The mix of romance and comedy works well, and there are  plenty of snappy dialogues that complement the engaging storyline. Some of the ideas are a little strange, for example Giri’s passion for Kung fu, Rachel’s winemaking and Dr Matthew’s attempts to manufacture a new drug, but they fit into the overall unconventional nature of the story and Giri’s Kung fu does at least provide a reason for his disappearance. While the idea is simple, the execution is detailed and with good performances, a beautiful soundtrack and clever dialogue Ohm Shanthi Oshaana is well worth a watch. 4 stars.

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Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days

Bangalore Days is a gem of a film, written and directed by Anjali Menon, who was also responsible for the excellent Ustad Hotel. The film follows the lives of three cousins after they each move to Bangalore for different reasons and despite the almost three hour run time, it’s a completely absorbing watch. The young actors are the highlight, but the plot for each is perfectly developed and fits neatly into the overall story, so that there is a ‘fly on the wall’ feeling of watching real lives unfold. Even the slightly clichéd drama that forms the final climax is compelling, although the ending is never really in any doubt. Beautifully developed characterisations, a clever storyline and gorgeous cinematography all add up to make Bangalore Days a must watch film.

The three cousins, Krishnan PP aka Kuttan (Nivin Pauly), Divya (Nazriya Nazim and Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan) have been friends since they were children when they spent their summers together in the family’s ancestral home. Divya is a good student who has dreams of completing an MBA while Kuttan achieves his desire of escaping rural Kerala when he lands a job as a software engineer in Bangalore. Meanwhile Arjun seems content to drift, working at night as a graffiti artist and using his mechanical skills to work on motorbikes. As the film unfolds, more of Arjun’s past comes to light, including his unhappy childhood following his parents’ divorce. All of this has made him something of a rebel and disinclined to settle in any one spot or profession.

Divya’s parents decide to get her married quickly to counteract an inauspicious horoscope, firmly ending her dreams of study although the prospect of moving to Bangalore after the marriage is an enticing incentive. But things don’t appear too favourable when the prospective groom Das (Farhadh Faasil), reveals he was in a previous serious relationship and isn’t sure if he is over it. Divya’s main reason for going ahead seems to be the family dog’s acceptance of Das, and to be fair, I can completely understand her reasoning. Surely anyone who is a dog-lover cannot be a bad person? Throughout the film Anjali Menon small touches like this to successfully develop the characters and illustrate small traits that become important later. It’s simply done, but very effective and adds to the realistic feel of the characters.

The songs by Gopi Sundar are another highlight and this one sums up the different personalities and the relationship between the cousins perfectly.

Needless to say when Divya moves to Bangalore  with her new husband the situation does not improve and it’s not long before she is bored and resentful. Luckily Arjun has also moved to Bangalore to complete the confluence of cousins and is working for a Motocross bike team. With her husband’s indifference as motivation, Divya spends her days and nights out with Arjun and Kuttan, further increasing the distance between her and Das.

At the same time Kuttan has found what may be the love of his life in the form of air hostess Meenakshi (Isha Talwar). Although it’s completely baffling as to why she would be interested in the conservative Kuttan, she quickly takes him in hand, giving him a total make-over in the process. As to be expected, it doesn’t end well, but there is some lovely comedy and genuine warmth in the relationship which allows Kuttan to explore his less conservative side. Arjun is also in love, first of all with the voice of RJ Sarah (Paravathy Menon) and her positivity, but this quickly develops further once he sees her in person. There is a lovely moment where, after Sarah accuses Arjun of following her, which to be accurate is exactly what he has been doing, he eventually responds that rather than following, he would like to walk with her. It’s very sweet and the relationship between Arjun and Sarah develops into a full scale romance with plenty of sparkage between the characters.

What makes the film work so well is the excellent casting and the outstanding performances from all the actors. Nazriya Nazim is perfect in her role and even more impressive here than she was in Raja Rani. Her reactions and emotions are perfectly nuanced and her easy camaraderie with her cousins is well portrayed. Farhadh Faasil is also excellent as her distant husband with an unresolved past and his emotional delivery as his character gradually thaws is superb. Perhaps because the two actors are partners in real life, the depiction of their marriage is also very well done and the relationship is completely believable throughout.

Even better though is Dulquer Salmaan who gets his portrayal of a rather bitter but still compassionate man spot on. His relationship with his cousins is perfectly casual with plenty of chemistry that really makes them seem like a family. His expressions and body language speak more than the dialogue when he is with Sarah and he makes Arjun a more sympathetic character than I expected given his opening montage.  Dulquer’s character is well written but his performance takes it to the next level and I think this is the best I have seen him so far. Nivin Pauly has a more difficult job since Kuttan is self-restrained, almost staid and nowhere near as exciting as Arjun. However he still does a fantastic job with the character, particularly in the interactions with his father (Vijayaraghavan) and mother (Kalpana), both of whom are also excellent and perfectly cast. There are many levels to his character and to his relationship with both his cousins and the rest of his family that I don’t think I fully appreciated on my first watch, but become more apparent on repeated viewing. Kuttan’s character provides most of the comedy, but his serious nature is a perfect foil to the more impulsive Divya and rebelliousness of Arjun.

Although the film focuses on relationships, family, community and the three love stories, there is plenty more happening in the background. The film interposes the traditional values of rural India with the reality of modern city life, starting with the idea that community is lost in the city. However the complexities of this idea are further developed as Divya makes her own community wherever she goes, while Das carries his loneliness around with him as a shield. All the characters are looking for their own form of escape, some more literally than others, and all have personal challenges to overcome before reaching their goal. Anjali Menon develops the narrative through the different personalities and their attitudes, allowing the characters themselves to become the story and relegating the action to second place for much of the film.  It works beautifully well and it’s refreshing to have a film about marriage and relationships that is ultimately so optimistic and hopeful. Bangalore Days is an easy film to enjoy and I thoroughly recommend it as a modern tale of relationships. 4 ½ stars.

Raja Rani (2013)

Raja Rani

I didn’t manage to see this in the cinema in Melbourne, but did manage to get a DVD copy with English subtitles.  Rather strangely it was also the only film they had on the bus in Tamil Nadu this year and I ended up watching the opening scenes over 10 times on the way to various villages in TN.  This added exposure gave me enough time to appreciate just how outlandish Nayanthara’s make-up looks, and just how uncomfortable Arya appears in his suit at the opening wedding which is a good precursor to how their relationship develops. In fact, the lead couple are rather uninspiring throughout this film – at least when paired with each other – but thankfully co-stars Jai, Santhanam and Nazriya Nazim are more appealing and their presence does make Raja Rani worth a one-time watch.

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The story starts with the arranged marriage of Regina (Nayanthara) and John (Arya) who are going through the matrimonial motions for the sake of their respective families.  Or so we are told.  Except as the film progresses this wedding seems to make less and less sense.  The couple obviously dislike each other and I cannot see why Regina’s relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan father would agree to marry her to someone like John.  He seems to have neither the requisite high flying job nor appropriate family background for such a match.  However, as completely random as it seems, and despite the lack of any reasonable explanation the wedding goes ahead even with the bride forgetting her prospective partner’s name and both parties complete lack of enthusiasm throughout the ceremony.

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It’s a match that seems doomed to end in divorce.  John spends his days at work and his nights drinking with his friends before returning home, usually to a locked door.  Regina hogs the bathroom, sobs into her pillow at night and generally ignores her husband as much as she can.  It all feels very unrealistic and overly dramatic – after all there is a large couch in the other room where Regina could sleep if she wanted, and surely John could organise a key to their apartment rather than sleep on the doorstep?  All the OTT drama makes it difficult to care about either John or Regina since they are equally obnoxious to each other, and I really had little interest in their relationship.  That’s not to say that Arya and Nayanthara are particularly terrible, but all Arya has to do in the first half hour is pretend to be drunk while Nayanthara doesn’t stop crying or complaining long enough to do anything remotely interesting either.

Thankfully there is relief in sight, but until we get there Santhanam lightens the atmosphere and is mildly amusing as John’s best friend Sarathy.

Finally there is an incident which prompts John to find out a little more about his wife.  There is some very dodgy medicine on display as Regina has an epileptic fit while her husband seems totally incapable of any sensible reaction, although he does eventually manage to call an ambulance.  Needless to say, despite all the thrashing around and foaming at the mouth (sigh – when will Tamil cinema consult a doctor for some plausible medical problems?) Regina manages to come through the whole episode with her make-up and eyelashes intact. That’s a relief!

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However, after being berated by her doctor for not knowing anything about his wife’s condition, John does discover the reason behind her ‘illness’.  Lost love – of course!

The film gets much better when we head to a flash-back to Regina’s first love, although to be fair this doesn’t have the best of beginnings either.  Jai is excellent as love interest Surya, an incompetent call centre employee, and finally there are some real emotions and reasons to empathise with one of the characters.  Regina is as obnoxious as before, but the role of spoilt rich brat suits her better when she’s a student and she does seem to be more tongue in cheek with her tantrums.  Sathyan makes an appearance as Surya’s friend Iyappan and his comedy shtick complements Jai’s weedy persona well enough to make a reasonably funny duo. Although the romance is typically filmy there is some chemistry between the two actors and while we can see the unhappy ending coming, Regina never does and is devastated by losing her first love.

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It turns out that John has his own sob story, and although it’s another predictable run of the mill tale, again it’s a more believable romance with good chemistry between the actors.  In particular Nazriya Nazim is scintillating as Keerthana and she is the best thing about the whole film.  She has an excellent introduction and her cheeky impishness lights up the screen whenever she appears.  She has much more personality and is much livelier than in Naiyaandi, which just goes to show the difference between a well written character and one that basically isn’t!

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Arya is also transformed into a younger, fitter John who is more personable and likeable, and again there is some reasonable chemistry between him and Keerthana.  It’s not all good though – Santhanam suffers under the burden of some terribly bad hair which seems to make him more pathetic and less amusing than in the first half, but it works out for the best as Nazriya has the comedy covered too.

The main problem I have with Raja Rani is that the relationship between John and Regina never generates any appeal or gives an opportunity to feel sympathetic towards the characters.  There are some interesting issues brought up  here but they are dealt with in a shallow and filmi way which results in a lack of connection between the characters and the audience.  There is no apparent reason for the couple’s actions towards each other, considering that they don’t appear to have met before the wedding, and it seems strange that they would behave so badly to each other right from the start.  The concept of an arranged marriage between two people who have both lost their first love has potential but Atlee wastes it by playing the relationship for laughs and never giving his characters a chance to behave like rational adults.  I found it incredibly frustrating to watch  Arya and Nayanthara appear so wooden and lifeless for most of their on-screen time together, when the difference was so obvious when Arya was partnered with Nazriya and Nayanthara with Jai.  A little more time spent on developing the relationship between Regina and John at the beginning along with a more adult treatment of their problems would have made this a more entertaining watch.  However I did enjoy seeing a better performance from Nazriya and I liked the idea behind the film, even if the execution didn’t quite live up to expectations.  3 ½ stars.Raja Rani