There’s an interesting plot at the center of O2. A group of passengers traveling from Coimbatore to Cochin get stuck in a landslide — their bus gets buried under the debris. There’s Parvathy (Nayanthara) and Veera (Ritwik) who are traveling for the latter’s operation — he cannot breathe without an oxygen cylinder. Rafiq (Rishikanth) is traveling to elope with his girlfriend Mitra, who is also on the same bus with her father. Police Inspector Karunai Rajan (Barath Neelakantan) is traveling with a bag of cocaine that he wants to sell. There’s also an ex-MLA and a just-released prisoner who is on the bus. It’s this motley gang that gets stuck under mounds of mud and rocks. Will they survive?
I’ve always wondered why women don’t hit back in Tamil cinema. Sure, they might not be fighters but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any strength. At most moments though, we never see them retaliate physically. We see that in O2, where Parvathy is shown to make the best use of her resources to fight back. But this ‘advantage’ quickly pales in comparison to all the execution issues the film has.
O2 is well-intentioned. It wants to make a point about man’s unmoderated exploitation of nature. It’s not a stark new premise, but on paper, O2 still has all the elements for an engaging thriller. And it’s a challenging premise to execute as well. Just like how the bus is buried under the mud, the premise is woefully buried in massive clichés. Information is provided in expository chunks of dialogue. And it doesn’t help that it stacks one cliché after the other.
For example, O2 strongly believes that motherhood is a superpower. We get dialogues like, ‘Kadavule kora vechalum, oru amma ninacha adhu seri panna mudiyum.’ (If a mother believes her, she can fix God’s mistakes.) And then there’s also, ‘Any mother would not be quiet when her child is in danger. That applies to Mother Nature as well.’ It believes that a happy moment between a mother-son is always them tickling each other. On seeing the landslide, a Malayali passerby stands and prays to the nature saying, ‘Oh nature, why so angry!’ Apart from explaining things that need no explanation, the writing is also annoyingly stilted. Even the smarter ideas get lost in the innumerable platitudes.
Almost the entire film is plagued with lip-sync issues — as if the film has been rewritten during the dubbing.
It doesn’t help that film begins with such a stretch, and even the close-ups are not free of lip-sync issues. This further pushes the audience away from the emotional conflict at hand, furthering the disconnect. Not to mention, there are also a set of logical flaws — both emotional and otherwise. Landslides come with readymade tunnels. The antagonist picks the worst moments to launch into ‘kutti stories’. Not to mention, we also have a rescue operation chief with major cheerleading experience. In fact, one of the best moments in the film is when the bus driver slaps Karunai Rajan in the middle of his rants.
Even with convincing performances from Nayanthara and Ritwik, O2 falls flat. It gasps for authenticity and plausibility.
O2 is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Ashameera Aiyappan is a film journalist who writes about Indian cinema with a focus on South Indian films.