By Anindita Menon
"Ohm Shanthi Oshaana" is your regular boy-meets-girl story. Not quite! It is a girl-meets-boy story, and that is a whole different kettle of fish. It is a film in which the heroine interrupts the melodramatic introductory voiceover with “Ithu entha megaserialinte kadhayo? Ente kadha alle? Njaan paranjolaam” (Hey, is this some mega-serial? It is my story, right? So, let me narrate it!). In every scene, there are subversions, inversions or parodies of the sacred tropes of Malayalam commercial films. We look at why it is a terrific sign that OSO went on to become a superhit.
Pooja Mathew: Nazriya is the best thing about the film, period. She plays Pooja, the opposite of that most dreaded of cinematic constructs, the gratingly uni-dimensional, syrupy sweet ‘bubbly’ girl.
As a teenager, Pooja is angsty, grouchy, pensive, and –sometimes if the mood strikes –sunny, a.k.a. your average teenager. Her mother’s steady stream of advice is ever familiar to most Malayalee girls – sit properly, do not whistle, do not slide down bannisters and so on. Thankfully, she ignores her, perhaps for all of us.
Pooja watches the biggest romantic blockbuster of the 90s, "Niram", and promptly falls in love with the bike and lusts after it till she makes it her own. At sixteen, she develops a human-sized crush on Giri, a revolutionary/farmer. As with any teenager in the throes of an infatuation, she turns into a schemer whose sole agenda is to be with the object of her affection.
One of the most hilarious moments in the film is when she is walking out of the house to see where Giri is and her father asks her not to go outside as it might rain. Parodying the iconic scene from "Manichithrathazhu" she questions him like a woman possessed, “Athentha? Njaan paranjathaanello pokumennu” (Why? Didn’t I already inform you about this?). Cowed, her father gestures to her to carry on.
Adult Pooja sums up her wait for Giri through the four years she spent in medical school thus: “Madhumohan serial nirthi, Veerappane vedi vachu konnu, Muralidharane Congress-il ninnu purathu aaki. Enthinu adhikam, Tsunami vare vannu. Aalu mathram vanilla” (Madhu Mohan stopped making serials, Veerappan was shot dead, Muralidharan was thrown out of the Congress. Even the Tsunami came. But he did not come!).
While the world around her changes, her love for Giri only grows stronger. At this point, let us pull back for a minute and consider this. Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) fields are woefully underrepresented in mainstream cinema the world-over. Even if a female character is shown to belong to one of these fields, they are rarely ever seen at work. For example, Aishwarya Rai in "Enthiran" is a doctor. Yet she is more of a singer-dancer-maybe doctor!
In OSO, we see Pooja in her workspace. We see her in the hospital, with her patients, and without, literally and figuratively, making a song and dance of it. Her love for Giri, while a constant refrain, does not consume her or take over her life.
Giri: Beetle-browed and sexy, Giri is almost caricaturishly macho. He is a crusader for justice, a martial arts expert, social reformer and what have you.
It is important to remember that we are only ever seeing Giri though Pooja’s rose-tinted, heart-shaped glasses. Midway into the film, after much thought and deliberation, Pooja decides to propose to Giri. At this point, he delivers the dialogue that, for us, makes him one of the best, most sensible romantic heroes in cinema history. “Ippol padikkunna prayam aanu. Achane kaal kaipunyam ulloru doctor allengil athilum mele ethaan ulla oru aalaanu nee. Thalkaalam vere chinthakal onnum venda” (You should concentrate on your studies at this age. You are destined to be an even greater doctor than your dad is. Do not think about anything else now).
Sanity after decades of rom-coms in which teenage heroines are successfully wooed by heroes twice their age and forced to choose domesticity over careers. Take a bow Jude!
In a state with an agrarian economy, it is also high time we had more cool farmer heroes and heroines in popular culture. So, even if Giri sometimes comes across as condescending and slightly goody two-shoesish, we are going to let it slide for now.
All those 80s and 90s and 00s references: In the pre-cellphone era, love was carried out differently. It involved a lot more will-he won't-he guessing games and a lot less snapchatting. "Prathikaranam" was still a thing, and the world had only just been introduced to Hrithik Roshan’s washboard abs. (A fact that is referenced when Pooja checks out Yardley’s - her aspiring beau’s - six packs).
From the town’s first internet café to VHS tapes giving way to CDs to cyberstalking on Orkut, OSO also traces how changing technology changed our social lives. It provides a lovely, sometimes comforting walk down memory lane for the pre-millennials. And, if we know anything about contemporary mainstream Malayalam cinema, it is that nostalgia sells.
Fun storytelling: OSO had some very fun cinematic moments. For example, when Pooja asks her cousin David Kanjani (Aju Varghese) what his problem with Giri is, he answers her question with an analogy: the one in which he and Giri are on a battlefield and he steps on a mine. Giri rescues him by putting his weight on the mine. David rewards Giri’s sacrifice by abandoning him and running away.
Later on in the film, when Pooja hears that Giri had gone to China to train in martial arts, she imagines him having a Chinese family. The scene in which Giri’s wife asks him to go to bed with her is helpfully subtitled in Malayalam by her subconscious.
The pennu kaanal (a ritual of meeting one's prospective bride) in reverse when Pooja goes to ‘see’ her shy bridegroom Giri is also highly entertaining.
A communist happily ever after. Of course, what Malayalam movie would be complete without a doffing the hat to communism? As Pooja’s cousin David Kanjani cautions her, “Nammale polulla bourgeouisekallude shathru aanu avan. Avante mukhathu polum nokkaruthu” (He is the enemy of people like us, the bourgeouise. Don’t even look at his face!).
Giri is the son of the soil, the revolutionary who is constantly challenging the privileged. Pooja is the daughter of a professor and a doctor, the white collared family that fits neatly into the mould of the bourgeoisie. So, when Pooja’s parents give their blessings to Giri and her at the end, we are really seeing that most unusual of phenomena, a marriage between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
(This article first appeared in Fullpicture.in. You can read the original article here. The News Minute has syndicated the content.)