She brought up Nani single-handedly, working multiple jobs and forgetting about her own life as an individual. It is this Savitri, who goes about judging the women around her. Is it because they've got it all so easy when she had to fight every battle alone? Are the knives she throws at Madhavi made of her own bitterness?
Baby is determined to be a light-hearted entertainer and does not delve deep into this — even when Savitri becomes year-old Swati Samantha due to divine intervention, she remains the same person in her mind. That is, the kind of year-old who lectures to an unsuspecting new mom at a supermarket about the glories of breastfeeding and admonishes her for looking at formula. However, though Savitri as Swati does not change her ways drastically, she also gets the push-back that she wouldn't have because of her age.
The new mom, for instance, tells Swati to mind her own business and not advise her on her life choices. Samantha, who has mostly played glamorous roles in Tamil and Telugu films, is liberated from the male gaze at last in her role of Savitri-Swati.
Though she plays the year-old woman, her body language is that of a year-old — a woman who is no longer constantly judged for her beauty, and can talk about constipation and gas problems without worrying if it will ruin her femininity. Swati dresses up chic but it's amply clear that she's dressing for herself. From the confident way in which she sits to how she never hesitates to give it back to lecherous men or eats giant meals because she's got her original teeth back, Samantha is a delight to watch on screen.
As Swati, she does not exhibit the least bit of self-consciousness that younger women nearly always wear because they're being watched. Later in the film, when Vikram, one of the young men, becomes interested in her, we catch a glimpse of the Savitri who lost her spouse young and subsequently never had any romance in her life.
She had bundled away any such aspirations and focused on her son, but now she yearns for one such moment to return to her. In her new avatar, Swati takes great pleasure in rubbing her youth and beauty on other women — Madhavi, Divya, Anasuya Chanti's daughter, who hates Savitri and Sulochana an acquaintance who keeps boasting about her son who's in America. She cares little about validation from men; she'd rather sock it to the other women by calling them "aunty" and emphasising her youth. In a patriarchal society where women are valued primarily for their looks and are held up to unreasonable standards of beauty, Swati's behaviour is not uncommon.
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When she walks into her son's house and receives a compliment on her pretty face, Divya immediately says, "Who won't look good if they apply half a kg of make-up? When Anasuya sees her father Chanti who knows Swati's real identity sitting with the young woman on her bed, she immediately assumes that the two of them are having an "affair" and starts wailing, asking the neighbours to come and look at this atrocity. Savitri and Chanti have known each other since childhood and they've never worried about spending time together; Anasuya, too, has never had any misunderstandings about the nature of their relationship.
But though Savitri remains unchanged in Swati's body, the relationship is perceived differently by onlookers. In the end, when Savitri reverts to her original form and Chanti becomes his young, dashing self, the two of them ride off together on his motorcycle, emphasising that neither age nor beauty should decide matters of the heart.
Savitri never apologises to Madhavi, Divya, or Anasuya who she chides for being an overweight, unmarried woman living off her father's money for her words. Perhaps Oh! Baby would have been a better film if Nandini Reddy had taken the effort to build greater empathy among the women. While Madhavi to an extent understands Savitri after overhearing Nani's conversation with his son on the sacrifices of mothers, we don't see Savitri make a similar journey to meet the younger women at halfway point. We see her tearing up when she hears of Sulochana's Urvashi real story — the woman she'd ridiculed and enjoyed cutting to size was actually leading a lonely life, ignored by her NRI son though she'd maintained a facade that she was pampered by him.
When Vikram's mother Aishwarya gives her a long list of how she should take care of her son when she comes home "to see the bride", Swati bristles at the idea. The same Swati, who as Savitri, had wanted her daughter-in-law to wipe her son's shoes clean. The last scene, where the family is back and celebrating together, suggests that life is a lot better now and that the differences in the family have been ironed out. But despite this and the moments mentioned above, an apology from Savitri, even if delivered in her grudging style, would have made this remake superior.
It would have been even more amazing if the men too had acknowledged their accountability for not standing up against patriarchy — but one suspects that's being too greedy.
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In another decade maybe? Baby is not without its faults, but it is a film which has the potential to make the audience rethink that age-old proverb — 'A woman's worst enemy is another woman'. Does the hate come out of nowhere? Or is it those old knives we've driven into her back? Skip to main content. Sign in.
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