I have now seen 3 Malayalam films! Tied with my 3 Telegu, but beating my 2 Tamil. But if re-watching counts, Malayalam is going to double pretty soon. Because I loooooooved this movie, and I will be watching it over and over and over again.
I got a bunch of recommendations from various people, and armed with the knowledge I gained from FullyFilmy , I watched the first one that looked interesting and I could buy on google play: Ohm Shanti Oshana. It is just so so very very good! I’m tempted to do a scene by scene recap, but in this case, I don’t think I could fully convey it, so instead I am just going to watch it in my head and put down my thoughts, so when you go to google play and buy it and watch it yourself, you can see what I think.
The plot, in five sentences, is: Teenage girl has a massive crush on older local boy, stalks him, gets to know his family, and finally admits her feelings. Local boy rejects her (nicely) and encourages her to finish school and focus on her future. 5 years later, they meet again when his mother is at her hospital. Finally, she comes back home after med school, still in love with him, and gets to know him again by volunteering with the community group he organized. And at the end, he proposes to her and it turns out he has been in love with her all along! Is that 5 sentences? Yes! It is! I am so proud of myself!
There were so many things to love! For one, I liked the way they handled the fact that the heroine was an only child, and a daughter. It actually reminded me of Queen, in the way her parents clearly adored her and thought whatever she wanted was a-okay. Right from the beginning, they talk about how a daughter will be stressful and break your heart, but not about how she isn’t as good as a boy. Really, just that you will love her more and therefore be more upset when she is hurt.
I loved how long we spent getting to know her and her family and her life before the plot happened. She was just so loveable! And clearly everyone loved her, there was a definite feeling of the whole town, even when they were mad at her, being in her corner.
And I loved their first meeting! How high school it was, her and her friends standing there awkwardly in shorts and t-shirts, and then him striding in being all grown up and amazing. And then the rest of it, her going on that obvious quest to learn more about him in the bluntest way possible, which just made her look more high school and everything she found out made him look way too out of her reach.
And the love song! They didn’t translate the dialogue over the lyrics, but I think it was that she went to his mother for help with her homework, and in general started being a better and better student and daughter and everything in order to be worthy of him. It was so great, because she was still going about everything in her impulsive confident way, but she was also changing into a better person in a bunch of different ways because of her love affair. I guess what I loved was that we saw her becoming better, so it wasn’t a toxic crush, but a healthy one. And at the same time it wasn’t changing her into a different person, the way they usually make women change entirely after they fall in love in movies, it was just making her a better version of what she already was.
Let’s see, what else? Her trying to tell him how she felt and getting embarrassed and him giving her the hat. Which is the first time I should have suspected he felt the same! I mean, who gives a random high school girl their hat just because you can’t stand to see them getting wet? Obviously he was already in love with her!
Oh, and it’s in this bit that they start using the period soundtrack! At least, that I could recognize. Obviously, they were using a lot of really specific Malayalam songs all along and I had no idea what they were. But when she mentions Hrithik, and then the tune of the night club number from Kaho Na Pyar Hai starts up!
And then he rejects her, which felt so Pride and Prejudice! An initial proposal, which is rejected. Except rejected in a nice way, unlike P and P. And when she comes home, my favorite music thing in the movie! “Tanhaiyee” from Dil Chahta Hai is playing on the TV!
And I loved that we didn’t just leave and only come back to her when the love story started up again! It really is a coming of age movie, her movie, just like she says in the beginning, not just a love story. We are with her through exams, and then her life in the city, making new friends, all of that. And I also enjoy that even with the rejection of her true love hanging over her, she is both able to move on with her life and be happy, but also not willing to give up on the love story. In another movie, they would have had her only be happy when she was able to completely forget about him. Or they would have had her be always slightly depressed because she doesn’t have her true love. Instead of being basically fine and able to handle everything, because the love is just one small part of her life.
I loved him suddenly showing up and her immediately thinking “Yes! His mother is sick! This is my in!” It was just so whole-heartedly self-interested! And her grumpiness when she thinks he is interested in someone else. No self-sacrificing “whatever makes him happy!” for her!
And then the return to the village and her working her way back into his life with the community marriages, again so self-interested! And then at the end, the whole thing with her cousin coming back and paying off! Again, the world just felt so lived in, with the people involved in the final bit being people we had already met before and everything coming together.
And then, the ending! Learning he loved her all along! Which actually makes sense with everything we saw before. Because, of course he would have noticed the girl he rescued at the water park, even if he pretended to ignore her later! Plus, we already found out that her cousin was his girlfriend, of course he would be aware of her! And then her ham-handed investigation, he must have known all along she had a crush on him. And apparently got a kick out of it since he let it go on so long! And it changes his whole rejection speech and everything afterwards from trying to let her down easy, to trying to convince her to go to school and grow up while he waited and hoped that she would come back to him. Heck, even his whole going to China thing could have been just putting off his marriage until she came home! It was even more decent than it appeared at first, since he could have said so easily “look, I’m in love with you too, but I think you should go to school and grow up first, but wait for me and I will wait for you.” But instead he didn’t even give her a hint of it, so she would be free to grow up and marry someone else if she wanted.
Overall, though, what struck me was how she was taking the traditional male role in an Indian love story. We usually watch the guy as he falls in love at first sight and stalks her and sings love songs and then slowly wins her over, while the girl is the perfect enigma. Like, in all three of them in Dil Chahta Hai or Varun in Dilwale or a million other movies where our hero falls in love at first sight! At first, actually, I thought that was a flaw. Not the gender reversal, but that our hero is such an enigma. We learn how awesome he is and stuff, but they have almost no interactions and the audience only sees him through her eyes. But then I thought about it in terms of all those other movies where the hero sees the heroine practicing dance or singing or whatever from a distance and builds this whole fantasy around her and decides he is in love with her and then the happy ending is when she finally runs into his arms, even if they’ve barely spoken before.
But my favorite part is that there is a clear metaphor running through the film which they don’t bother to underline. Her favorite aunt, who she always goes to for advice, is a wine-maker. She is introduced with an explanation about how her wine isn’t normal wine, it takes several years to mature. And then we see throughout the film all of these stories that take years to be completed, and are the better for it.
Everything from Giri’s mother’s dreams of being a writer, to Pooja’s father’s efforts at chemistry, to wine-aunty’s own relationship with her husband who never comes home. And 4 entire romances. Our central one, plus Pooja’s cousin-brother who we find out at the end has been courting a girl in secret for years, plus Pooja’s best friend from med school, plus Pooja’s best friend and ex from high school. The lesson of waiting patiently for the completion is even in the title! “Oshana” is Palm Sunday, the beginning of the end of Lent.
Okay, I just had to re-watch the ending again because it makes me SO HAPPY. And I saw something I didn’t catch before, the guy her father fights with is her uncle from Dubai. Who was there at her birth being all headshaking over her being a girl. And through out her Dad has been calling him and saying he should come back to Kerala. And now he is here just in time to see her as an adult and to be all judgey about how she was raised. So it is this nice little bookend, making it clear that it is her life story, going from her as a baby to her as an adult, and the guy who missed her whole growing up and all doesn’t see how she could be with this Hindu farmer. But her father, who was there all along (just like the audience) reacts with a “yeah, of course this is what she would do!” response. Because she isn’t just some blank slate girl baby, she is Pooja, an individual.