Oh! Baby Review (SPOILERS): Gentle Misogynist Comedy

Oh dear, I did not like this movie. I don’t like not liking movies, especially when I think that some of you might like them. Oh well.

Whole Plot in 1 Paragraph:

Lakshmi is an abusive old woman. She runs a canteen shop with her old friend Rajendra Prasad, and lives with her son Rao Ramesh, daughter-in-law Pragathi, granddaughter Aneesha Dama, and grandson Reja Sajja. She almost kills her daughter-in-law through a stress related heart attack which finally causes her son to wake up and realize the toxic environment his home has become. He tells her she will have to leave, naturally she feels very sorry for herself. Her grandson Reja calls and asks her to come to his show, because he is also very selfish which is why they get along so well. She goes to the carnival where his band is playing and a mysterious photography tent turns her into a 24 year old young woman again, Samantha Ruth Prabhu. She goes on a spending spree with the debit card her son gave her, and then rents a room from her best friend Rajendra Prasad and his fat old (ha-ha!) daughter Sunayana. Her grandson Reja overhears her singing and asks her to join his band. Meanwhile, TV producer Naga Shaurya is looking for a new sound for his TV show music contest. He hears her singing with the band is becomes obsessed with finding her. He finally tracks her down and invites her and the band onto his show. Soon, he also starts to fall in love with her a little. Meanwhile, she has convinced Rajendra of who she is and he is her confidant as she works through her emotions. She now has everything she felt cheated of the first time around, when she eloped and then was widowed, had to struggle and work and sacrifice her dreams for her infant son. She can marry again and be in love again, have the singing career she wanted, everything. But she is torn, because she also misses her son Rao Ramesh. And he misses her. Finally, on the day of the big competition, Reja gets into an accident. The only way to save him is for Samantha to donate blood, which will turn her back into Lakshmi. She does it, but only after having a conversation with Rao Ramesh in which he tells her she doesn’t have to, she deserves to have her own life back. In the end, Lakshmi is reunited with her family who have mysteriously forgiven her and she is seemingly slightly better to them. And in the fun tag, Rajendra Prasad appears as Naga Chaitanya, having also mysteriously aged down, and still loving Lakshmi, and invites her to travel with him.

Image result for oh! baby poster telugu

Now, what is misogyny? It is seeing women as less than people. Because only men are “people”. Now, what is my problem with this movie? The only relationships that matter, the only people that matter, are Rao Ramesh, Naga Shaurya, and Rajendra Prasad. In the world of our heroine, who is also our central character, she loves her son, she loves her grandson, she loved her husband, and she loves her two boyfriends (the age appropriate one and the young one). Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter can literally die and she will not care. The daughter of Rajendra is a joke to her, because she is fat and unmarried (what is the point of being a living woman if you are not married?). Even the random woman at the supermarket that she accuses of being a bad mother for using formula is a joke, lazy and uncaring. Ha-ha, all old woman are like that. Only, the thing is, the film supports her and cheers her own. The other women are filmed as comic characters, never get their own moments of triumph. And in the end the heroine’s bond with her son and tyrrany over her household is upheld.

It’s a not uncommon phenomenon, for a woman to hate all other women. Especially older women who have reached the top of the patriarchal power structure. Why should they care about their daughters, their daughters-in-law, their granddaughters? Women are trash, useless, there only to serve men. Serve your husband, serve your son, serve your brother, and if you fail in that, what is the point of you?

Now, let’s back up and look at Indian society. India has a problem with elder abuse, as does every society. The elderly are at the mercy of the young, no one believes what they say, not their doctors or the police or anyone. In India, the problem is specific in that it is culturally accepted for elderly relatives to live at home, to be taken care of by their children. Meaning it is easy for their children to abuse them and no one will notice, no outside caregivers, no nursing home staff. And it is so shameful to reveal the abuse that the elderly are even less likely to ask for help than they are in other cultures.

This movie, for instance, deals with elder abuse

But India also has a problem with constant unrelenting abuse by the elderly. It’s built into the basic building blocks of society. A child is there to serve their parents. Old men and old women are the rulers of their household. If they are toxic and vicious and cruel and cause irreparable psychological damage, it doesn’t matter. They can do anything to anyone, they can destroy the people they claim to love, and no one will challenge them. Instead, you will sit there and think “someday it will be my turn, I just have to survive the next twenty years, store up all my hate, and then spew it forth on my own victim”. Never a moment of peace, never a moment of pure happiness, everything tainted.

The funny thing is, the attitude towards elder “abuse” encourages abuse-by-elders. If you do not let your parents live with you, if you do not visit them regularly, if you do not send them much of your income, if you do not treat them with constant unquestioning respect, you are “abusive”. There is no possibility of saying “my father beat me my whole childhood, my mother tells my daughter she is worthless and should have been aborted before birth, and so I moved to America and stopped calling them.” No no, that is your fault. You are a bad child if you do that, if you fail to forgive and understand everything your parents have ever done. There can be no possible excuse.

Remember this scene? When Shahrukh accepted that the whole thing was his fault, he should have understood and forgiven and returned home.

This movie starts by showing us a classic example of a dysfunctional abusive household. Lakshmi praises her son and grandson. But as soon as they are out of the room, she cuts down her granddaughter and daughter-in-law piece by piece. Her daughter-in-law can’t cook, can’t raise her children, can’t do anything right. Her granddaughter is lazy, should be married, is worthless. Even in her friend Rajendra Prasad’s household, it is the same. His daughter should be married, is a waste of money, is too old, is too fat. Her daughter-in-law Pragathi lands in the hospital and her doctor pulls Rao Rajesh aside and explains that the stress of living with her mother-in-law is killing her. Her son is conflicted about telling her, but her granddaughter steps up and tells her some home truths. Not just her, but her father as well, that her father is a coward and is killing his wife and destroying his family for the sake of his terrible mother.

Now, at this point, I was ready for the movie to head in a direction of exploring all this dysfunction. Lakshmi would become young again, befriend her granddaughter and daughter-in-law, learn to see the abuse by the elderly in a new light, and return to her own age chastened and wiser and better. And maybe her son would learn what a total worthless waste of space he is, expecting his mother and his wife to wait on him hand and foot and never considering their needs.

But, no! That’s what’s so strange! It shows how horrible this situation is, and then does nothing to fix it. Just accepts that this is how things are. Not just that, that this is GOOD! Lakshmi sacrificed everything for her son, and now she is sacrificing everything for her grandson. Isn’t that good? Isn’t that noble? Doesn’t that excuse everything else she has done in life?

And Ramesh Rao loves his mother. Doesn’t much care for his own children or his wife, but he loves his mother. Isn’t that all that matters? His first duty is to be a good son, if he achieves that, he is a good man.

The film tries to sell itself as an “appreciate the elderly” kind of story. Appreciate the sacrifices Lakshmi made as a young mother, understand why she is so difficult today (because of the suffering of her past). And a few small bits about how much it hurts all the time to be old, how hard it is to move, to eat, and so on.

But it reads like someone saying “appreciate the elderly” who has never actually had to spend much time with them. Old people are still just people. Some of them are funny, some of them are kind, some of them are brave. And some of them are toxic and horrible and do not deserve love. The way Lakshmi is acting at the start of the film, it is simply not acceptable. She is a bully and she needs someone to stand up to her and say “stop”. It’s not about appreciating her sacrifices. Everyone makes sacrifices. That’s not an excuse. Today, right now, she is a terrible person.

But she is a terrible person in a way that the makers of this film do not recognize as terrible. Ha ha, publicly shaming a woman for using formula instead of breast feeding. Ha-ha, making fun of a woman because she isn’t married yet and that is unnatural. Ha-ha, giving money to your unemployed drop out grandson while insulting your college graduate granddaughter for not yet having a job. And of course, ha-ha, doing everything to spoil your son while breaking down your daughter-in-law piece by piece until she almost dies. So long as the only people she harms are women, then she is not doing any real harm at all. Because they aren’t really people, are they?

Oh right, Naga Shaurya’s female assistant is funny too, because she dresses like a boy.

And now you are going to say “you don’t understand, that’s what it is like in Telugu culture”. And what I am saying is, that is a messed up culture!!!! And a better movie, instead of merely showing what is and accepting it, would make us question why it is like that and if we can do better.

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13 thoughts on “Oh! Baby Review (SPOILERS): Gentle Misogynist Comedy

  1. This plot is worse than I thought. While reading I was sure there will be some bonding between Samantha and ger daughter-in-law, they become friends or something. If not, what’s the point of all this film?

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    • Yes! Exactly! It just comes back to the mother and son growing even closer, but they were already close!

      On Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 7:09 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I haven’t seen this movie,but I can completely take your word for it. Yet another Telugu movie that reinforces the patriarchal culture of loving,caring(so what if they are a little abusive & misogynistic)family values.not that other language movies are any better,but Telugu movies are relentless and innovative in reinforcing this across all genres,all themes. I think most of the filmmakers and actors also genuinely don’t see the issue in these kind of story telling cos they believe this is what the audience will like. The brainwashing runs deep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, in my limited experience of Telugu cinema, I have had a far harder time understanding and forgiving the “family values” type movies than the action films.

      On Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 10:24 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Okay,so an interesting coincidence- The no.1 trending Twitter tag in India is #wesupportSandeepVangaReddy and the trigger for that is Samantha making a statement that she is against what Sandeep said in the interview(I’m hoping you know who we are talking about). Telling you,Telugu men have problems,serious ones.

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        • And this also supports that there is a still a strong gender bias in internet access in India, which is what it looked like the last time I researched it.

          On Sun, Jul 7, 2019 at 10:51 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I agree with the points mentioned by you. The movie could have spent some time on showing the mistakes in old people idealogies and Samantha realizing her mistakes, but instead all the important moments, realizations just pass by and played for comedy.
    Also I think the movie is not deliberately misogynistic. Most of the Indian grand mothers who are not well educated are mysoginists and they just don’t realize it.
    This movie tried to showcase such character that we are familiar with.
    But still I enjoyed this movie. The Telugu dialogues are super fun, Samantha did a great job and is a treat to watch.

    Try these two small Telugu movies which released last week:
    1.Brochvarevarura (Nivetha Thomas)
    2. Agent Sai Sreenivas Athreya
    Both are Super fun movies.

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    • Thanks for the recommendations!

      You bring up an interesting question, can any movie be deliberately misogynistic? Or is it always just the director showing the world the way he thinks it is without realizing the issues with his view?

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      • I had the same thought after watching the interview with Sandeep Reddy Vanga, which MKP mentioned about. So does he actually believe and practice the physical (slapping) part of relationships. After watching the interview I am unable to separate the director from the character.

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      • May be you are right. Sometimes, I get that outsider view on your blog – the reason, I frequent your site – may be, our minds are tuned to view the movies in certain way and having seen such characters (like Pavan mentioned about the grandmothers), such scenes/movies do not occur to us.
        I have not watched the movie yet, but Laxmi’s character sounds similar to her grandma character in Jeans – how Aishwarya Rai and others had to bow to her plan.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I was thinking about her in Jeans and in Hulchul. But in Jeans everything she did was to serve her granddaughter, there was no selfishness in her meanness. And in Hulchul, the film and the other characters called her out for her behavior, for how she was destroying everyone around her.

          On Mon, Jul 8, 2019 at 4:50 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Also, the director is a woman (Nandini) for this movie. And, I recommend her debut movie Ala Modalaindi – casting your favorites – Nani and Nithya Menon -the movie is on YouTube with subtitles

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      • Not always. In many movies these kind of scenes play in a serious tone. But I didn’t feel this movie belong to that category may be because the director is a woman and also since it was a old woman saying all those things (mostly in comic setup), I didn’t take it seriously just like Manmadhudu.
        I understand that you being an American might view it differently.

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