*May contain spoilers*
Director: Anita Udeep
Cast: Oviya, Monisha Ram, Bommu Lakshmi, Shri Gopika, Masoom Shankar
Before I get into this 90ML review in full, one little anecdote. A few days ago, there was a Twitter thing that asked you what your most “accurate” celebrity sighting was. Now, I’ve worked with a few film actors and directors, and met a few more professionally and socially. But perhaps the most interesting one was my meeting Silambarasan T Rajendar, or STR, or Simbu.
It was at the bar at the Taj Club House, one Friday evening. I had just begun socially transitioning and was coming out to friends, and thinking about changing my wardrobe. A colleague-friend insisted we both go hang out at said bar, and so we were there. Said colleague friend had invited a few of her friends too and was introducing me as myself, an experience that was new to me then. And just a couple of feet away, hanging by the wall, was STR. He must have overheard my colleague – even over the loud music. For he stepped up, shook my hand, and walked out.
I bring this up because STR seems to walk in and out of the lives of many women on screen. He had that cameo in Kaatrin Mozhi, and he has a cameo in 90ML. And the 90ML cameo too, like his cameo in my eventual biopic, is set in a bar on a busy night. He appears, gives some form of approval and validation to the lives of a few people around him, and then walks out.
90ML is produced by NViz Entertainment and is written and directed by Azhagiya Asura – a pseudonym of Anita Udeep. It features music by STR, and stars Oviya, Monisha Ram, Bommu Lakshmi, Shri Gopika, Masoom Shankar, and others.
I watched 90ML right after I watched Cheran’s Thirumanam. For most people, these two films may sound antithetical. But under the surface, both seem to be talking very similar things. Both are about relationships – marriage specifically, and how that is changing as modes and mores change. Both films give voice to the woman seeking the relationship, or resisting it. Both films tell their audience to get into a relationship – a marriage – with eyes fully open and after a lot of questioning.
90ML – because it has a woman writer-director and centers its women much more than Thirumanam – is perhaps more controversial, but it surely is more fun to watch.
Rita (Oviya) moves into an apartment complex, and becomes friends with a few other women who live there. Thamarai (Bommu Lakshmi), Suganya – or Sugi (Monisha), Paru (Shri Gopika), Kajal (Masoom). The five become close friends fairly quickly, driven by the fact that the young women lack a social network outside of their homes and work and thus find Rita’s rather chilled out, seemingly carefree life a huge inspiration; and partly by alcohol. Lots of it. And as they drink and get closer and build a strong friendship, they confess their relationship truths to each other.
Rita is in love with Venkat, a good looking man who can cook, baby sit neighbours’ kids, and is secure enough in his relationship with Rita to give her enough space to do what she wants. Or so it seems. She doesn’t want marriage, he does.
Thamarai is married to the local rowdy – in her words, a hit man with integrity and a heart of gold, a man she fell in love with while she was in school and he was beating up goons. Except, he doesn’t want to give up his career with the gang boss and continues to go out on night sorties killing rival gang members.
Paru is married too, to a guy who appears to be a benign simple person, and on the surface their relationship seems okay. Except it isn’t. The guy was earlier in love with someone else, but was forced into marriage with Paru, and therefore avoids sex, even physical contact, with her.
Kajal is married and has a kid, and in the pattern already established, seems fine outside but is actually quite the opposite. The man has an affair with another woman, and has almost forced Kajal to suicide.
Suganya is younger than the others, works at an IT organisation, and according to her own admission, is in love with someone she can never marry, as neither family will accept such a union. And this leads everyone to believe that it is only because this lover – who appears as Chris on Sugi’s phone – is a Christian.
The girls drink and smoke up and unravel each other’s secrets and their own, and go on adventures to rescue the other’s loves and lives. Including gate crashing a wedding in Pondicherry to kidnap the “Christian” only to realise that Sugi’s lover is a woman called Christina, have further adventures in which they beat up Kajal’s adulterous husband, escape from the police in a kuppam off the beach while in search of weed, give Paru enough confidence to divorce her husband, rescue Thamarai’s husband from the clutches of the gang boss, and more.
And finally, it ends with Rita meeting her match: a man in a club (STR) who wants love and commitment but not marriage.
My gaydar must be super strong and super functional because the minute Sugi made her first appearance on screen, I knew she was playing for the women’s team. And I was a tiny bit let down when I, like the others, was led to believe that her lover was a mere man. No one was more elated than I when it turned out that the lesboids were lesbianning in truly lesbiotic fashion. It helps that the couple – Sugi and her lover Chris – look like a couple I know very well in real life, down to the clothes and hair style and the way one of them smiles.
Oviya as Rita is more or less who she was on Bigg Boss Tamil. Someone who speaks her mind, is unafraid to let her likes and loves go on record, and is unfettered by things like culture and tradition. That is to say, she knows it exists and doesn’t care one way or the other. She’s out for what she wants: which is way more than any other heroine in films like Irudhi Suttru, 36 Vayadhinile, Pink, or the rather heavy and clumsy Lipstick Under My Burqa do. In that, and the fact that this film doesn’t claim any large politics but manages to do the right thing, and that it has a woman story teller at the centre, makes it more of a feminist film than the ones mentioned. It’s not going to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, but hey, you can’t have everything.
The 90ML review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.