Are You Ok Baby review: A film that provokes thought without hitting emotional highs
Are You Ok Baby? (Tamil)(3.5 / 5)
When Lakshmy Ramakrishnan makes a film, you by now instinctively know it is backed by research – be it Aarohanam, about a mother with bipolar disorder, Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathe, about the petrol crisis, Ammani, about an elderly hospital worker, or House Owner, about an elderly couple caught in the Chennai floods. Are You Ok Baby?, which is about adoption, and stars Samuthirakani, Abhirami, Mullai Arasi, Ashok Kumar, Aadukalam Naren, and others, falls in the same category.
That extensive research might at times get in the way of good storytelling and cast aside the ‘show, don’t tell’ narrative technique, but Lakshmy prefers to tie all the knots, sometimes even indulging in an explanation scene or dialogue (for eg: lactation consultant), helping you skip that Google search. And so, while as an audience, you might not be drawn into the issue with all the depth you ought to be and your heart does not react intensely, you still feel something, and your mind is happy. Because all the boxes are ticked, the issues are given their logical conclusion, and nothing is left to chance.
It helps that Ilaiyaraaja composes the songs and background score. 2023 surely is the year he chose to tell people that he’s going nowhere and that his soundscape is still very much a part of our lives and cinema. ‘Anna Thandhai’ sung by Shweta Mohan, is especially haunting.
Middle-aged Balan (Samuthirakani) and Vidya (a glowing Abhirami) live in Kerala with Balan’s mother (Kalairani) and infant Anya. A call from a reality show host Rashmy Ramakrishnan (played by Lakshmy in a very meta act) turns their life topsy turvy. Shobha (a wonderful Mullai Arasi. Look out for her in the scene where she’s in agony over her child, but is hungry and goes for the food) goes on TV alleging that her daughter has been taken away by the couple. The agencies step in, and what seemed to be a private transaction (illegal though) between a childless couple and a young girl who knows she cannot look after a child with her abusive partner (why Ashok Kumar is yet to get more roles of substance defies me. He’s always usually delivered what is expected of the character), is suddenly in the limelight.
Lakshmy writes with a certain empathy for all. The CBCID officer Lanka (played by real-life advocate CG Kumar. Disclaimer: I know him from my time in Coimbatore), the child welfare official played by Mysskin who speaks about Kohlberg and Gilligan (law or natural justice), the lawyers (Anupama Kumar being her dignified self), the public prosecutor Udhay Mahesh, each one of them does what their job profile demands, but also thinks of the spirit behind the law, and focusses on also doing right by the child in question.
There’s a scene in the court when Anupama, called Chechi by Balan, says things she usually might not have during the course of the argument, casting aspersions on Shoba’s choices. When the judge pulls her up for it, she’s quick to apologise. But when Vidya tells her that she ought not to speak that way about the real mother, Chechi stops by saying, “Let me do my job.”
Vidhya and Balan think of adoption very late, and the film also speaks of how couples whose combined age is above 90 cannot adopt an infant. And so when a nurse they know helps them find a child through another nurse (Vinodhini Vaidynathan), they fall for it. A word about Vinodhini. She’s possibly among the most self-deprecating actors around, giving herself to every role, however small. She’s suave but manages to totally sell you the role of a nurse who pretends to care. She is tough when it comes to money transfers, plays fan girl when Rashmy calls her, and is the perfect congirl who knows when to take flight.
Many movies and memes have taken potshots at Lakshmy Ramakrishnan for her television stint where she plays judge when people, usually from underprivileged backgrounds, come to her seeking justice. This time around, she decides to bat for herself, writing Rashmy Ramakrishnan as someone who is empathetic, and who takes a stand based on her principles, and pays the price for that. For all the ‘Yenma ippadi paneeteengale maa’ memes, Lakshmy seems to say ‘This is me, take it or leave it’. And this is how these shows are edited and directed (in the film by Pavel Navageethan, who does not hesitate to attack the host using the dialect of her community), and it’s not just me.
Lakshmi’s films are not meant for easy watching. They somehow tap into that grey area where you’re unable to take a call on whether someone is right or wrong. As a result, you watch dispassionately, without letting your emotions get in the way. At no stage does she ever whitewash what Balan and Vidya have done. Yes, their home is the better home for the child, but the route they took to get there — that is definitely grey.
During many of the TV shows Lakshmy hosted, you’d often see women willing to forgive all to be with their abusive partner. Shoba is one such girl — after five abortions and living with and loving a man who refuses to use a condom and who sells their child, she still hopes getting the child will help her get him back. No one sympathises with her, and even the audience at times tends to see her with a word she uses to describe how people react to her — ‘asingam’ (something ugly).
Are You Ok Baby? is that film that does not leave you smiling, because you know that the legal victory was not necessarily a moral one.
Subha J Rao is an entertainment journalist covering Tamil and Kannada cinema and is based out of Mangaluru, Karnataka.
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.