Premam: I Liked This Movie! And it is Deeper than it Looks at First Glance!

Another Nivin Pauly movie!  Premam!  Which I loved, but I should probably make it my last rom-com for a bit.  I’ve been spoiling myself with a string of recent rom-com hits, I need to check out a different genre/era.  I wanted to watch Traffic, but no luck, it’s not available anywhere online.  Which almost gives me an excuse to watch Mili instead, which is available (and also by Rajesh Pallai, so it would be a nice thing to do the week he died).  But it’s another Nivin Pauly movie, and I am dangerously close to a Nivin Pauly overload.  Or maybe not?  Mili does look really good!

But, in the meantime, yet another clever little rom-com that has more going on that it appears!  I really liked this movie, just as a cute little romance, but about half-way through I started to notice that there is more going on than just the surface “coming of age in 3 parts” idea.

See, the title is “Love”, right?  And on the surface it looks like, we get to know our hero and watch him grow up through the 3 big love stories of his life.  But, by about half way through, I started to notice that there was all of this ambient dialogue, from characters without even names, just in the background, like Dolly the dance teacher or the cafe regular customer, who are all dealing with their own little love stories.  And all of them are men.

It’s not just a movie about this particular young man coming of age through his love stories, it’s about all men everywhere and how they act and how they are when they are in love.  In other hands, this could have turned into some sort of misogynistic tragedy, how women everywhere are controlling and destroying men.  Or, it could have been a sort of raunchy comedy, look at all the silly men who are falling in love.  But instead, it started to feel like some kind of deeper statement on masculinity and male bonding and behavior, but in a healthy and loving way.

According to this film, falling in love really is an act of growing up, part of being human and, more specifically, male.  It makes them vulnerable and delicate and ultimately stronger and better people.  This is also a message I have seen in other hands.  In fact, on paper, the structure of this film is remarkably similar to Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus, Mere Naam Joker, even down to the relationship with a teacher.  However, Raj Kapoor’s lessons on love tend more towards the nobility of unrequited love, how it is almost spiritual to fall in love and suffer.But Premam takes that message and twists it just slightly, to instead honor requited love.

When our hero is a boy, he follows the local girl around, along with all the other boys, and makes a fool of himself.  This isn’t manly, this is a fake show of manliness, playing with love but not really experiencing it.  And it is so terrifying for them, that there is a constant need for support from other boys.  Our hero calls his friends for advice, they all gather together and follow her together.  He doesn’t even know how to really talk to her without his friends with him for support.

It is only in the second section, with the full beard and the manly walk, that he confidently moves onto real love.  His pursuit of the teacher is contrasted with multiple other romances.  His house is filled with young men whispering sweet nothings into cell phones, we see longing glances and giggling conversations through out the dining hall and classrooms, and of course there is his romantic rival, the teacher.  Through out this section, it comes out that our college student hero is in fact more mature than his adult male rival.  Because of how fearless he is in love.  He actually talks to the teacher, tells her how he feels, confidently calls and walks and talks with her.  And she responds.  In contrast, his teacher asks for others to speak on his behalf, constantly needs his fellow teacher with him for moral support, has not fully matured and therefore cannot fully complete his love story.  Or is it that he has not completed his love story and therefore cannot be mature?

Is this movie saying that part of growing up and becoming a fully mature man is falling in and out of love?  Is having that initial cowardly crush, the first passionate romance, and finally the comfortable marriage the essential markers of male maturity?  This would go against the established film policies I outlined above, unlike the action films where the love story is just a distraction on the way to the resolution, or the comedies where falling in love makes a man a figure of fun, and most dissimilar, the misogynistic version of this story where falling in love is making them weaker.

I think this is why we have his friends moving in and out of his life constantly, a parade of other young men.  Which really confused me!  I have to admit, I have no idea who most of them were.  But I did grasp that our hero was always surrounded by a group of 2 or 3 close friends.  And that these friends continued from sequence to sequence, not all of them, but at least one of them.  And while we watched our hero’s story unfold, the implication was that each of these boys was going through their own saga.  We heard bits and pieces about a college girlfriend, see a jealous glance, and hear an invitation to a marriage, and so on.  In the first segment, they are all longing for the same unattainable goal, more interested in just watching a girl from a distance than actually interacting with her.  The second, they have various relationships, varieties of passionate love affairs, each with their own individual goals.  Our hero’s romance at this point, because we see it in such detail, feels like something real, like something lasting.  And maybe it could have been.  They truly seemed to care for each other, to like each other, to understand each other.  But his only plans for the future are some sort of vague idea of getting a job far away and coming home after his parents have come around to her.  She didn’t seem any more concerned with settling down and making their relationship official.  Possibly if circumstances hadn’t separated them, it would have naturally grown into a deeper commitment, they would have planned a future together, everything would have worked out.  But they weren’t quite there yet.

Which is where the third segment is so important.  While watching the film, at first it felt like a bit of an anti-climax.  Why did we leave they super fun and complicated and interesting and exciting world of the college campus for this sort of formal and quiet and peaceful life of the cafe?  But that’s the point, that’s what adulthood is like, it is peaceful and quiet.  And that’s what an adult relationship is like, not the crazy passion of young, but a straightforward acceptance of what you want and why you want it.  And again, we see that in the little we hear of his friends.  They have mostly married, not necessarily to their college girlfriends, but to women they respect and care for, and still love. Our hero and his one unmarried friend, Jojo, are actively looking for marriage now.  Or rather, for a love that will lead to marriage.  There is no more playing around or pretense.

This is also why the humorous character from the first segment returns here, the boy who was unafraid to approach the girl as a teenager, but has not progressed past that since.  He is flirting with every woman, not interested in settling down or in finding an appeal beyond the surface.  While he may have been ahead of our hero when first we saw him, now he has fallen behind.  True maturity is not the ability to flirt and attract, but the ability to commit.

This is the final stage of love, not the immature cowardice of boyhood, or the wild disorganized euphoria of young manhood, but the confidence of knowing what you want and how to get it.  And that is why this is the love story that succeeds.  Because there is no more doubt or confusion or fear.  He goes from a first meeting to a proposal with no time to spare, and his final ramshackle group of friends all support him, having made the same journey themselves.

So, that’s the big thematic thoughts.  Let’s see, what else do I have to say?  I was really interested in how the songs happened.  There were a lot of them, and they were more notable than I am used to with the very very minimal Malayalam films I have seen.  With a Hindi film, usually, everything sort of stops for the song to underline the current emotion.  But with the (again, very few) Malayalam films I have seen, often there will be only one song that feels like a Song in the way I am used to.  Instead, the melodies will weave in and out of scenes, the songs will deepen our understanding of characters, enhance the mood of the moment, and be so perfectly pitched to fit within the film that I honestly don’t even notice when they start or end.  However, in this one, they were just a hair more outstanding.  And I can only assume that is on purpose, to show how love creates a sort of surreal effect, heightening experiences so that they feel more “real”, time and space contracts, and everything sort of becomes of a piece with that mood.  More over, the song sequences stand out as ways to show the differences between our hero’s personality in different sections and, more importantly, how he is interacting with the different love stories.

First, there is the love where even in fantasy, he doesn’t imagine interacting with her, the most he wants is to be alone with her and able to stare at her:


Then there is the second love story, where his fantasy is to spend all of his time with her, in a perfect bubble outside of the world:


But the final girl doesn’t even get a song.  There is no time any more for fantasy or dreaming, it is time to grasp the reality.  In fact, the only song for her is one after the love story has ended, that is when he needs to escape to fantasy.

What else?  Oh!  The female characters!  Always interesting.  In such a male oriented movie, it would be easy to make them either too passive or too aggressive.  But Premam threaded the needle beautifully.  They were living their lives and happened to intersect with our hero, but they didn’t stop being their own people just because of that.  Mary, the first girl, wasn’t over-awed by all the male attention, she just quietly enjoyed it.  But she was interested in her own thing and what she wanted, not in any of these random boys who followed her around.

Malar, the second girl, picked our hero more than he picked her.  She walked up to him at first, made sure he had her phone number, and generally made her interest known.  And in the end, she married the man who was better for her.  Okay, at first, I was completely devastated by how that love story ended, because they were so cute together!  But on the other hand, no matter how happy and in love they were, when things got hard, he walked away.  And it was the right thing to do too, because he needed to grow up.  He couldn’t handle it, he had to walk out.  But Malar’s husband stayed, he took care of her, he helped her.  That’s the kind of husband that Malar needed and deserved.  Again, our hero could have grown into that, if he’d had time.  But he didn’t have time, so it was best for her to move on.

And then we have the final girl, who I loved!  She saw what she wanted, and she went after it!  Over and over again.  And, she knew that what she wanted was a kind and mature and quiet man.  Although, and I think this is the final point, part of “Premam” for men is always going to have just a little touch of that madness, which is why he had to bring it back up again just one more time before he was able to be married.



20 thoughts on “Premam: I Liked This Movie! And it is Deeper than it Looks at First Glance!

  1. Such a beautiful analysis of a wonderful movie. I’m so glad you watched this one. It’s one of my favorites, too. Such range Nivin Pauly has! But I loved how REAL the women were. They were not idolized fantasy women. They had frizzy hair or pimples! They were real! This film has so much of what I love about Malayalam film, and your comments on the music just weaving in so seamlessly and enhancing certain moments is spot on. I’m very glad I bought this one on DVD, because it’s one that has lots of layers to it, and I will enjoy rewatching.


    • I’m definitely buying this one on DVD as well! I wasn’t planning to initially, but in the days since I first saw it, I have found myself thinking about it more and more and wanting to re-watch certain parts.


  2. hey thanks for watching this movie(even though you are not soooo impressed as i thought you would) … Kerala state film awards were declared yesterday and unfourtunately premam wasnt able to grab a single award…jury chairman stated director had a lazy approach towards filmmaking in it and it was very unfare…anyway film impressed a lot of people who doesnt even know malayalam and ran 250 days in chennai(not even dubbed).
    And btw its good to take a break from romcoms and watch some serious or old movies…Mili is good not best..try to watch Rajeshs traffic somehow…its a real gem of a film…


    • Oh, I was definitely impressed! I think I’ve just been spoiled by starting with Bangalore Days and Vanaprastham and stuff, which set a very high standard. But I would say, as a film, this one is actually better than Ohm Shanti Oshaana. I still like OSO better, just because I could connect more to the characters, but this one was deeper and more thought provoking and had more stuff sort of going on around the edges that impressed me.

      I’m trying super hard to find Traffic! But it just isn’t anywhere. Unless I commit and actually purchase the DVD, sight unseen. I’m thinking next I might try Drishyam, a couple of comments (maybe yours?) mentioned it as good, and apparently it broke all sorts of box office records. And, more importantly, I can easily find a copy to stream.

      Streaming is also the issue with trying to see some of the older films. A lot of them are either not streaming at all, or streaming but without subtitles. And some of them aren’t available on streaming or even on DVD. Believe it or not, I wanted to buy a copy of Manichitrathazhu and it isn’t available anywhere! Even on the India based websites (at least the ones that ship to the US). But if you give me a couple of specific old film titles to track down, I’ll see what I can find. I really do want to get more of a sense of the history of the industry, not just the stuff from the past few years.


  3. very happy to know that u are actually interested in a deeper study of our film industry.period from 80s to early 90s was the golden age…quality of films by legends like K G George,Padmarajan,Bharathan,Hariharan are miles ahead of the newer ones..also directors like priyadarsan,fazil,sibimalayil,kamal,siddique lal made more entertaining popular movies still with good content in these period..if you are interested in art movies(i am not) Adoor Gopalakrishnan,John Abraham,Aravindhan,Lenin Rajendran are the names to check out….but the problem is it is very hard to find a lot of good movies in this period even for a local i can guess how hard it is for someone overseas…also subtitles in most of them are terrible entirely wrong…it is easier to get new ones with quality subtitles…there is a site called reelmonk which releases new malayalam movies online with good quality subtitles…it is a legal have to pay around rs 180 for 720p quality…i dont know which all movies are available but i believe in near future all movies will be released through it…they may also have old classics.. do have a look…i will come up with a list of suggestions tomorrow…And btw Drishyam is the perfect choice next…


  4. your analysis is really good. You would have loved this film more if you could understand Malayalam.

    you can check my previous suggestions for serious movies.


    • Thanks for liking my analysis! I wish I could understand Malayalam, it’s one of the things I miss most from watching Hindi films. At least with Hindi I understand enough to get what the subtitles missed.

      I have your old post saved in my email! Not all of them are available, but I was able to find some of them. Next up is Drishyam, but after that I might try Right Left Right or Devasuram.


  5. I might be the only Malayali who hasn’t seen Premam yet 🙂 I’ll wait till it comes on TV. But I can’t bring myself to see/read anything if it is over-hyped because in 9/10 times I find myself disappointed. Case in point Drishyam.It was good but my expectations were sky-high.

    If you want to look up old Malayalam movies, I’d second hari’s recommendations.Here’s a list of my favorite films released before 2000.

    1. Devasuram (Divine and Demonic) (1993) starring Mohanlal and Revathi. The director I V Sasi might be familiar to you from Alkoothathil Thaniye. The film deals with the concept that the divine and demonic aspects resides in the same person and that circumstances might bring it out. Revathi’s performance as a poor dancer who’s as proud and stubborn as the hero (she doesn’t relent even after he apologizes) is her career best.Stay away from the sequel if you like the movie.

    2. Innale (Yesterday) (1990) starring Jayaram and Shobana.Directed by the great Padmarajan it narrates the story of an amnesiac girl and the men in her life- one from her past and the other from her present.

    3. Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (One Northern Ballad) (1989) starring Mammotty and Madhavi among others. Directed by Hariharan and written by M.T.Vasudevan Nair it offers a reinterpretation of an old ballad of Northern Kerala about 3 cousins of a warrior family. Before you see the movie, make sure that you look up the original legend of Aromal Chekavar. M.T’s screenplay is so good that anybody watches it would take the film’s version of the legend as gospel.

    4. Kireedam (Crown) (1989) starring Mohanlal and Parvathy (directed by Sibi Malayil) about a young man who aspired to be a police man and ended up as a goonda.Contrary to what you might think it has nothing in common with a typical masala bollywood movie from the 70s.The treatment is definitely different.As is common in Malayalam movies, the focus is on the family especially the relationship between the son and the father.

    5. Ente Sooryaputhrikku (For my sun daughter) (1991) starring Amala. Maya is a young spoiled college girl who loves playing pranks and indulged by her rich guardian.When one of her prank goes wrong, her illegitimacy is brought into question.Then she’s on a quest to find out her biological mother.

    Feel good movies from the 90s – Kilukkam(1991), Meleparambil Aanveedu (1993),Yodha,Thenmavin Kombath (1994), Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal (1999)

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. Superb review ! I especially enjoyed how you dug into the core theme of the film and saw it as a story of growing up and different kinds of love!

    I and many more people I know enjoyed the movie but approached it from a completely different perspective…We were more taken in by the superb flavour and real life nature of the situations, the terrific performances and filmmaking…Basically we approached it as a hangout movie, where you get to hangout with relatable people and their life for 3 hours…We didn’t even plumb for theme though now that you point it out it seems obvious..

    Thanks for the perspective , which is always the most interesting thing in any critic for me!

    I’m bookmarking this blog…Cheers!


    • I am so glad you liked it! I should admit that I “cheated” a little, I couldn’t enjoy it as a hang out film because so much of the hanging out dialogue went over my head. And I couldn’t appreciate the flavour of the situations because I’m not from Kerala. So I had no other choice but to look for the big themes 🙂


      • Haha okay! I’m from Kerala’s neighboring state TamilNadu and can understand more than a bit of the language and culture but even I didn’t get all of the references that my Mallu friends would’ve got…So it’s understandable that you didn’t get it..

        If you have the time and interest read Baradwaj Rangan’s review and the comment thread! You might get an idea of the flavour and local humour !


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