Director: Nandini Reddy
Cast: Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Rajendra Prasad, Lakshmi
The film begins in a physiotherapy college where Baby's son is a professor. He is seen teaching geriatrics—the branch of medicine that deals with old people's health and care—to a bunch of uninterested and unfeeling medical students who say things like, 'Where is the enjoyment in treating an old woman as opposed to a young woman?', 'Old people stink and talk a lot'. To which the professor dutifully answers, 'Life moves only forward and we are all going to be old. So be nice.' And he also introduces his mother, our protagonist, Baby, to the class, and to us. It's petrifying to imagine those students being the future of healthcare, but I wouldn't take the film's love for exaggeration seriously. That's the thing about this film. It is fun, harmless, mostly but it isn't refined enough to be more than that.
Oh Baby—based on the Korean film, Miss Granny—is, well, about Baby (Lakshmi). A woman in her late 60s, who runs a canteen with her childhood friend Chanti (Rajendra Prasad), at her son's college. She hates god for giving her a tough life, even if it turned her into the independent woman she now is. She thinks that her painful past is reason enough to be a difficult person in the present. She loves her son and her grandson way more than she needs to, but apparently that's how moms are. She nags her daughter-in-law into developing a heart condition, which, understandably, makes her granddaughter hate her with a vengeance. The rest of the story is about Baby realising her singing dreams and also, realising that she needs to move on.
Nandini Reddy, who gave us a great film like Ala Modalaindi in her first attempt, starts the film off on a promising note. We are shown a woman, who needs to change her perspective and get over herself, turning into her 20-something self and we think that's where the film is heading. We think, living the life of a young woman, surrounded by young people, will make her realise the issues with her worldview. But no. The film goes the other direction. As a beautiful 23-year-old girl, Swathi—Baby changes her name—goes from one place to another reprimanding people for not being married. She hits the members of a band she is about to join for playing what sounds like a heavy metal song. This isn't music, she says confidently. It doesn't take her no more than few hours to turn herself into a glamorous doll and eat American fast food—this assimilation needed more time and exposition— but that's where the transformation stops.
Swathi is hyperventilating minutes before a live show and the programme co-ordinator, Vikram (Naga Shourya) tries to clam her down. He says, 'what is a live show when compared to everything that you've been through in life?' This is something his grandmother had said to him when he had to face a similar situation in college. Now, this dialogue makes narrative sense—it is something Baby can instantly relate to—but which nannamma would say that to a seemingly rich college student? What has he been through in life? Puberty? The song 'Changu Bala' has the same issue as well. It is a well-written song—Mickey's music is playful enough, but not as strong as one would expect—that speaks of the woman's surprise and amusement at the new developments. But who sings a song like that at Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations? I know the film wants to be commercial and cater to a wide-range of audience, and, from the reactions in the theater, it does that successfully. But maybe there is a way it can do that while also staying sharp.
The characters and the actors playing them take a not-so-perfect script and turn it into a wholesome experience. We cry when they ask us to and we laugh when they suggest it, at least I did. Samantha delivers a top-notch performance and Chinmayi's voice gets less distracting with time. Even though Lakshmi's Baby is more stern than Samantha's Swathi, they both do a great job portraying a different version of the same flawed woman. While Lakshmi's body language stays true to the character's age and the trauma she had endured, Samantha's gleeful, winsome smile and sparkly eyes, try to make up for the lost time. A waiter asks whether she'd like to eat veg or non-veg, and Swathi says, 'Of course non-veg. These are original teeth for god's sake.' She gets the balance of a young body and an aged-brain rather skillfully.
Rajendra Prasad, as Baby's loyal friend and admirer, does a bang-on job. The effortless chemistry between him and Samantha takes one by surprise. Rao Ramesh's Naani—the son who is stuck between a mother who gave him everything and his suffering wife—gives an empathetic performance as well. But, a comedic veteran like Urvashi deserves a better character than Sulochana—a woman who is either being mean to Baby or trying to flirt with Chanti, with a cliched backstory. Even though I did not need the star cameo–I'd much prefer Chanti and Baby riding off into the sunset as they are–I loved the way the film ends. Baby realising that she is more a mother and a grandmother than anything else, and that she prefers it that way. The more we live and accumulate—relationships and memories, the farther we move away from the individual we once were. It's not always okay, but it's inevitable.
Oh Baby has its highs. As long as the film stays on the 13 Going On 30 plot point, it is highly entertaining—Baby talking about her robust digestive system to Chanti is hilarious. Even when it transforms into a love story between Baby and Chanti, it feels heartwarming. In fact, that is how I prefer to see the film: a love story between two childhood friends. But that's it. If it wants to call itself a tribute to mothers and grandmothers, why only celebrate one woman? Why not also celebrate the daughter-in law? Why not give her pain the attention it deserves? And if the film wants to be a coming together of traditional and modern values, then why not do a better job at that? It is understandable that the past has something to teach the present, but the present probably has something to teach the past too. Considering that's where we live, why the reluctance to give it a listen?