Oh My Friend

Chandu and Siri have been ‘Best Friends Forever’ since meeting in primary school and Oh My Friend deals with the way their close friendship impacts on other relationships in their lives. While the film seems to follow a fairly predictable path, it’s still entertaining with excellent performances by the two leads.  Siddharth and Shruti Haasan make an attractive couple and bring plenty of energy to the screen. It’s the debut film for director Venu Sriram and while he’s played it safe with the story, the songs are excellent and the whole film looks beautiful.  Another bonus is only one very small comedy track involving Ali by himself, with no other irritating comedy uncles in sight.

Chandu is a wannabe rock star and both his mother and Siri provide him with plenty of encouragement. His father on the other hand isn’t so sure about the whole idea and disapproves of his son’s career choice. Perhaps his displeasure isn’t too surprising as Chandu doesn’t seem to take his chosen profession very seriously, despite walking around everywhere with his guitar slung over his shoulder. Even when he does get a gig with a band to perform in a competition in Kerala, after the competition is over they seem to go their separate ways.

The whole disapproving father story works its way to the inevitable conclusion without really impacting on the rest of the story and as a result doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the plot. Tanikella Bharani does his usual dad thing very competently although I did keep getting distracted by his glasses which looked to be constantly sliding down his nose.

Siri appears to be a classical dance teacher although at one point there was a proposed trip for her to Chennai to study, so perhaps she had more plans than I was able to understand. More importantly though, I think this is the first time I have seen a heroine who plays a dance instructor in a movie who can actually dance!  Shruti has some great moves, and gets the chance to show them off in a couple of songs with Siddharth. The choreographer must have been delighted to have a heroine able to keep up and the songs are the high points of the film. Not just due to the dancing either. The music is catchy and well suited to the plot and it helps that both Siddharth and Shruti sing a couple of the songs which makes them sound very natural.

When Chandu meets and falls in love with Reetu (Hansika Motwani) he forgets Siri in his obsession with his new girlfriend. I like this part of the story as I think everyone has probably had a friend exactly like this who vanished when they started a new relationship. Siri is left alone to do all the things she used to do with her BFF and unsurprisingly feels abandoned since she doesn’t seem to have any other friends. However, she doesn’t mope around too long, but gets on with her life and becomes engaged to Uday (Navdeep), an NRI living in the USA. Uday turns up unexpectedly in Hyderabad just as Chandu realises that he cannot live without his BFF and moves back into Siri’s life as if he never left. There is crackling chemistry between Chandu and Siri so it’s not surprising that no one, not even their parents, believes that the two are just good friends. This misconception leads to problems with the couple’s respective partners who understandably feel shut out of the close relationship Chandu and Siri share and everyone has to deal with the consequences.

Hanskia is relatively inoffensive here as Reetu whose only real characteristic is that she is unable to make a decision. I think there is some explanation for it in the dialogue, but I really didn’t care since there wasn’t enough development of her character to make her more than just ‘the other woman’. For most of the film Reetu either looks at Chandu as if she’s starving and he’s a bar of chocolate, or as if he’s just taken her last chocolate away – not really too taxing. Venu Sriram wisely doesn’t allow Hansika to dance at all, except in one comedy scene which works out well. Ali pops up in Kerala as a guide but his time on-screen is short and his initial appearance is quite amusing so I didn’t mind this rather truncated comedy track. Navdeep plays the very one-dimensional character of Uday as well as he can with such limited material to work with. He has little opportunity to do much more than glower every time he sees Siri and Chandu together and it’s not until near the end that Uday has a little more personality to display.

Neither Uday and Siri nor Chandu and Reetu have any chemistry together, and their scenes lack any of the spark and excitement that characterises those between Chandu and Siri. A little more investment in the characters of Reetu and Uday would help to make them more appealing and make their relationships more interesting. Since this isn’t the case, the film belongs to Siddharth and Shruti and they do make a great couple. This is the third film I’ve seen with Shruti Haasan and it’s definitely her best performance so far. She has plenty of vivacity and Siri is a likeable character, although her behaviour in Kerala is a little overdone.  Siddharth is charming and while his role is one he has played many times before, he does play the loveable scamp character well. The styling is good for all the characters too and I like that Siddharth wore his T-shirts more than once giving the idea of a somewhat struggling musician a little more credibility.

The end is rather disappointing with some long drawn out speeches which didn’t have much impact, but otherwise Oh My Friend is an entertaining if not very demanding film. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to and it does have plenty of good moments. Worth a watch for the songs by Rahul Raj, good cinematography by Vijay K. Chakravathy and excellent performances from Shruti and Siddharth.

Aidondla Aidu

Aidu Onda Aidu (Five times one is five) is a Kannada film by the director V K Prakash. Known mainly for his Malayalam films this is his first venture into the Kannada language and is being shown in Australia and New Zealand  as part of the Indian Film Festival . The film is based on extracts from 18 Natakangal, a collection of plays by award winning Malayalam author and playwright Jayaprakash Kuloor. There are four short stories in the narrative linked together by the fifth tale of a director trying to make the stories into a film. While the individual stories are all very well told and beautifully shot, the linking narrative is less compelling and as a result the film doesn’t quite make a complete whole.

The film starts with the story of Kantha who is trying to make the film of his dreams.  He takes a year’s unpaid leave of absence from his job and seems to be relying on his unrestrained enthusiasm and the support of his wife.  I think that the actor playing the role of his boss is actually Jayaprakash Kuloor himself, but I’m not familiar with most of these actors so please excuse me if I’m wrong here. As Kantha tries to sell his story he runs into every possible difficulty with the various producers he meets.  People like his story, but it needs more action, more gimmicks, more everything and of course this starts to take a toll on his enthusiasm.  In the course of his struggles we see the four stories he is trying to film. 

All the tales revolve around the relationships between a husband and wife and although each explores different facets of the marital relationship, at their core they involve communication and the consequences of misconception. 

The first story is a charming tale of a new bride and groom which has plenty of humour.  This is told with a very light touch and the two actors appear fresh and natural in their roles.  This song is one of my favourites in the film as Gowri is making yet more payasa for her husband Lokesh.

The next story is a simple tale about the effect of a mirror on a poor couple who have never seen their reflections before. While it’s perhaps hard to believe in their naivety, the story is more of a parable about the effects of jealousy on a relationship. Again the story is told with plenty of light comedy and the song by the pedlar who gives them the mirror is excellent.

The third story is quite different, although it still has at its core the relationship of a husband and wife. This time the tale is much more realistic with less humour and as a result breaks into the almost magical atmosphere created by the other two. The final story goes back into more of a fairy tale like tone and focuses on the rekindling of a relationship during the rainy season. This allows the film to end on an optimistic note, albeit a somewhat soggy one.

These four stories within the main narrative succeed in different ways and the use of a number of directors of photography and editors helps to give each a distinctive feel. The songs in particular are nicely integrated into each and work very well. There is a lot of comedy in the stories although this is very gentle and grows out of the various relationships depicted. I have to admit I don’t know many of the actors here but I was impressed with the performances and thought they all fit their resprective roles well.

The linking story is kept brief and somewhat pedestrian which is perhaps why it doesn’t grab my attention in the same way as the other four tales. There is little exploration of why the director feels compelled to tell these stories and there seems to be a few wasted opportunities to further explore his own relationship with his wife. This is frustrating, particularly when compared to the other short stories which are beautifully complete in themselves and yet allow for a wider interpretation of the relationships portrayed. Kantha is shown as having an early love of cinema and is childishly enthusiastic, but that doesn’t explain why he goes about his film in the way he does. His wife has the potential to be an interesting character as she is prepared to stand by her husband and help him realise his dream despite the hardships incurred, but her motivation is never really fully explored. More development of both these characters would have made their story much more compelling and provided a firmer foundation for the other four tales.

While overall the film is funny and charming, the different stories are quite disparate giving a slightly disjointed feel. A more detailed linking narrative would have made this a much more cohesive film as there is so much else which is excellent. The short stories themselves all are rather fanciful and this is another factor which separates them from the main theme which is very much set in the real world. Its still a film I would recommend watching for the music, good song picturisation and impressive performances from the large cast. This film was a good start to the festival for me . 3 1/2 stars.