Premalu Movie Review: Girish AD’s ‘Premalu’ infuses a familiar story with magical writing and gives us one of the most joyous movies of the year

Girish A.D
The film stars Naslen K Gafoor and Mamitha Baiju. Despite the undercurrent of dysfunction, we keep laughing at (and with) these oddball characters.
Premalu   Movie Review

Premalu Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Bhavana Studios
Director : Girish A.D
Music Director : Vishnu Vijay

For four years, in his college in TamilNadu, Sachin has been in love with a student named Anjali. To be precise, the love is only from his side. She is vaguely aware of him, but because he has said nothing to her, she has had no reason to say either “yes” or “no”. It’s close to graduation time, and Sachin decides it is time to tell Anjali that he loves her. If not now, then when! He meets her, and pours his heart out. While we wait for the scene to play out, we get out-of-the-blue tangents. A bunch of students race past Sachin and Anjali, excited that they have the key to the secret chamber, something like the one we saw in Hridayam. Sachin confesses that a call he made to Anjali was actually a call supposed to have been made to Anjaneyan from Mechanical. The scene ends with vomit.

Girish AD may be the most low-key writer-director of love stories in India today. The genre is typically filled with big, larger-than-life romantic moments, but Premalu is filled with hilariously down-to-earth, “practical” things like… well, the very understandable call to Anjali instead of Anjaneyan. You can say this of his earlier films, too: Thanneer Mathan Dinangal and Super Sharanya. They can all be lumped under the genre I like to call “coming-of-age as seen through the prism of a rom-com”. But there is a gradual progression of the milieu. Girish’s first film was about school dinangal, the second one was about college days, and Premalu is about Sachin and Reenu, who have just graduated and are finding themselves away from home, pursuing an IT job (in her case) and higher education in the UK (in his case). The utterly charming Naslen K Gafoor and Mamitha Baiju play Sachin and Reenu in a way that erases the lines between actor and character. Had this casting not worked, the film might have fallen apart.

Because Premalu, unlike other stories about love, is not about mutual chemistry but about individual idiosyncrasies. We are kept on our toes, trying to “read” these characters. One of the best aspects of the superb script – by Girish and Kiran Josey – is trying to figure out at what point Reenu begins to harbour feelings for Sachin. Is it the fact that his amiable “loser-dom” is such a contrast to the hyper-achieving alpha-ness of her collegue Aadhi? Is it the strange things that Sachin does, like getting her Ayurvedic medicines? Is it the fact that he is so chilled out that he doesn’t even have a usable résumé? Is it that she likes taking care of this man-child? Is it due to the emptiness created in her life when her roommate and close friend moves to another city? Is it the realisation that she might have inadvertently led Sachin on, through her actions?

There is no single answer, and that is the beauty of the writing. In Sachin’s case, it’s always love at first sight. He is a simple guy who studied in a State-board school and speaks only Malayalam, and perhaps this is what the movies have taught him. But for Reenu, love is a more “calculated” affair. It involves conditions like “the man must be mature”. She is English-educated, and she lives in a posh flat as opposed to Sachin’s cramped quarters. Sachin shares this space with his friend Amal Davis: note that the man’s initials (AD) are the same as the director’s. Coincidence? Or did Girish want to leave his stamp on the film’s most memorable character. Sangeeth Prathap is outrageously funny and enormously likeable as Amal Davis, and some of us will be left wishing for a movie written entirely around Sachin and Amal.

So how do you describe the writing? Why is it so special, so original? Let’s look at the stretch that begins when Sachin is caught sleeping in a GATE coaching class. The way I have described this scene, it is a cliché. A loser-guy dozing off in class: what’s new, right? But the way the teacher’s character is shaped in the scene just afterwards, we are surprised. And see how one thing leads to another. The teacher invites Sachin and Amal to his wedding, which introduces a new character – a crazy car – to the mix, and the wedding is where Sachin meets Reenu. How many boy-meets-girl scenarios have we seen! And yet, how crazily unique this one is! Or consider the bit where Sachin says he does not know how to behave in an AC compartment of a train! What could have been a Big Point about class is transformed into the sweetest of comic situations.

In fact, when you dig deep (and despite the buoyant songs by Vishnu Vijay), there is so much dysfunction. Nothing is going right with Sachin’s life. His parents are always fighting. He is not getting that UK visa he wants so badly. His love life is a disaster. His money situation is a disaster. Even his underwear are filled with holes. As for Reenu, the confidence and independence she projects is at odds with what she seems to want, to be taken care of by a mature man. And from this material, Girish mines the loudest of laughs. I doubt I have cracked up so much at the mention of “CBSE” or “stalking”. A couple of gags involving guest star Mathew Thomas don’t work (the oddly one-note character gets no room to breathe), but almost everything else does: the telescope joke, the bit with the statue, Sachin and Amal’s reaction shots during a Radha-Krishna dance, the Yuvan Shankar Raja reference, or the part where Reenu’s colleague Aadhi takes prison-type pictures of Sachin and Amal.

Aadhi’s character is another standout. The control-freak/toxic man is written like a live-action cartoon (he even gets his own “cartoon music”), and Shyam Mohan captures that vibe perfectly. The chase towards the end of the film – involving Aadhi and a bunch of goons – is an instant classic. Again, a very problematic character is turned on its head, and we are made to see how ridiculous these behaviours are. The film goes all over the place – a birthday party, a trip around Hyderabad, a pub, a wedding, a fast-food restaurant – and it's magical to see how what we think will happen is always subverted with what actually happens. The other magic about the movie is how all this “out of the box” thinking is streamlined in such an organic way, like the brilliant payoff with the pepper spray. Nothing sticks out, and even the dreaded “airport climax” is given such a fresh and innocent spin that the writer in you keeps wondering: Just how did they pull that off! Whether you are a student of cinema or just a viewer with a box of popcorn, Premalu is a treasure of small things. It’s one of the most joyous movies of the year.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.