The best love stories are the ones that cease to be only about love. The unabashed Malayalam crowd-pleaser Premam transcends the genre. This tale of the floundering pursuit of love, losing it and stumbling upon it yet again at different stages of the protagonist’s evolution makes for a sunny, coming-of-age film.
Actor Nivin Pauly effortlessly draws you into George’s adolescent-to-adult metamorphosis with its quirks and timidities. Taking us through the passage of his anticipation and anguish, Premam’s magic is as breezy and elusive as a butterfly, a metaphor that subtly prances around the screen at regular intervals. Nivin makes George’s bafflements and disappointments ring true.
Not to say that the film is all about George. The bevy of leading ladies breaks the mould of female protagonists. As the film completes 3 years, it’s time to relive the magic and for the enviably uninitiated lot, to dive into its allure.
Not as plot-driven but a mosaic of unrequited and failed romance, the idea of a remake of the film has usually elicited looks from fans that scream ‘sacrilege’. It’s difficult to shake off images from the original. With reports of Arjun Kapoor being roped in to star in the Hindi remake of the Malayalam blockbuster, Premam aficionados are already raising their eyebrows.
Their doubts would not be misplaced since Premam is almost synonymous with Nivin Pauly. It catapulted him to instant fame outside Kerala. Even Naga Chaitanya and Shruti Haasan’s Telugu version of Premam couldn’t nail its earthy charms.
Capturing the awkwardness of teenage love, Premam trades melodrama for subtlety. Our heart may break for George but we never pity him. He’s the Malayalam ‘hero’ who takes rejection on his chin, after some wallowing. And, like any formidable entertainer, the music does not miss the mark.
The Mundu Swag
The Kalippu song introduces a heartbreakingly handsome George (Nivin Pauly) in his college days and ushers us into his rebellious years. The slick and fluid camerawork coupled with the pulsating energy of the track mines the swag in the mundane.
Nivin Pauly and his squad show you the impeccable way to hitch up the mundu while casually sauntering into a performance venue. Later, the fist fight hits a crescendo and we see the words ‘SUSPENDED’ across the screen. There’s nothing ‘macho’ about this act. It merely points to his fickle pseudo-gangster phase.
Even the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala Blasters channeled this Mundu swag in their promo for the ISL (Indian Super League).
Of Bushy Eyebrows, Pimply Cheeks and Wild, Unruly Curls
The female actors of most Malayalam films don the ‘no makeup’ look. But director, Alphonse Puthren went a step further and convinced Sai Pallavi, who made her debut with the film and who is well-known as Malar after her character, to brandish her blemishes on screen, devoid of the cosmestic, airbrushed touch.
Unlike the jarring spunk of the ‘manic pixie dream girls’ of popular culture, it’s Malar’s unflappable oomph that sent viewers into a tizzy.
Watch how she demolishes the prejudices of her gobsmacked students with her willowy spunk by breaking into an unrehearsed dappankoothu that made her a fan favourite.
Then there’s Anupama Parameshwaran who plays Mary in the film, George’s love interest in his younger years or his naive ‘first love’. Belying her demure smile is a muted fieriness that finds its way into her wild curls. Aware of her charm, she wears her tresses like a self-assured Medusa.
Exquisite Food Shots
Be it the red-velvet cake baked by George that exemplifies both hope and heartache, the sharbath with a dash of couscous, downed with friends on an idle summer afternoon in the nooks of pastoral Kerala or even food mentioned in the passing - these visual details in the fringes manage to tantalise.
The film begins with George discussing his preference of fish and how he’d like it to be cooked for dinner with his mother, while also penning a love letter. He ends up erroneously referring to his love interest by the name of the fish in the letter, setting the tone for the treatment of Premam.
Solid Supporting Cast
It’s to the credit of the storyteller that the actors in the smallest roles shine. Take for instance, the computer science teacher, Vimal Sir, who has fallen for Malar, hook-line-sinker and his bumbling ways to woo her. If you pay attention to the characters on the margins, they reappear in pivotal roles later, eliciting an agreeable wave of surprise.
Produced by Anwar Rasheed on a small budget, Premam went on to rake in almost Rs 60 crores at the Kerala box office. One of the highest grossing Malayalam films of 2015, Premam completes three years on 29 May and continues to find new audiences beyond the periphery of Mollywood. Its simple charms surpass language barriers.
Ahead of the Hindi remake, surrender to its original, untainted magic. Catch it on Hotstar (available with subs).