The film gives an interesting spin to the time-travel angle in the story but the screenplay lacks the required punch at times
Aadhi, Seenu and Chaitanya are three inseparable buddies trying to take charge of their not-so-happening lives. Social anxiety and grief come in the way of Aadhi’s musical ambitions while Chaitanya’s major struggle is to find a dream life partner. Seenu is a small-time house broker regretting his inability to make it big in his life. A scientist Paul miraculously offers them an opportunity to set their destiny right while going back in time. Will their efforts pay off?
What if one gets a chance to revisit their formative years and reimagine their destiny? What if one gets to hold a conversation with their younger selves and reassert their expectations from life? Oke Oka Jeevitham is a product of an emotional backstory tied up with a bunch of playful yet ambitious ideas. The time-travel film is a story of personal acceptance and coming to terms with one’s present. On the writing front, it’s a fascinating attempt at a sci-fi comedy with a few bumps in its path.
In the first stretch of the film, director Shree Karthick throws light on the pessimism in the lives of its three protagonists. The narrative comes up with several reasons that compel these men to correct their past, go back in time. While Aadhi’s reason to revisit his childhood is convincing, one can’t help but feel that Seenu and Chaitanya are forced into the mix just to add up to the film’s fun quotient. When they’re actors as capable as Vennela Kishore and Priyadarshi, why not?
The film takes time to gain steam and works its charm on you once the sci-fi element comes into play. Time-travel films can be great tools to rekindle your nostalgia for earlier times and Shree Karthick uses the genre like a toy, with which he has great fun and mischief. Taking you through the era of STD booths, Doordarshan, ‘Washing Powder Nirma’ ads and freer roads, the filmmaker transports you into the late 90s with a lightweight touch, without overdoing the feel-good factor.
With all the pivotal characters, the writer-director comes up with insanely funny scenarios on their attempts to ‘reset’ their past. Seenu constantly chides his younger version to study well if he aims to have a good future, Chaitanya pushes his teenager-self to take his childhood crush seriously while Aadhi builds himself a strong foundation for a career in music. Sharwanand brings restraint and calm to the colourful narrative, being the son craving some time from his mom.
There’s a classic ‘hand in your mouth’ intermission twist that turns the narrative on its head. The filmmaker’s ambitious aims, however, invite a few complications in the screenplay. The nostalgic, happy-go-lucky dimension in the story takes a backseat and the film transitions into a thriller. There’s no harm in the tonal change but the film loses its grip while going back and forth between the past and present. The protagonists are presented with newer challenges every minute.
In the process of resolving its multiple conflicts, the emotional connect in the story goes for a toss. There are key decisions one makes with complex screenplays in sci-fi films - you either take the ‘Aditya 369’, ‘Manam’ route and make the proceedings more accessible for the common man or trust them to connect the dots without spoonfeeding them. Oke Oka Jeevitham opts for the latter.
Despite the middling 30 minutes post the interval, the climax provides you with an emotional high, joy and some terrific moments of self-reflection. Chaitanya reminds his younger self to smile more and keep his expectations in check, Aadhi prepares his child-version to take on the world without fear and Seenu discusses the need to be streetsmart. When a filmmaker pays heed to such intricate details, you end up appreciating the journey’s intent more than looking at it as a playful exercise.
However, there are other problems with the film. Amala Akkineni comes across as an endearing personality but doesn’t penetrate the emotional layers of the film as much as you’d expect her to. She appears a tad too guarded and self-conscious to lend warmth to her portrayal. It’s an encouraging sign when a mainstream actor like Sharwanand shoulders a not-so-mainstream narrative, trusting a filmmaker fully. Ritu Varma has a brief role but makes an impact.
Priyadarshi has turned choosy with his roles lately and this is good news, especially when he gets offers like Oke Oka Jeevitham where you genuinely appreciate the earnestness he brings to the table. Vennela Kishore’s golden run continues in an oddball role tailormade to complement his strengths. Nasser, Ravichander provide formidable support to the narrative. The child actors - Hitesh, Jay Adithya and Nithyaraj - are an absolute delight and light up the screen with their presence.
With bilinguals, it’s a given that you will miss a regional touch to the proceedings, purely by the way you look at a city, surroundings or its past. Beyond the leads, the film needed more familiar faces at least to ensure that authenticity. On the technical front, the film is sharp. Cinematographer Sujith Sarang and art director Satheeskumar play by the book while recreating the 90s - with the use of cassettes, landline phones, pagers and other elements - but offer the viewer a visually compelling glimpse of the period beyond the overly rose-tinted outlook. This is also Jakes Bejoy’s best work in his Telugu stint to date.
This is a promising debut for Shree Karthick. The film may have its share of flaws though it gives us a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to break the mould even within the limitations of the genre.
Oke Oka Jeevitham is a sci-fi comedy that gives you a lot to cheer, introspect and helps you appreciate your present without getting preachy. There are occasional jerks in the storytelling but the film remains largely memorable, thanks to the assured performances by Sharwanand, Priyadarshi and Vennela Kishore.