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.