A country otherwise divided is united in its crush on Priya Prakash Varrier, the girl with the most famous wink since Cristiano Ronaldo got Wayne Rooney red-carded during the 2006 World Cup. Of course, the Portuguese forward’s wink, marked by a malignant jubilation that probably still enrages English fans, is nowhere near as attractive as Varrier’s. Neither, as these last few days have revealed, is it as meme-worthy. Since the video of the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi from the upcoming Malayalam film Oru Adaar Love went online on Friday, users have been busy pairing Varrier’s impish smile and wink with images of people as diverse as Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Katrina Kaif and Virat Kohli to hilarious effect. In a particularly inspired mash-up of memes, even the Distracted Boyfriend has been featured ogling the Malayali actor.
Thanks to the memeification and subsequent virality of those few charming moments in a song, 18-year-old Varrier, a B.Com student at Thrissur’s Vimala College, has become famous even before the release of her debut film. The views on the song’s official YouTube page has shot past nine million and apart from director Omar Lulu, music director Shaan Rahman and singer Vineeth Srinivasan, Varrier is the only other person to be tagged in the description. For a newcomer on the verge of a film career, this is one of the best indicators of celebrity in the digital age.
There’s no doubt that such instant stardom comes with a large number of problems, not least of which is the bordering-on-creepy interest that many “fans” are showing in knowing every detail of Varrier’s life. Search for her on Instagram and you’ll see about a dozen accounts using her name and images (clearly without permission). And then there’s the fact that the span of the internet’s shared passion is short (although given these privacy-compromised times, that’s probably more of a blessing). Onam, last year, saw thousands fawning over Sheril Kadavan, a teacher from Indian School of Commerce, Kochi, who was seen in a viral video dancing to Jimikki Kammal. Fake accounts proliferated then too, as did fake news about the many movie offers that she had accepted, but before the month was out, the spotlight had shifted.
Still, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we should celebrate the one truly beautiful aspect of this whole affair: the acknowledgment of youthful love. In the video of Manikya Malaraya Poovi, set against the background of a school function, we see a number of students who, in the throes of first love, blush, giggle and make moony eyes at each other. The song disregards cultural strictures about who should express romantic love at which age and celebrates romance for all the joy it brings. Nowhere is this better embodied than on Varrier’s expressive face, and the internet’s collective sigh of nostalgia over her flirtatious exchange with co-star Roshan. At a time when schoolchildren are harassed and expelled for hugging or otherwise expressing affection for each other, this celebration is a radical act.