Olu movie cast: Esther Anil, Shane Nigaam
Olu movie director: Shaji N. Karun
Olu movie rating: 2.5 stars
Veteran filmmaker Shaji N Karun’s latest film Olu (She) is the story of a girl Maya (Esther Anil), who is raped and discarded in the Kerala backwaters. She mysteriously survives underwater and is carrying a child. On full moon nights, she can see above water and on one such night, she sees a painter Vasu (Shane Nigam), as he is wandering the waters on his boat. An unsuccessful and uninspired artist, Vasu is struggling to create something spectacular in his paintings. Maya decides to help and empowers him to create a painting which changes his life. As Maya falls in love, she confronts Vasu’s contrasting ideas about love and realize that they seek different things from each other.
Esther Anil is convincing in this unconventional role but Nigam, playing a wandering artist, could have added some depth to his character as one who is caught in the throes of creativity and love. Kani Kusruti, who plays Vasu’s sister, delivers a fine performance in a short but memorable role.
Set in a village, the film blends ancient beliefs, customs, religion, and mythology to create a densely layered film which engages on several counts. In imagining a different fate for its protagonist, melding her fate with that of a goddess, the film offers the woman an empowering choice instead of the one intended by her rapists.
The role of nature as the giver of life and beauty is foregrounded and intertwined with Maya, as nature finds primacy in the mythology of the goddess as well as in the creativity of the artist. The stunning choreography, a hallmark of Karun’s films, brings this unusual fantasy to life as the Kerala backwaters are created in exquisite detail.
The underwater life was created through the extensive use of CGI that marks a departure from Karun’s earlier works. In the case of Olu however, the narrative demands the extensive use of technology as the creation of a fantastical waterscape would not have been possible without it. The film also marks Karun’s second collaboration with French producer Pierre Assouline, who co-produced Vanaprastham earlier.
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But the narrative gets entangled in the creation of the fantasy and neither Maya nor Vasu’s story seems to come together. Although the idea is compelling, its execution in the film lacks conviction. However, it remains compelling for it’s artistry. As the priest in the film says, “Don’t search for truth in stories, just believe them.”
Olu had its world premiere at the 2018 Kolkata International Film Festival and was chosen for the opening of the Indian Panorama Section at the 2018 International Film Festival of India.