“Oh My Kadavule”… Ashok Selvan and Ritika Singh battle it out in a half-decent rom-com

Posted on March 21, 2020

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The first half is insufferable, but post interval, the film springs the sweetest of surprises. It doesn’t just get better, it becomes brilliant.

Spoilers ahead…

Oh My Kadavule is the kind of movie you want to see Ashok Selvan in. The actor is just 30 and he has the tousled-hair looks to carry off romantic lead roles, but his resume is a tad grim, with entries like Thegidi and Sila Samayangalil — and even Soodhu Kavvum, with its fabulous high concepts, is not exactly a light entertainer. As for Kootathil Oruthan, it could have been a romance between a very ordinary guy and a way-out-of-his-league woman, but it kept veering off into noble-minded subplots. It wanted to be a love story. It also wanted to change the world.

Ashwath Marimuthu’s film simply wants to change Arjun (Ashok Selvan). He gets married to childhood friend Anu (Ritika Singh), but very soon, they’re at a family court, filing for divorce. And then, God makes an entry in the form of Vijay Sethupathi (Ramesh Thilak plays His assistant) and makes Arjun wonder if he is making a hasty decision. Oh My Kadavule, thus, joins a select handful of films in which human beings are guided by God, who becomes part-therapist, part-pal. In spirit, it reminds you of Carl Reiner’s Oh, God!, where God enlists a supermarket worker to spread His word, and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, where an angel shows a suicidal man just how much he has helped others.

There’s a solid relationship hook in the way Anu and Arjun end up together. She asks him if he’ll marry her because there’s another boy on the horizon, a boy found by her father. (If a bear hug became human, it would be this warm man, wonderfully played by MS Bhaskar.) Anu thinks she’d rather opt for a known devil. But dig deeper, and we see she has feelings for Arjun. She has always had feelings for him, right from their schooldays. What happens when one half of a pair of best friends harbours emotions that the other half does not (yet) have? It’s the kind of premise the rom-com was invented for.

But I found the first half insufferable. The scenes are pitched at the “en pondatti oorukku poyitta” level. The beats are loud and exaggerated, like a cartoon. I was reminded of the childish couple played by Arya and Nayanthara in Raja Rani, who were less husband and wife than Tom and Jerry. Infantile plot points are set up just so that Anu and Arjun can begin to bicker, and just so that we can quickly land up at the divorce point and with Vijay Sethupathi. He’s fine, but his portions are the worst. They feel like TV ad breaks just as a programme is getting interesting. Before any Arjun-Anu moment is allowed to fully flower, we cut back to him and his comments on that moment — rhythm-wise, the screenplay is extremely choppy.

But the second half springs the sweetest of surprises. Oh My Kadavule doesn’t just get better, it becomes brilliant. For one, God disappears, and we are freer to follow the (uninterrupted) arcs of the Anu-Arjun relationship. And two, we see that the director was deliberately going for the tonality of the first half. I mean, it’s not sloppiness. It’s a calculated creative choice. It isn’t pulled off well, but seen from the vantage of the second half, it’s easier to forgive. The film grows a big, gooey romantic heart and I began to melt — even Sha Ra, who plays Arjun and Anu’s friend, becomes tolerable.

In this half, we see an alternative scenario (somewhat like It’s A Wonderful Life) play out and the tone is no longer that of a cartoon. Ashok Selvan is no longer asked to mug madly, and as the character mellows, so does the performance. The writing sparkles. The bit where a cab driver from the first half returns is a superb touch, and it really underlines the magical-fantasy aspects of this story. I found myself smiling more and more — it was the kind of idiot-grin that appears when you’re feeling moonstruck while watching two made-for-each-other people fumble towards each other on screen.

Two actors really help. Vani Bhojan is a triumph as Meera, whom Arjun begins to have a thing for. She finds ways to freshen the cheesiest reaction shots, like the shaking the head and laughing thing, or the arching the eyebrows to gesture “What’s up!” thing. And Ritika Singh is glorious. Her instincts are superb. I’ll point to Anu’s engagement scene where she passes by rows of guests while making her entry. She smiles at everyone and then she sees Arjun and her smile dims and the second she passes him, the original wattage returns to her smile. Ritika doesn’t make a big moment out of whatever Anu is feeling inside, and the effect is as understated as a cloud floating past the sun. I wished she hadn’t been let down by the first half, but as the cinema cliché goes, I’d rather watch a movie that begins badly and then bursts into life than something that begins well and ends up making you slap your forehead and say… “Oh My Kadavule!”

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil