Eight tall men walk into a shopping mall through the main entrance. At first glance, you would think they have vandalism in their minds, but if you look closely, you will realize all of them are sporting an unusually similar look. Wearing stark black shirts with sleeves rolled up elegantly through mid-arm over white mundus (waist cloths) with black border lining, and sporting fake Ray-Ban aviators with deadpan expressions on heavily bearded faces – you know they are all succeeding in imitating the loverboy of a protagonist of the 2015 smash hit Malayalam film, Premam.
This particular trend of imitating Nivin Pauly’s character from the film has spread like a wildfire in the nooks and corners of Kerala. While that sounds justified as far as the southern Indian state is considered, what should one deduce from a phenomenon where a budding Electronics Engineer like me who was born and brought up in the island city of Mumbai and who has always been repulsed by the very idea of visiting Kerala starts experiencing a fondness for everything Malayalam?
You may call it “the Premam effect” similar to “the Narasimham effect” which engulfed Malayalis all over the globe (and chiefly in Gulf countries) in 2000 when Malayalam film superstar Mohanlal hypnotized his audience with his charming moves and a piercing moustache in the film with the same name. Honestly, the film is a big fat 7 (out of 10) for me as I watched it first day first show with my mother in a Mumbai theatre (Cinepolis). The hall was houseful, which is an unusual occurrence when it comes to Malayalam films in Mumbai theatres. Just to put that into perspective, the time when I watched the critically acclaimed 2014 film North 24 Kaatham by debutante Anil Radhakrishnan Menon in a Navi Mumbai theatre (INOX), there were a total of 8 people in the hall, including the two redundant ushers. I have been reviewing Malayalam films since 2012, but the sheer magical experience that I shared with my fellow audience that day has left me in awe. And now whenever the beautifully sung love-song ‘Malare’ by Vijay Yesudas plays on TV, I lapse into a state of total entrance.
Three months after I watched the film and three weeks after the apprehension of those little lover pirates who shared a preview copy of the film over the web, the so-called “Premam effect” has not winded down. It is chiefly because of the elements used by maverick director Alphonse Putharen in his second feature (after Neram (2013)); the pure native elements of a Kerala district that any malayali can relate with. The protagonist’s journey from being a teenager who is head over heels in love with his petite classmate to his fascination with the beautiful guest lecturer in college to finally end up in the arms of an unsuspecting dame is captured in the most appropriate and stylistic way. This is absolutely how real life love stories occur, and if you were to ask any shuffling adolescent at the Kaladi junction or at the Kochi pier or at Lulu Mall to describe about their love life, you will now most obviously be shot with the title of the film as an answer, which translates to “love” in the English language.
The unofficial political activism rampant in the by-lanes of colleges, teacher-student love affairs, and unsolicited hotheadedness are all marks of the modern adolescent who will take to Facebook to ask that girl out rather than asking her in person. What “Premam” manages to capture is the intricate details of such a person’s daily life – how it affects his life partially, and how friendship plays a significant role in it.
That is why when I was talking to an old friend of mine about why I now want to often visit Kerala as opposed to my random, infrequent visits, and get more exposed to Malayalam cinema, understand Santosh Pandit’s psychology and philosophy (if any), get married to a girl who is a born-Malayali and in whose arms I would lay and watch the film Premam again for the umpteenth time, he replied, “This is exactly what I have been thinking of lately. The effect is huge.” And this friend was also born and brought up in Mumbai.
Moreover, if a Malayali who was born somewhere outside Kerala and is not much exposed to the essence of Malayali soil, “the Premam effect” will make sure that he starts respecting his roots. There are a lot of people who talk negative about being a Malayali, and smirk at the thought of being counted among them. However, even the most righteous prig will stop and wonder how charming his roots are once he watches it. The film’s photography will make him weak, the songs will make him swoon, and the Kerala exoticism will eventually break him into submission.
In future, when someone asks me what my story is, to keep it dramatic and filmy, I know I would answer that my adolescent life can be divided into two parts – pre-Premam and post-Premam. That is the solid effect of the film which is arguably one of the best Malayalam films of 2015 and one of the best Indian films of the decade so far.
Have you watched it yet?