The trailer of 90 ML, when it was unveiled sometime back, set a lot of tongues wagging. The film was branded ‘sleazy’, the content ‘shocking’, even before the film hit the screens. The sneak peeks and the promos didn’t really help the image. Well, spoiler alert. There is not much that’s sleazy or shocking in the film. Well, not more than the audience reactions anyway. But let me come to that later. What 90 ML is, is superficial, outrageous but also fairly fun when Anita Udeep doesn’t push it too far.
Rita (Oviya), an unabashed fun-loving woman who lives life on her own terms, moves to a new apartment and strikes a friendship with four women who live in the same housing complex. Rita steps down the auto with a cigarette in hand, lit by the auto-driver. The intent is to get the viewer’s attention and that is effectively done. To balance this and make Rita not too alien (to the people in the colony and our mainstream audience), the same sequence has Rita handing out chocolates to almost every kid in the building. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit, but I did wonder if she had a candy store in her bag. Anyhow, this isn’t the kind of film where you look for that sort of depth. Rita is more of an idea than a character — fiercely independent who strictly follows her ‘my life, my rules’ philosophy. Thankfully, Anita Udeep doesn’t burden this idea with a backstory, trying to ‘explain’ why she is so. “If I had a sob flashback, would that make what I do okay? I just do what I like,” says Rita. I sighed in relief.
It wasn’t Rita’s recklessness that was interesting in the first place anyway. Rather, it was the four women she befriends. Each with their own set of problems — Thamarai, Kaajal, Paru, and Sukanya are fascinated by Rita’s unbridled life. Bored of their own lives, they explore, mostly just to get the high of trying something new. First, it is drinking, then it is make-up and so on. Bommu and Masoom, actors who play Thamarai and Kaajal are especially charming with refreshing innocence — Oviya’s performance feels the most clunky of the lot. 90 ML touches infidelity, homosexuality, live-in relationships and also subtly touches upon the importance of an active love life. As much as the film loudly shouts across a few points, it also documents subtle change — like how Paru becomes comfortable with a lesbian friend after initial hesitation. Despite having an A certificate, I wonder why certain dialogues about homosexual intercourse were muted out. The talk about sex and their love lives feel natural, so does the curiosity around, which by itself is a game changer for women on-screen in Tamil cinema. But for the most part, 90 ML is a version of the masala film template — there are unnecessary songs, action etc. I wish it hadn’t. Though, it only gets tiring when it is stretched a tad too long in the second half of the film.
The biggest advantage that 90 ML has is its non-problematic humour (except for a very few scenes — a man checks the pockets of a short haired girl, ‘thinking’ she is a boy. Why?). But it is definitely bliss to hear innuendos that don’t make you cringe. There’s a bungalow ‘reference’ that I found particularly innovative. Unlike Iruttu Araiyil Murattu Kuthu or Hara Hara Mahadev Ki, it wasn’t the jokes that made me uncomfortable, rather it was the reactions that they fetched that made me squirm. Every time someone kissed on screen, it was greeted with loud catcalls and cheers from the audience, along with the occasional ‘wow’. In fact, a gentleman thought it would be appropriate to shout, “Adhelam seri, matter enga?” during the film. I wonder if that’s why Anita Udeep chose to cut a trailer that only picked the most expletive moments. Or chose to have a song like ‘Sugabanam’ (STR’s music is generic but it fits the film.) where all the women do is flaunt their curves seductively for the camera? If the film had been promoted as just a fun movie about women and their love lives, would it have gotten a 5 am show at multiple theatres? That’s some food for thought.