Even at points where the screenplay fizzles out, the Lady Superstar’s performance keeps you engaged and guessing her next move.

Rithvik and Nayanthara in a scene from O2Twitter | DisneyHotstarTamil
Flix Review Friday, June 17, 2022 - 14:07
Worth a watch

“No mother will simply watch on if her child is in danger.” This loaded line, said just minutes into director GS Viknesh’s debut film O2, sets the premise for a powerful fight for survival tale set against Kerala’s treacherous landscape. The film depicts in parallel the ferocity of two determined maternal figures – actor Nayanthara who plays Parvathy, a widowed mother, and ‘mother’ nature herself, as they ready to eliminate anyone who endangers their ‘child’.

The film tellingly begins with a bird’s sorrow as her chicks are killed due to deforestation by human beings, and takes us to the home of 7-year-old Veera who lives with his mother Parvathy, an expert on plants and trees. Veera, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, is dependent on an oxygen cylinder to even breathe. The director’s messaging is clear from this very first scene where Veera is used to symbolise the fate of human beings if we continue to tear down the resources that nature has provided us with.

The bond between mother and child is shown through the movie’s only song, laying the foundation for the depth of Parvathy’s love for her child. From the very beginning, she is shown as logical and single-mindedly focussed on ensuring her child’s survival. When an opportunity for corrective surgery for Veera opens up, she is quick to take it on, and quite unemotional when discussing her husband’s death with the doctor. Veera, meanwhile, is shown to be more sensitive and kinder to all life forms around him.

The mother and son are then joined by more characters as they travel by bus to Kochi for the surgery. This includes an ex-MLA, a corrupt cop, inter-caste lovers, the girl’s angry father, the bus driver, and a prisoner who has just been released. In a twist of fate, they are trapped within the bus as nature unleashes her wrath in the form of a horrific landslide, swallowing them whole.

A single set drama or claustrophobic thriller is a relatively new concept in Tamil cinema and requires enormous acting talent from the cast to hold the viewer’s attention and a tight screenplay to keep the audience guessing. Take for instance, Helen, a 2019 Malayalam film that featured a young girl trapped in a restaurant freezer. It was the stellar performance by Anna Ben that catapulted the film to such great heights, leaving the audience at the edge of their seats as the rescue mission unfolded.

In O2, it is actor Nayanthara who shoulders this weight splendidly and credit must be given to the director for writing a role where a woman can be unapologetically selfish, self-serving and downright violent to protect her own. Parvathy is calculative from the minute she is trapped and expertly deceives her co-passengers with her knowledge of science and physics to ensure her son’s oxygen cylinder remains unnoticed. Nayanthara sinks her teeth into this role with relish, leaving the movie-watcher torn by her completely unethical decision-making process even in the face of imminent death of the people around her. She has proven once again why she is trusted with such roles by the film industry, as she fights both nature and those around her to protect her child.

Viknesh’s writing shines through in scenes where you begin to question whether you should even be on Parvathy’s side as she wages war in the trapped bus. But for Bharath Neelakandan, who has delivered a tremendous performance as a vicious cop, the same writing lets him down as his character takes a caricature-ish turn.

Given the number of characters trapped, it is not surprising that the acting is patchy in parts with certain pivotal scenes let down by amateurish performances. Scenes involving the inter-caste couple and the girl’s father, for instance, are a blot on the screenplay and only minimise the conflict being played out. The child actor, Rithvik, impresses in some high-octane emotional scenes, ensuring that his survival remains at the top of your mind.

Overall, the cast manages to hold its own, leaving you convinced of their inability to breathe as the oxygen levels go down in the bus and how their desperation to survive erases their humanity. Their efforts are aided by cinematographer Tamizh Azhagan whose visual narrative leaves you feeling claustrophobic yourself and almost aware of the constant dip in oxygen. The use of colours to show the change in human nature within the bus lends to the tension the director attempts to build. The music by Vishal Chandrasekar and editing by Selva RK also add some depth to O2. The VFX, however, was grating to watch and negatively affects the viewing experience.

The screenplay is largely well thought out with even the presence of the bird in the beginning of the film revisited. While the tension dips at certain points, the film’s central question of morality at the face of death is convincingly played out by some powerful acting, led by the ‘Lady Superstar’ herself. O2 is definitely worth a watch.

O2 is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

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.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.