It looked beautiful when the posters came and it looked beautiful on the screen. Young Esther wrapped in vines, under the lake, pretty little creatures and plants floating around her. Shaji N Karun’s part fantasy film Olu personifies love as a woman you don’t see and as a cure for an injured young girl. On the shore and on a boat above the lake, Shane Nigam plays the part of the lost artist quickly falling for the unseen beauty. While the fantasy is all very novel in the beginning and the visuals look beautiful, the idea of the story is lost in the artificiality created by the characters and the dialogues.
Shane plays Vasu, a struggling artist living in an isle in Kochi, trying to sell imitation art and making an earning from being a tourist guide, telling the myths behind a Hanuman temple. There is little money around but it looks like a cheerful little circle for Vasu, selling his paintings at a little shop across the lake, in the company of a young man and an older woman (for some reason dressed always in white saris – not a widow but perhaps a sanyasi).
At home he has his old father, grandmother (late actor Kanchana) and a sister (Kani Kusruthi), who has a mental health illness to take care of. The grandmother and the sister engage in ceremonies of ‘removing evil spirits from bodies’. Vasu appears most close with the grandmother, confiding his newfound love and every other detail to the aged relative. In the night he rows a boat aimlessly through the lake and on one full moon night, hears the voice of Maya (Esther).
It doesn’t appear to shock him much that he can suddenly hear the voice of a woman and smell her but not hear her. He comes from a place where stories of spirits and omens are taken seriously. Everyone in the isle refers to the spirit of a woman as ‘olu’, meaning ‘she’. The grandmother tells him many stories of Olu. So, Vasu is not shaken by this strange presence of a woman in the lake. His concern appears to be about how she’d look like. He asks his friend if a woman who has a sweet voice and the smell of kaithapoo (a flower) would also look good. Vasu is increasingly curious of how she looks like, her beauty. Every time he asks if he could see her, Maya asks him if he can’t love her without seeing her. When she ‘helps’ him draw a painting, he calls it ‘Unseen Beauty’.
Vasu’s character is shown materialistic, wowed by new riches and opportunities, but also calling Maya’s name out aloud whenever he is in pain. But he seems to want her only to help him with his paintings. The exchanges between the two become strained. Earlier it was a Maya laughing (unnecessarily too much), or quoting often-philosophical bits about love locked somewhere in the heart. Vasu, the human on ground is more realistic in his reactions – “you can see me?”, “I need to draw another painting”.
From the awed guy falling in love with a strange creature of the night, he becomes the materialistic man who takes her for granted. Shane’s expressions are at first versatile, changing from sad to happy to surprised to frustrated. But in the last half of the film, the perpetual gloom he seems to take on in several movies, sets in and nothing shakes him out of it. Esther looks unchanged from five years ago when she played a little girl in Drishyam, but easily transforms into a trapped creature of the night, grownup emotions flashing through her young face. Only the laughs sound artificial when it’s overdone at one point. Quite a lot of the lines spoken by the various characters also sound too artificial and out of place.
The performer of the movie is Kani, the sister who walks by with short and often rude comments or laughs openly when she is happy. And the hero of the film is the beautiful pictures aided with graphics, which would not have looked so pretty without the late MJ Radhakrishnan’s camera. Shaji N Karun, once a cinematographer, seems always particular about his presentation. It is perhaps more about the visuals than the words spoken.
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.