Premam (Malayalam, 2015)
Director: Alphonse Putharen
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Madonna Sebastian, Sai Pallavi, and Anupama Parameshwaran
A MUCH-AWAITED movie with a curious tagline — “The second film in the history of world cinema with nothing new” — Premam, or Romance, was much lauded (and sometimes denounced) during its hugely successful theatrical run in Kerala last year. And even today, much has been written about the film because Premam is, arguably, Malayalam cinema’s biggest hit. It smashed several box office records, quickly gained a cult following, and sparked discussions in classrooms, offices and newsrooms.
Alphonse Putharen’s deft direction and keen eye for detail is evident but Premam belongs to its actors — especially Nivin Pauly, who clearly enjoyed portraying the many shades of his character, George David. Pauly gets to play three versions of George — the stubborn, sentimental schoolboy, the angry-young-college-going man who just can’t kick his rebellious streak and the suddenly responsible 30-something who realises that anger may not be the only emotion he can turn to. Upon its release last May, Premam became a phenomenon: a lot of youngsters in Kerala wanted to walk, talk and dress like George. At a well-known women’s college in Kochi, a group of girls walked into the campus one day, during Onam season, each donning a dark shirt, dhoti, sunglasses and attempted that Pauly swagger. Premam had become seriously cool.
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But barely a month after the film opened — and was still playing — to packed houses in Kerala, a pirated copy leaked online, sending shock waves through the Malayalam film industry and stirring up anti-piracy sentiments like never before. There were also murmurs that the movie portrayed a “negative” view of college life and sent a misguided message about young love. But none of that took anything away from its unprecedented success.
And then there are the women, without whom Premam would never have worked. Sai Pallavi gets to play the most interesting character. As Malar, a charming, witty, Tamil-speaking college lecturer who finds a special place in George’s heart, she is exceptional. Who would have thought it was her debut film — or at least her first full-fledged movie role? The support cast also does a fine job. In a film that is all about love, they provide plenty of humour and drama.
Putharen, who also scripted Premam and makes an impressive cameo appearance, manages to pack a lot into its hefty running time of two hours and 44 minutes. FYI, that’s only around 20 minutes more than the average Malayalam movie. Surprisingly, there are no special features on the DVD. A featurette on the making of this slickly-shot film would have been interesting.
The music and background score never seem out of place, always jelling with the characters’ on-screen journey. The soulful Malare, sung by Vijay Yesudas, was an instant hit.
Premam is a simple yet nuanced film that blends everyday realism with subtle wit, true love with tragic setbacks, adolescent angst with adult nostalgia. The hero is, in fact, Everyman, annoyed with a co-worker one moment, laughing with a long-time friend the next. By the time the end credits start rolling, George’s old friends are our old friends, his one-time rivals our new friends and his star-crossed loves, the great loves of our lives.