Every once in a while comes a film that isn’t just another slice-of-life, coming-of-age story. The film draws you in, mirroring some aspect of your growing years. It could be the time one spent in high school, fawning over a good-looking teen in the neighbourhood, or years later, when brashness gives way to a slightly matured outlook, realise there’s a time and place for everything.
One can be cynical and brush aside Alphonse Puthren’s Malayalam film, Premam , into three romantic episodes in the life of its protagonist or get immersed in one of the chapters, recollecting incidents that happened to people around us. The story unfolded in a realistic setting, be it conversations over ‘puttu’ in a Kerala college canteen or Malar (Sai Pallavi) presented as she is, pimples et al.
In this age of multiplexes where language isn’t a barrier, films like Premam earn a loyal following that unwittingly gets possessive about the film. In fact, while watching the freshly-minted Telugu version, it takes a while to shake off images from the original.
Set in Tadepalli, the story begins in 2000 when an overtly gawky Vikram (Chaitanya) is besotted with the pretty girl of the locality, Suma (Anupama Parameshwaran in a brief, well-enacted part). The one-sided teenage romance is innocent, awkward, imperfect and fun.
Six years later, we see Vikram as a rugged college student flaunting his muscle power. The transformation of the shy, meek teenager to a thug isn’t seamless, making the episodes look compartmentalised.
The second act is the most crucial portion of the film, with the arrival of lecturer Sithara (Shruti Haasan). Camaraderie develops between the brash student and the graceful lecturer, amped up by a playful, no-holds-barred background score. Chaitanya’s growth as an actor comes to the fore. He may have gone overboard with the gawky teen act, but hits the mark with the stylish, rough act. Director Chandoo Mondeti recreates the aura around the rough guy well, cleverly weaving in references to Telugu hits, notably when Chaitanya declares he has the patent right to use the cycle chain. And Venkatesh appears in a fun cameo.
Sithara is one of the better roles Shruti has had in her career and gives it her best shot. Yet, there’s a cosmetic, air-brushed touch she brings to the role that’s hard to miss. Sithara could be any woman around you — relatable to the extent that your heart goes out to her if she’s in trouble. Shruti’s Sithara is part diva and hence, despite her best efforts, remains a little distant.
The film comes into its own in the third act, when Chandoo Mondeti moves away from the setting of the original. You can keep debating if the pasta and cranberry juice here match up to the magic of red velvet cake of the original, or simply give in to its charm. There are noteworthy supporting characters throughout, livening up the proceedings with wit. Chaitanya Krishna, Praveen, Srinivasa Reddy, Brahmaji and the actor who plays lecturer Kantha Rao make a mark.
Madonna Sebastian brings a whiff of freshness to her role and effortlessly matches Chaitanya, who is at ease playing a guy in his 30s. Karthik Gattamneni’s cinematography and Rajesh Murugesan and Gopi Sunder’s music are huge pluses.
What holds Premam together is the idea of romance over the years. Cheesy lines like ‘sky is blue; my love is true’ make way for a mature, but not lacking in fun, romance for life.
Cast : Naga Chaitanya, Shruti Haasan, Madonna Sebastian and Anupama Parameshwaram
Direction : Chandoo Mondeti
Rating : 3.25