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Premalu, a sign of changing times

Some films capture the pulse of a generation like no other – Premalu, with its irreverence and carefree vibe, is just what the doctor ordered for the day, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

While many film industries in the country are making noise for expanding their horizons in terms of revenue generation and less for their storytelling, Malayalam cinema is managing to stay in the news for the right reasons. Not only have films like Bramayugam, Premalu and Manjummel Boys minted good money at the box office, but they’ve also been genuine conversation starters among film aficionados.

There’s every reason to discuss the mainstream popularity of a dystopian horror film like Bramayugam or an edgy survival thriller like Manjummel Boys; however, what’s more surprising is the appeal of a hyperlocal rom-com Premalu across industries. Prompted by its widespread popularity, the Telugu and Tamil dubbed versions of Premalu were released recently to overwhelming responses.

Premalu, directed by Girish AD, features up-and-coming actors Naslen Gafoor, Mamitha Baiju and Sangeeth Prathap in key roles. The story revolves around a small-town Kerala boy Sachin, who falls in love with a fellow Malayali girl Reenu in Hyderabad, after a chance encounter at a wedding. The film explores the journeys of three Malayalis finding their way in life beyond home.

Much to the relief of viewers, the director doesn’t place his characters on a pedestal. The good-at-heart, aimless boy has a sidekick of a friend and uses every trick in the book to woo a girl who appears out of his league. Between finding a PG closer to hers and accompanying her to dinners, city tours and sipping many cups of chai together, the duo forges a special camaraderie.

Through the female protagonist Reenu, the film offers a playful look into the oddities in the corporate workspace. Adi, a caricaturish superior to Reenu, is the third wheel in their relationship, constantly trying to outscore Sachin and dissuading her from his advances. The result is a light-hearted film about ordinary people that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Aditya Hasan, the director behind ETV Win’s hit show 90s, who has written the dialogue for the Telugu version, is perhaps a crucial link to explain the film’s success in AP and Telangana. From the boyish humour between Sachin and ‘Amul’ Davis laced with sarcasm to the verbal banters among key characters packed with timely pop-culture references, the film has struck a chord with Telugu crowds.

The strategy to dub it in Telugu is a smart investment in times when there are no major releases in the industry. Yet, from a creative standpoint, it’s hard to explain its necessity. The outsider’s view of a new city – which was the lifeline of the Malayalam original – is absent in the Telugu version, with Malayalis conversing in Telugu for commercial convenience.

If there’s something that Telugu cinema has consistently excelled at, it is its ability to churn entertaining slapstick comedies with sharp wit. If the intention was to take Premalu to a newer audience, the film merited a remake more than a dubbed version. Instead of a lazy dub, the spirit of Premalu would’ve been retained in a new language with more creative freedom for the storyteller.

The story of Telugu-speaking youngsters finding their groove in Mumbai/Delhi would’ve made more sense than this dubbed version. Premalu, even with the hurried, last-minute release in Telugu, has its moments and manages to impress, but it feels more like a lost opportunity. The disconnect is quite similar to what one experienced with OK Jaanu, the Hindi version of OK Kanmani, that struggled to understand the deeper layers of its original.

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