'O.Baby' movie review: Gripping thriller bolstered by Dileesh Pothan’s career-best act (2024)

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In Malayalam cinema, there’s a recurring pattern with films set in the high ranges.

'O.Baby' movie review: Gripping thriller bolstered by Dileesh Pothan’s career-best act (1)

Promotional poster for 'O.Baby.'

Miffed by the surge in realistic films, a section of Malayali cinephiles recently coined the term, ‘Prakruthi Padam’. It is used derogatorily to classify any film that has a realistic treatment and natural performances. In that sense, Ranjan Pramod’s O.Baby is a bonafide ‘Prakruthi Padam’, both literally and metaphorically. The narrative is set amidst a lush green plantation area bordered by dense forests. The terrain is a character on its own. In the beginning, you’ll be bowled over by the landscape’s majesty. Then you feel the mystery. Then you feel the terror. Eventually, you’ll realise it’s a haven.

In Malayalam cinema, there’s a recurring pattern with films set in the high ranges. Some of the common themes include the exploration of man’s beastly side and their hunger to hunt down the weak. KG George’s Irakal was one of the first—and the finest—to tread down this path. Varathan, Jallikattu, Paka, and Appan are some of the recent examples. O. Baby’s similarities with some of these films are hard to miss. More on that later.

'O.Baby' movie review: Gripping thriller bolstered by Dileesh Pothan’s career-best act (2)

O.Baby (Dileesh Pothan), the titular character, works for the Thiruvachola family who owns the 200-acre plantation. From supervising the workers and managing finances to building campfires and assisting on hunting trips, Baby is the family’s go-to guy. Blinded by his loyalty and years of conditioning, Baby remains a mute spectator to all the systematic oppression. But only until his son’s life is under threat. In this David vs Goliath scenario, the fight is for survival. “Kollan pattumonn avar nokatte, jeevikkan pattumonn namukkum nokkam,” says one character at a crucial moment.

Ranjan Pramod means business right from the word ‘go’. The film begins with an engagement sequence that establishes the Thiruvachola family as a strictly conservative setup where women don’t have any say. The family members, except for the two young girls, are all driven by greed and a false sense of pride. On the contrary, is Baby’s family—a picture of love and intimacy. It’s not a common sight to see an 18-year-old boy hugging his father while sleeping. Several such moments in the film underline a deep father-son bonding. Despite their contrasting beliefs and principles, they care and look out for each other.

While the older generation is painted in broad strokes of greed or loyalty, Ranjan Pramod presents the youth in the film as sensible, empathetic, and forthright individuals. Baby’s son, Basil (Devadath) raises frequent questions and tries to educate his father about their rights. It shows how the next generation armed with formal education and internet literacy cannot be subject to oppression like their ancestors. In its layered narrative, the film also addresses a few other relevant issues like the exploitation of migrant workers and maoist-labelling.

As a filmmaker, Dileesh Pothan is known to extract the best out of his actors, but not many directors have been able to utilise his real acting prowess. In O. Baby, Dileesh is a true revelation as we see him deliver a splendid performance. It’s a physically demanding role as we see him engage in violent fights. Like Joju George, Dileesh also manages to convince us that he has the physique and might to overpower the opponents. He is at his subtle best in the scene where the valya muthalali summons him to have a serious discussion. The camera is focussed on Dileesh’s face. With the minutest change in expression, he conveys his guilt, angst, and fear. Speaking of the valya muthalali, the semi-paralysed scheming old man is reminiscent of the vengeance-seeking blind patriarch in Nithin Lukose’s Paka. Likewise, a romantic relationship is the element of conflict in both these films.

O.Baby is a gorgeously shot film despite the challenging geography and unsuitable weather conditions. Cinematographer Arun Chalil does an excellent job of framing the characters within the confines of their homes and in the sprawling estate. Though mostly shot using natural light, there are some beautifully lit moments in the film—like the lovemaking scenes and the dreamy song sequence featuring the teenagers. Although the film doesn’t boast of anything groundbreaking in terms of its writing, its such competent execution, with the right mix of thrills, that makes it an engaging watch... on the big screen.

Cast: Dileesh Pothan, Devadath, Haniya Nafisa, Raghunath Paleri
Director: Ranjan Pramod
Rating: 3.5/5

Malayalam industry

O.Baby

Prakruthi Padam

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'O.Baby' movie review: Gripping thriller bolstered by Dileesh Pothan’s career-best act (2024)

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