Some Ramblings - Premam (Malayalam) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Finally...finally...finally, a movie that got it just right about what and how it feels to be smitten first, fall in love next, nurse a bruised heart thereafter and do it all over again (and again and again), with the kind of sincerity, honesty, humor and stark realism that are found only in documentaries and stand up comedies. This exploration of the process of falling in love at different stages of life, the first, during adolescence (laced with infatuation), the second, while being young (raging with intensity) and last, during the autumn years of youth (dripping in maturity), is a first of its kind in Indian cinema, not because of its thematic structure (which has been done before in yester years' 'Mera Naam Joker' by Raj Kapoor till the recent 'Autograph' by Cheran), but the way each phase has elaborately detailed with everyday trivialities and nuances that often escape the cinematic eye. This is pure gold, for not many movies have dared to incorporate the every day dialect of students (both school's and college's) or the vacuous conversations of lazing youth into its 'movie speak' sans any usual setup-punchline or 'scripted' word. It is sheer audacity on the part of the writer-director to concentrate on just the love aspect of life through all the three stages for the entire length of the movie and yet fill it with such wit and truth that it seldom (in fact, not ever) feels repetitive or tiresome. Aiding him every step of the way is the amazing photography, foot tapping and mellifluous foreground and background music and very innovative editing. The movie feels very autobiographical drawing from and relying very heavily on the reality of life of someone who went on a quest to find his one true love. Movies as these cannot be 'scripted', 'plotted' or 'made'. They merely happen. For all those who lament on the laziness of the makers for not tapping into the rich vein of real life on matters concerning the heart (the making and breaking of it), here is 'Premam', like its title, succinct, precise, heart breaking, and heart warming. This is real life through the cinematic lens.

'There's something about Mary' - the adolescence

Ever wondered why it is always and only the hero that discovers, gets attracted to and finally falls in love with the heroine, when there are just as many able-bodied, red-blooded men around, who conveniently ignore the drop dead gorgeous beauty moving in their vicinities and instead go about their listless lives? The first step that 'Premam' takes dispels of that myth and notion that the heroine is made only for the hero (and vice versa). During the +2 period (which is when the hormones and the heart start acting up making the mind go crazy), the one ethereal beauty in the neighborhood becomes the cynosure of not just the headliner of the movie, but just about everyone around in the school, coaching center, town square and tea stall (which hasn't become a "coffee shop" yet). And for that one glance of hers (even sideways would do) queue up the prospective suitors at all the above said places decked up in (what they think is) their best gear. This is a common sight, particularly in the small towns. Like the railway timings, people set their clocks to when the school is out for the day and when the beauty is back on the road, together with her legion of followers trailing her every move and step with the kind of admiration and devotion and piety reserved only to deities. The director fills this setup with such detail (pertaining to the 90s, where this segment is sited) that it feels like he is following a real life story with a hand held - the conversations of hero and his couple of friends over lime soda (and poppy seeds) at the tea stall, about how to get his object of (entire) attention even notice him, the antics with the (inevitable and irreplaceable part of adolescent love) 'love letter', and worse, the escaping the wrath of her over-protective dad, the phone calls about 'notes', the trials of his brethren, the kindred spirits, who were making equally spirited attempts to turn her attention their way and many such - Every antic of attention grabbing (and the subsequent failure) followed by quick get together with his comrades on the postmortem of the failed plan and proposed action on the future plan, rightly depicts the never say die spirit of the adolescence, until that spirit is crushed by the first brush with reality, a reality where the heroine can have a mind of her own, in where the hero was never a part of her plans. The first 'crush', in both senses of the word.

The first drop of affection on the parched heart - the fiery youth

The heart weeps, but it mends, for sure, over a period of time.....and gets ready for another bout with love. When school turns to college, when the innocence of adolescence gives way to the intensity of youth, both the acts of falling in and out of love cut deep leaving scars that last a lifetime. This is all emotion here, no thought, only action. This segment is the heart of 'Premam', when the hero falls in love with his substitute teacher (almost his age). And the director continues infusing the life of the college student in love at first sight with even more detail - the hero seated in the classroom turning his head (and the camera peering over his shoulder) along the entire breadth of the window watching his lady love walk in amazing grace, the silent dialogue between the hero and the heroine all in subtle expressions, the conversations, this time, filled with enough realism and practicality, not to mention the good natured ribbing that goes among college friends, et al. There is a lot of influence of Gautam Menon on this segment here. As someone who knows how to intertwine suave with rugged, the sensitive with the cold hearted, Alphonse borrows a lot from Menon, which is reflective in the only action episode of the movie. Reality sets in again and it is heart break nation all over again.

Fool me once, shame on me - the wisdom years

As far as falling in love concerned, the 30s got it made. Armed with enough experience and maturity to not fall for the obvious, recalibrating the expectations on what constitutes life and living, this period has everything going for it, if done right - the confidence of wisdom, the fearlessness about failure, and the ability to pursue its purpose, just the right ingredients for turning things around, female attention and adulation inclusive. And the flip side to it being, the cynicism and the battle hardened heart, that refuse to let anything come close once again. And in the off chance that that small drop of rain, escaping the mighty expanse of the ocean, makes it way into a hard shelled oyster, the result is a pure pearl. While the director dominates the first two segments, here the hero (Nivin Pauly) truly shines, as someone who had been b(sm)itten twice with nothing to show for and so became weary and cautious when opportunity knocks at his door once again. The wrap up line at the end of each segment remains the same, regardless of the result - Love, don't count on it (with the corollary, don't discount it either).

The technical aspects of the movie add great color to the proceedings. The photography capturing the quaintness of small town Kerala, the monsoon, the lush greenery (without the usual whitewashing of the digital post processing, thank God), down to the make-up free (intense) close ups, not to mention, the lurking around angles overhearing conversations, is a cameraman's (and the audience's) delight. And to credit each of those people (the associates, the assistants) holding and behind the camera is the largesse of the director. The editor (handled by the writer-director again) needs a big round of applause for making sense out of the enormous amount of footage shot for each scene (lending all the detail to it) and putting it together as to render a documentary/realistic look, without overburdening the proceedings with more than required cutaways. Lock in step is the music that blended every possible genre (folk, rock, melody, gospel, blues and Carnatic) to come up with a soundtrack that is just 'apt', never calling more attention to itself, and neither undercutting anything. From the opening to the closing credits, this is movie made with a lot of love and care, about loving and caring. And throwing every known (and unknown) trick in the trade - the superscripts, the subscripts, the hyper-realism, the coolness and the suaveness, all with amazing performances and top notch technical contributions - this is as close to Tarantino making a movie about love, without his usual gore, and with all his trademarks used to the hilt. Bravo!


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