I was in Trichy last week. And to escape from the brutal Trichy summer (which makes the tar melt in double quick time on the roads and where people do not need a gas stove to make egg omelettes), we decided to hit the shopping mall for ‘AC’. I was just about casually humming the melodies that were being played inside, when my ears, arteries and veins lit up. It was ‘Malare‘. The same ‘Malare‘ which took Kerala by storm. The same lyrical brilliance which tests one’s pronunciation skills, something which a Non Malayalee might find hard as gargling a marble. So, how did ‘Malare’ make it to the playlists of non Malayalees, Tamilians in particular?
I have lived all my life in Trichy and it is very rare that a Malayalam film is talked about, forget even getting released. I wouldn’t blame the city and its people for it. There is a good number of Malayalam speaking people, who like the many I have seen, prefer Tamil over Malayalam. And so, even if, all the celestial bodies align and a Malayalam film gets released, it will definitely run to near-empty audience. But this is where Premam stood out. Defying all the laws, Premam was re-released in Tamilnadu and the film was a run away hit when it was screened at LA cinemas in Trichy. The film ran for over 250 days in Chennai’s Satyam cinemas. The funnier part is in Kerala, the film’s intended audience, the film didn’t cross 160 days.
Was it the merely the Nivin Pauly phenomenon? Or did the story bowl the Tamil audiences? I’d say its a mix of both, though the story, screenplay and the costumes were the clincher. Nivin Pauly is the most sought after hero in Malayalam, closing in on the levels of Mammootty and Mohanlal. His boy-next-door roles that became blockbusters in Malayalam were gleefully accepted in Tamilnadu. His bilingual ‘Neram‘ fared reasonably well at the box office and was critically acclaimed here. ‘1983‘ and ‘Bangalore Days‘ were much talked about in Chennai. And slowly, people started following his films. Chennaites fell in love with his ‘Oru Vadakkan Selfie‘. It is at this backdrop that ‘Premam’ hit the screens in Chennai and Coimbatore. From what was initially thought to be a Nivin Pauly entertainer, the film transcended boundaries and made its characters, household names.
When you talk about ‘mass’ scenes, our films have shown us the cliched image of a hero beating down a herd of villains, sometimes in gravity-defying stunt scenes, supported by some killer background music. Or as some of the Telugu and mindless Bollywood films showed us about bikes and cars toppling, with the hero coming out unhurt. Obviously, lakhs and crores were splashed to shoot these ‘mass’ scenes. What Premam did was quite simple, like how some Russian chap suggested the usage of a pencil over a fountain pen inside a spaceship. College students aged 21, sporting a beard and a rayban glass, dressed up in a Black shirt and a ‘mundu‘, would be walking while raising their legs to wind up the ‘mundu‘. Add to it, Rajesh Murugesan’s killer background music and the slow motion shots. Just that. That’s it. No guns. No knifes. No broken beer bottles. No sharp weapons. What we saw on screen gave us goosebumps. You felt like you could throw up twenty villains at a time. You felt energized. You felt you could yell ,”Screw you” to your boss. This was the real ‘mass’ scene. Of course, we have seen Mohanlal stylishly do that before. Mammootty adventurously did it in Rajamanikkam. But this was equally effective on screen and was of a different level. They are college going guys. The film was catered to the age group of 18-25. And they went amok. Every Tamil speaking person who saw it, could relate it. ‘Mundu‘ or ‘Veshti‘ is their traditional attire as well. They had seen such a scene at least once in their life as well. (Wonder why Narasimham and Rajamanikkam didn’t become a rage in Tamilnadu. The scenes were equally mass).
After watching it umpteen number of times, I can easily say that without the ‘Malar‘ part, it would’ve remained a normal Malayalam film. It wouldn’t have taken Tamilnadu by storm. It wouldn’t have prompted some of my Tamil speaking friends to learn Malayalam. It wouldn’t have bridged the gap between the two industries and more importantly, the fans. The character was laced on reality. A Saree wearing teacher without make up is what you see in a normal college in Kerala and Tamilnadu. The concept of a student falling in love with a teacher is not new. You have seen a Malar and George. You have seen love stories in campuses. You have seen love failures and broken hearts. Alphonse Putharen simply showed us what we’ve already seen and heard. There was nothing new. But it was all about the way the scenes were conceived and shot. The depiction is completely non-filmy. The dialogues were raw, nothing of the cinematic stuff were included. And people liked it. In the end, people like to see on screen what they see in real life, unadulterated. Give them raw, they will definitely like it. Tamil audiences too, deserve films likes these often. Hopefully, the film makers note it.
So, is Premam worth all the hype? Not really. It’s a just a love story in different stages of a guy’s life. But extraordinary elements are the cinematography, direction, dialogues, background score, ‘mundu’, ‘mass’ scene and ‘Malare Ninne Kaanadhirunnal, Mizhivegiya niramellam maayunna pole‘