Ohm Shanthi Oshaana has a bunch of traits that double as both flaws and strengths:
1. The massive Aiyyaa (2012) hangover. Look no farther than OSO's plot: Girl stalks boy, boy doesn't seem to be interested, girl holds on to her hopes, eventually-maybe-probably finds boy IS into her after all. (I feel like others have mentioned this similarity already, pardon me for rehashing it.) But the imaginary relationship Pooja (Nazriya Nazim) builds with the much older and more serious Giri (Nivin Pauly) is less magical here than in Aiyyaa (read: more painful). Mostly because we've all been Pooja at one time or another in our youth, and we also know it's called a "crush" for a reason...
2. The tendency to invest in detail. The movie sets up all the characters that surround Pooja with a series of humorous, collage-esque, snapshots. Sort of like Cranford crossed with Clueless. Or a pleasant short story you read at the coffee shop on Saturday morning. You might question the overemphasis of quirky town-staples, except that these characters collectively make up the heroine's psyche. Pooja's father and aunt, more than anyone else, bridge the divide between sketch and home video. But BECAUSE OSO spends so much of it's relatively short runtime with secondary characters and Pooja's limited first person perspective, we never really get to know Giri beyond his reputation. We know Pooja intimately (or as well as we can know her in a film trying to be a bit tongue-in-cheek), and we see her build a rapport with multiple side-characters, but all of this only casts a brighter light on the lack of a rapport between the "lovers."
3. The attempt at showing long lasting platonic relationships between men and women. Good, but underdeveloped, just like the romance. Also, one of the reveals sours this theme... and you end up feeling that one of the friendships was just a red herring.
4. The idea that everyone experiments with life, and sometimes it takes a while to find the right recipe. It's hardly a subtle theme. Pooja's aunt is a specialty winemaker always mucking about in the cellar with a different brew, her father is an amateur chemist trying to discover a miracle drug, her mother is a cooking fanatic and is always trying to perfect new recipes. All of this should add up to a film that recommends experimentation--and I think it tries. I *think* we're supposed to realize that there's a time to experiment and wait, and a time to just go all out and order exactly what you want off the menu.
5. The runtime. As much as it's nice to see a film that isn't weighted down with excess and flash, we couldn't everything we wanted in the film because it was too short. Yes, at two hours with only a couple musical sequences (which are definitely not big performance numbers), somehow OSO doesn't have enough time to pull off a satisfying romance. Or maybe it veers off formula too much and then doesn't know how to get back to the main road.
Nothing substitutes for relationship-building. Aiyyaa manages to make me feel as if the two leads will get along splendidly once the conversational barrier is finally broken near the end of the film...most probably because it breaks its own limited (if fantastic) perspective once or twice to show us a glimpse of what the object of the heroine's desire really thinks of her. Even with more dialogue in Nivin Pauly's hands than Prithviraj ever got in Aiyyaa, and certainly a role with clearer motivaions, I can't get away from the feeling that Giri and Pooja might actually be mismatched. It's not that he's poor and she's rich, he's Hindu and she's Christian, vagerah vagerah, but that I don't see anything but respect between them. And sure, respect is SOMETHING, but their vastly different daily jobs and interests (so painstakingly set up) might prove to be a bigger hurdle than any differences in social status.
5. The progressive politics. The ethics of the film are magically-scaffolded into place. Like a
YouTube video with a disabled comments section, the film puts forth a semi-feminist and pluralist ideology with a happy-go-lucky spirit, inviting no internal criticism. Still, it seems quite remarkable in its devil-may-care approach to female-empowerment, parenting, inter-caste and interfaith relationships, and dowry critique. For me, the best moments ebbed and flowed with the presence of Pooja's father (Renji Panicker), an absentminded doctor, and also the film's clearest moral voice: especially in the themes of hands-off parenting and religious pluralism. Despite her sometimes reckless ways (especially in his community's eyes), he never rebukes his daughter EXCEPT when he feels she is being untrue to herself (in her quest to get the boy she wants). And no matter what she asks for, he gives. Perhaps indulgently, but also as a vote of confidence. And *spoiler* to the end, he's proved right in his assessment of her character.
I guess this is one of those dishes that's missing something, but definitely worth trying on your way to something better.
Note: If there's one, single, unmissable moment in this film, it's Pooja's fantasy of a potential groom viewing (instead of the usual bride viewing scene), with Nazriya literally reversing the masculine gaze and Nivin playing the bashful candidate serving tea to the visiting family. It's not that Pooja doesn't retain something nearing this agency in the rest of the film, it's just that I cared about it more in the guise of farce than dumbed down into a formal drama.