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‘Are You Okay Baby?’ movie review: Partly a defence statement, partly an ineffective legal drama

September 22, 2023 01:58 pm | Updated 03:13 pm IST

Lakshmy Ramakrishnan lets her popular reality show take space away from a potentially riveting legal drama that could have dug deeper into the legal and moral intricacies of child adoption in India

A still from ‘Are You Ok Baby?’ | Photo Credit: @LakshmyRamki/X

Television host Lakshmy Ramakrishnan doesn’t mince words and means business when it comes to Solvathellam Unmai, her reality show that attempts to seek justice for the problems of common people. With Are You Okay Baby?, the actor-filmmaker gives a two-hour-long defence argument in support of her show that is also a clarification, partly an advertisement, and also an elaborate reply to criticism; the result is a choppy film that doesn’t find a rhythm in its non-linear narrative and one that is bogged down by its own needless expectations.

In the beginning, it seems as if Lakshmy’s show might end up as just a tool to set up the story or trigger to take off a legal drama, which hints at touching upon the legal and functional intricacies of child adoption, the moral responsibilities of the parents, and the flaws of the system. However, you soon realise that the show takes up more and more space in the story, almost becoming a parallel track.

Are You Okay Baby? (Tamil)

Director: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan

Cast: Mullaiyarasi, Abhirami, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, Samuthirakani, Muruga Ashok, Mysskin

Runtime: 113 minutes

Storyline: The adoptive parents of a baby girl are shocked when the biological mother accuses them of illegally taking away her child

We first follow a rather investing story about how baby Anya’s time with her new, adoptive parents, Vidhya (Abhirami) and Balachandran (Samuthirkani), ends when her biological mother Shobha (Mullaiyarasi) accuses her partner Thyagi (Muruga Ashok) and a nurse named Suguna (Vinodhini) that they used her financial and personal situation to illegally separate her from her child. To the defence of Shobha, we realise that the adoption wasn’t legal as the papers weren’t ratified in court and the involvement of money as the quid-pro-quo makes it child trafficking from the eyes of the law.

However, the adoptive parents argue that Shobha’s consent was acquired, that she doesn’t have the means to raise a child and question why she is asking for the baby almost eight months after the birth. Shobha goes to Sollaadhadhum Unmai (name changed to avoid legal complications, one can believe), a controversy erupts post the airing of the episode, the Child Welfare Committee and the CB-CID get involved, and a legal case begins.

Are You Okay Baby?, at the heart of it, is about an ethically ambiguous situation in which you wonder what justice is — Mysskin, who appears as a top-hat from the Child Welfare Committee, puts the conundrum as one similar to when a guy steals medicine to save his pregnant wife. Here, Shobha and Thyagi cannot raise the child, the law is against Vidhya and Balan, and so the future of the child hangs with uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Lakshmy also wants you to know her side, as the anchor of the show and as someone who has to make difficult calls on a daily basis. From an unnecessary scene just to deliver a riposte about her costumes and make-up on the show to an ensemble of characters who populate the television channel, Lakshmy really takes her time to tell us of nitty-gritty of the television life and the politics that comes with making a show. All this is done to tell you that there is a director behind the show (played by Pavel Navageethan) who is responsible for a lot of the calls, how the guests can sometimes hide facts, how much research the team usually puts in, how the media inaccurately reports about the show and the host, and so on.

You might choose not to pay attention to any and all display of vanity but only when the focus shifts to the two mothers in this legal battle do you realise the time that’s been wasted on the other track. Further, with respect to the story itself, there’s the curious case of why the video recording of the show wasn’t submitted as a part of the legal case against Vidhya and Balachandran that keeps nagging you in the third act.

As a film, what makes matters worse for Are You Okay Baby? is the shot division that never pulls you into the world seamlessly and the editing, as it becomes a fidgeting exercise to notice all the unnecessary shots that have no value in the scene. The non-linear narration is another untidy business; there’s no clarity in the non-linear approach — even the suspense of the unusual situation doesn’t work thanks to constant interruptions — and the transitions between these timelines are rough.

What truly stands out in the film is Mullaiyarasi’s performance. It really is difficult to non-verbally communicate and sell the emotional reasons for a decision especially when the cards are stacked against you, and Mullai truly makes you feel for her. Samuthirakani and Abhirami, despite their relatively shorter appearance, bat well for their case as a childless couple who adopts Anya.

There is definitely an intriguing drama on adoption and law that tells you how the law cannot always guarantee ethical or moral justice, which itself is a valid justification for the existence of such shows. And there could also be a film on the inner workings of such a television show. Perhaps Lakshmy just wanted to tell the latter with such a legal case as an example but combining these two stories into a two-hour film makes it a shallow mish-mash.

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