Oviya's 90ML is likely to give several "kalacharam" watchers in Tamil Nadu an aneurysm. Probably the same people who turned up believing it would be an Iruttu Arayil Murattu Kuthu kind of film. So, before we go any further, let me just say that this is an 'A' certified film. Also, nobody in the film claims to be a feminist or talks about women's empowerment or pretends they have the answer to the problems faced by all women. 90ML is simply about a bunch of women who get together once in a while, get high, and find temporary relief from their life problems. That is its limited ambition and frankly, after the number of sanctimonious films we've had with "farmer" messaging and what not, 90ML is refreshing in its disinterest to talk about anything other than what concerns its characters immediately.
Directed by Anita Udeep, who calls herself Azhagiya Asura in the credits, 90ML is Bigg Boss chellam Oviya's big debut as the lead. On the reality TV show, Oviya's I-don't-give-a-shit attitude had won her a phenomenal army of fans, and she pretty much plays herself as Rita, a beautician who moves into an apartment complex and makes friends with the women there – most of whom are simultaneously scandalised yet drawn towards her. One of the first things Rita does is to rename their WhatsApp group from the rather homely 'Brindavan Beauties' to 'Hot Chicks' – imagine Sex and the City, but with Samantha at the centre instead of Carrie.
There's Kajal (Masoom Shankar), a north Indian mom to a small kid, Paru (Shree Gopika) who is married and has a humiliating secret; Thamarai (Bommu Lakshmi), who made the terrible decision of eloping with a no-good rowdy; and Sukanya (Monisha Ram), who is in love with someone with whom she believes she can never unite. Rita herself is in a live-in relationship with Venkat who seems to be straight from heaven – the man cooks, is good with children, doesn't judge Rita and is easy on the eye. But Rita isn't interested in marrying him. Over a round of drinks, the other women ask her why. Rita sighs and says she's an orphan who was adopted by a man who later abused her...and then, she laughs and says she lied because you don't need a sob story to be in a live-in relationship (hello filmmakers of OK Kanmani and Iraivi, I hope you're listening). It was at this point that I decided I was just going to enjoy 90ML without worrying too much about whether it ticks the right boxes or not, just out of pure relief.
The film does tick the right boxes, nevertheless. The few double entendre dialogues in the trailer that made a lot of social media influencers and their followers lecture Oviya about her "responsibility" towards the audience (a subject they never get into when male stars are actually doing criminal activities like stalking on screen, and not legally permissible ones like drinking, smoking, or having sexual feelings) are far from being as crass as the ones we've seen in 'A' films which are primarily made for men. Somehow, women talking and joking about their own bodies is considered to be more vulgar than men objectifying women's bodies. Unfortunately, a lot of "kalacharam" watchers tend to be men who have no idea about the real world conversations that women have among themselves, so it's going to be hard to sit them down and say bro, I hate to break the news, but this does happen.
90ML has women eating a lot, smoking, drinking, even doing ganja (and we get a psychedelic song too!). It has women asserting their sexuality, and claiming their right to pleasure. There's also a same sex relationship portrayed with surprising lightness and sensitivity – and an actual kiss between the couple. This is a film with hedonism at its heart and remains unapologetic about it till the end. Cheers for that.
However, though the male characters are mostly relegated to the margins when it comes to screen space, the conversations among the women tend to be all about them, which is a tad disappointing. The plot unravels as a story someone is narrating to a psychologist (Devadarshini), and after a point, it becomes predictable – the women get high and resolve a problem that one of them is facing. Some of the intimate scenes look decidely awkard, and the film runs out of steam towards the end with an unnecessarily long climax and a Simbu cameo (he's also the music director) that ends up looking forced. It could have ended with the fun 'Marana Mattai' song, methinks.
Oviya is charming and though she doesn't have a wide range of expressions, she wears her big smile all through 90ML. And somehow, that is enough. The others in the cast, too, are convincing in their respective roles, bringing a certain spontaneity to the absurd situations they find themselves in. 90ML is no more a feminist film than Veere Di Wedding was. It doesn't try to inspire women like a 36 Vayathiniley. All it says is that women have a right to enjoy themselves; they have the right to want what they're not supposed to, and the right to not want what they're supposed to. If this sounds incredibly "revolutionary" and unacceptable, that says a lot about who you are as a person. This is new wine in a new bottle – sure, the content itself isn't fantastic, but at least the experience is fresh.
My bungalow, my rules, as Oviya puts it. If you don't like it, please exit.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.