Premam Review: How the 2015 Malayalam Film Affected Me

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 is my review of a film that I have watched countless times since it opened on 30 May 2015 to a boisterous reception.

This particular trend of imitating Nivin Pauly’s character from the film had 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 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?

The Premam Effect

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.

Premam Review: A Dose of New Wave

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.

Premam review

A poster of Premam designed by Thought Station / © Anwar Rasheed Entertainment

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?

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The One Thing Common in My 70+ Uber Rides

Last day I was on a road trip with my friends. When I noticed the same thing that I have noticed in almost all of my 72 Uber rides taken so far: the lack of a proper, functioning seat belt in the back passenger seats. That’s around total two days of perilous riding time in the city of Mumbai.

Keeping aside the general public’s reluctance to wear seat belts, what surprises me more is the absence of a proper seat belt system in today’s cabs. Where prominence is given to Wi-Fi and in-car entertainment. Most Uber cabs do have proper belts in place but the problem is that the buckle you fasten it into (female latch) is nowhere to be seen. It is deeply submerged inside the seat or the seat cover, and it’s same for both the seats. Even if you have strong, long arms, good luck finding it, let alone digging it out. And I am not even talking about the third, middle seat.

While this is the most common scenario I have observed a lot more variations.

The Case of Missing Backseat Seat Belts

Some cabs do not even have belts in place. They are either tucked in the front seat cover or stashed in small cavities on the side of the back passenger doors. I have also ridden in cabs where there are no belts even in the front passenger seat. Which troubles me a lot because I usually ride shotgun where there are usually increased chances of finding a functioning seat belt.

Seat belts in Uber cabs

The privilege of seat belts / © Flickr

When asked why seat belts are not in place, drivers often have the same response. They give back a look like they didn’t know such a question would ever be brought up in their career. Some drivers chuckle, blurt out dull excuses, and then go on to fasten their belt sheepishly and reluctantly. But I do not just blame the drivers.

I remember going to a recent client meeting where a colleague told me that he had seen very rarely people using the seat belt when sitting on the back side. Fortunately or unfortunately, that Uber ride was booked through his account, which prevents me from adding it to my statistics. The event of a person wearing a seat belt while sitting in the back seat is seen as an abnormality, which troubles me all the more.

The point is not that today’s cabs are not maintained properly. While they definitely are not, my point is the lack of service check by taxi aggregators like Uber and Ola and other kaali-peeli tax federations. If Uber can keep a check on its drivers and the well-being of their cabs, why can’t this check be extended to the essentials? Seat belts are why you even have a chance at survival in case of an accident (airbags are high maintenance, right?), and if a cab cannot provide that, is it even worth having the luxury of booking a cab through an app in 10 seconds?

Just Not Only About Uber Cabs

It wouldn’t be correct if I do not mention that the case is not just for cabs but also at a personal level. Take the case of the road trip we took last day, where the rear seat succeeded in hiding the female latch end because the owner had just redone the cover. So much priority to how the upholstery looks.

And it is not just one or two instances. Majority of cars I have ridden in my lifetime do not have functioning back seat belts, which supports the alarmingly low rate of people who actually look forward to wearing them. According to The Quint, it stands at 4% in India (2017).

When I bought a second-hand car in 2016, one of the first things that I fixed was the rear seat belts. Yet when I ask my family members to buckle up, they behave like Uber drivers: an eye roll, a scoff, or a trigger of a fleeting murderous instinct. I believe that it is the responsibility of the driver to make sure that everyone in their car follows basic safety measures and etiquette, including themselves. Which although is a bit challenging but doable. My mother still complains when I ask her to wear the belt because “it’s (destination) just around the corner”. But I don’t turn ON the ignition until she does and she has no choice.

I am not even debating about the habit of wearing seat belts because there are no two ways about it. For an average person who rides on cabs every other day, not having a seat belt in place is worse than finding out that Twitter is down. While one temporarily stops spying on you or influencing presidential elections the other stops something closer to you. So, it is up to the taxi drivers’ associations, corporates like Uber, and individual drivers to make a case about this and ensure that all commercial cars have functioning belts in all the seats and in good condition. Because it is high time that we talk about passenger safety in public and commercial transport instead of about funding rounds and self-driving cars. Talking about public transit, have you noticed that buses in India do not even have seat belts?!

via GIPHY

I usually ride shotgun when I’m not driving and that’s not because I am a decent Google Maps navigator or a phenomenal ‘car music player player’. It’s because I care for my life. My friends don’t know why I choose the front passenger seat while going on a road trip. And they don’t care because after all everyone today is an Uber driver.

Seat belts are a privilege today and I make it a point to this to Uber every time I travel in one of their cabs that do not have one in the rear seat.

PS: I prefer Uber over Ola but I’m sure the case is mutual.

PPS: Lyft or Grab, if you guys are entering India, take notes.

Featured image copyright of Moneycontrol.

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