Oozham – My first Prithviraj movie in the theater!

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I was excited that Prithviraj’s Onam Malayalam release Oozham [Turn] was coming to Chicago, but I was forewarned that it wasn’t his best film.  I didn’t care.  I was still excited to see Prithviraj on the big screen for the first time.  I have not yet seen writer director Jeethu Joseph‘s previous films Drishyam (Mohanlal) or Memories (Prithviraj).  From the reviews I’ve read, and especially this savage 1/2 star take down by Anna Vetticad, the disappointment in Oozham is particularly acute because Jeethu Joseph’s previous films have been so great.

I didn’t hate Oozham like Anna, but I certainly don’t love it either.  It’s okay — and with Prithviraj, I also would expect better than okay.  The man has made what, 100 films?  I’ve only been watching the cream of the crop, and they can’t all be at the level of Mumbai Police.

Spoilers ahead warning –

The set up of this revenge film is fantastic.  Oozham means turn — and Prithviraj turns the tables on the man who had his family killed, because he has special skills.  Not a particular set of skills like Liam Neeson in Taken.khhbgfe

One special skill — Prithviraj’s job in the US is as an explosives expert engineer (building demolition and such.)  And it’s super handy that his adopted brother is a white hat hacker!  That is a hook that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, in Hollywood or Indian cinema, having the good guy be an expert in plastic explosives.

The film starts with a van full of bad guys with guns (almost a clown car level amount) who are in search of someone, and there is a small explosion when they try to open an apartment door.  Prithviraj is behind that door!  The film cuts between this action sequence of Prithviraj on the run, and fighting with groups of these chasers, throughout the happy family scenes, the setup, and most of the film, frankly.  Our director is too clever by half, as he uses a visual transition every blinkin’ time – focusing on a shoe in the chase, and then a shoe in the happy family scene, etc.  Every. Single. Transition.

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Prithviraj is visiting his family for a few weeks for his sister’s engagement.  He’s the oldest, and besides his sister is an adopted Muslim brother (who lived next door, and who lost both parents.)  Prithviraj’s dad is a health inspector, and very busy with some sort of virus outbreak and always rushing off looking worried.  He has a police officer friend who drops by for dinner with his younger sister to set her up with Prithviraj.

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The happy family scenes dragged quite a bit, but I really liked the relationship Prithviraj had with his younger sister.  Prithviraj was, of course, the best actor in the whole film.  I liked how flustered he got being set up with Divya Pillai as Gayathri.  And in the physical fights he looked like a guy who wasn’t necessarily an expert fighter, but you can totally believe he is clever enough for all the plans that follow the family tragedy.

Once back in the US after the engagement, he’s Skyping with his sister, when he witnesses her murder and the murder of his parents.  The bad guys look right into the computer screen, but don’t know they are on camera as she had minimized the Skype window.  Prithviraj makes you feel his horror and helplessness as he is thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.

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The cop friend is killed the same day by a “terrorist attack”.  Prithviraj, his adopted brother and the sister of the cop think that coincidence very strange, and they get into their father’s email and piece together who had a reason to kill him.  The villain is head of a big pharmaceutical company that the father suspected was putting a virus into drinking water (this part was very vague and not explained.)

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Watching the revenge plot unfold was the best part of the film.  They do try to approach the police, but of course one of the killers is a rogue corrupt cop.  There were some very clever sequences, as they pick off the conspirators one by one, using controlled explosions.

The villain (Jayprakash) to be honest wasn’t that scary, and he has two lines in English that Anna Vetticad calls out as inexcusable.  He hires his own explosives expert, Captain, to protect him and find out who his adversary is.  Captain (Pasupathy, who was the rebel terrorist leader in the Tamil Kannathil Muthamittal – A Peck on the Cheek) has failed to protect someone close to Jayprakash and he says “How Dare!” and the subtitles say How Dare You both times.  One time I could excuse that they didn’t have time to reshoot an emotional scene, but twice?  The subtitles were pretty bad, but the English sprinkled throughout the film wasn’t good either.

My main issue with the film is the pacing.  I can give a slow buildup in the first half.  The inter-cutting with the chase/action fight scenes was pretty good.  But the film should have moved at a swift pace in the second half as the action heated up, and it lagged.  I really did like the ending, except for one thing.

My beef is that the villains are of course killed — but the virus that they spread in the water or what have you?  That issue is completely ignored in the conclusion.  You had a hacker for cripes sake!  He hacks all their emails to track the villains’ movements — how about sending all the incriminating emails to the press or the authorities?  In a Hollywood film, I think that would have been a major part of the revenge plot.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily run to a theater to see this film but it would be worth a rental.

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Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw it together.  She agreed that Oozham was just “okay”.

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Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

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I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

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I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

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Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!