Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

I first heard of NGMA Bangalore in 2010, only a year after it had been opened to the public. Around that time, we lived only a ten-minute walk away from where it was located, but never got around to visiting it. Seven years later, we live in another part of the town, over twenty kilometers away, but were seized with the urge to visit this gallery – so that’s what we did yesterday. Drove to Indiranagar, took the metro to Cubbon Park station, and then walked along tree-lined roads and past lovely houses with gardens to Palace Road, where this art gallery is located.

A little history

Manickavelu Mansion, front view. Houses NGMA Bangalore
Manickavelu Mansion, front view

The gorgeous building where the gallery is now housed stands on a 3.5 acre ground with many large, ancient trees, well-tended gardens and a pond. The building was once the residence of the yuvaraja of Mysore, but was sold in the early 1900s to businessman Manickavelu Mudaliar who has his own rags-to-riches story. According to this article, he once wanted to visit the mansion but was denied access until he bribed some of the caretakers. Once inside, he was so struck by the beauty of the place that he vowed to live there one day.

Mudaliar and his family did live in the mansion for a brief period of time but financial issues forced them to give it up. The mansion was then auctioned off and became taken over first by the City Improvement Trust Board (now the BDA) and later by the Ministry of Culture. It was also temporarily used as the UN office for technology initiatives but by the late 80s, the state government proposed that it be converted into a museum.

Restoration work  eventually began in 2003, preserving the heritage building at the centre but with the addition of a cafe, library, and a new wing, and the repair of the auditorium. By 2009, this became open to the public as the third National Gallery of Modern Art in India, the other two being in Delhi and Bombay. You can read more about the history of the building here.

The inside story

We didn’t know what what to expect from the term ‘modern art’, but the introduction to the museum right at the reception helped explain matters. Here, modern art is defined as art and sculpture created by Indians or those living in India at the time from the 18th century to the present (although we didn’t spot any work created after 2000.)

On Saturdays, there is a short guided walk conducted for free by one of the museum curators and we were luckily in time for this. Our guide explained the significance of the various galleries and the unique aspects of some of the styles of art, as well as the techniques used in creating woodcuts and lithographs. We were then free to explore the gallery as we liked.

Most of the paintings are marked with the name of the artist, the year of creation, the title, and the medium, but these details were missing in quite a few exhibits displayed in the new wing as well as in the sculpture gallery. But apart from these omissions, all the galleries are beautifully lit and maintained with many helpful staff stationed to guide you from one exhibit room to the next.

NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard
NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard

There were collections from the Bengal school, the Madras school, the Baroda school and the Mysore school with works by Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Varma, and many others. Some of the works remain with me even now, especially M.F.Pithawala’s portraits of Parsi women and girls and Abanindranath Tagore’s rural scenes from Bengal. There is a virtual gallery available here for those who are unable to visit the museum, although nothing beats the original.

In the ground floor of the new building is a gallery dedicated to exhibitions and a collection by Kazuaki Tanahashi – Japanese artist, calligraphist and Zen teacher – was on when we went. His works had simple, yet powerful brush strokes in stunning colour combinations, and heroed negative space with great effect.

One piece that caught my eye in the sculpture gallery was an alloy cast of a flautist – there is no discernible head, but every line and curve of the figure is poised to create music, his fingers splayed over the holes on the flute, his lips puckered to blow. An absolute stunner.

There is also a cafe downstairs adjacent to the auditorium where you get really good comfort food like sandwiches and shakes, pasta, parathas, and biryani at reasonable prices. We tried the pasta, fries, and a cold coffee – all were delicious. The view of the garden with the tall, ancient trees right next to where you sit and eat is an added bonus.

The cage at NGMA Bangalore
The courtyard cafe

The garden in the front is full of trees and plants of all kinds, stretching towards the sky. Many of them are old, having been around since the bungalow was constructed. As you sit down by the steps and look at the greenery around, the quietness of the area suddenly strikes you. This is another world, a verdant, whimsical garden, an oasis in the middle of this teeming city.

A view of the grounds at NGMA Bangalore
A view of the grounds

Other details

Address: 49, Manickavelu Mansion, Palace Road

Entry tickets: Rs.20 for Indians. Rs.500 for foreign nationals.

Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.

Photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’

Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.

“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.

But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.

How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.

I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.

I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.

To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.

Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.

Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has

  1. made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
  2. garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
  3. met a new potential soulmate
  4. made peace with her parents
  5. accepted herself for who she is
  6. started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.

Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.

 

Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.

 

Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .

 

Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.

 

Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.

 

Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.

 

Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair

 

I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.

 

 

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

I first came across Paul Fernandes’ work when I picked up Peter Colaco’s book ‘Bangalore’ and discovered that the delightful illustrations in it were by Fernandes. A little research showed me that he is to Bangalore what Mario Miranda is to Goa. As someone who’s been in love with Bangalore since the age of 15 and who wishes every few days that she could have grown up here in cooler, greener, slower times, I was instantly captivated. So, I made my way over to his gallery to see more of his work and learn a little more about the hip Bangalore of the 60s.

Richards Town is still one of those parts of Bangalore that retains its colonial charm – there are parks and trees, wide roads and pretty houses. His gallery is aptly and punnily titled aPaulogy and is housed in one of the said pretty houses. (I vaguely remember reading that it’s his own).

IMG_20150412_175747
aPaulogy gallery in Richards Town, Bangalore

I felt like a kid at a carnival once I stepped in – it was full of fun and quirky Bangalore memorabilia – sketches, paintings, posters and tons of merchandised based on Fernandes’ illustrations. Most of them depict Bangalore of the 60s and 70s and the theme is nostalgia. The props used include some vintage furniture and decor and one small portion of the gallery is dedicated to Mumbai, another city that Fernandes has lived in and connects with.

SR and I definitely wanted to buy a keepsake, and after a long debate, chose his lovely coffee table book: Bangalore: Swinging in the 70s. Someday, when my dogs decide to finally quieten down and behave, I will use it as a coffee table book. Until then, here it stays in my cupboard, to be browsed lovingly and with nostalgic pangs ever so often.

 

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My bookshelf at home

Recommended for: Bangalore enthusiasts

Visit duration: 1 hour

Location & other deets: http://www.apaulogy.com/

An Open Letter To Nivin Pauly

An Open Letter To Nivin Pauly

Dear Nivin,

Let me begin by saying (as I have many times before on my blog, to friends and family, and to my husband, much to his annoyance) that I am a huge fan of yours. I think you are a versatile, immensely talented actor, and insanely handsome to boot. My admiration for you has only grown from 1983 to Bangalore Days to Premam.

I write this letter in the middle of the night, less than an hour after I got back from watching Action Hero Biju. In bringing SI Biju Paulose to life, I think you have done a terrific job, no surprises there. But despite some very fine acting, the interesting insights into police procedure, the many smiles and sniggers, and the glimpses into the lives of folks from different walks of life, I walked out of the movie theater feeling an overwhelming sense of dread.

Dread that what I saw today would be the beginning of the end. That we will get perhaps 2 or 3 more good movies from you, and then you will go the route that some of our other superstars have gone. My fear is compounded by the fact that AHB is your maiden production. Picture this: the first movie that you, who made your name in the industry through honest, down-to-earth portrayals of ordinary characters, ever produced has you as the titular hero, many action sequences, longish monologues on value-based living, a bimbo for a heroine, and a totally unnecessary romantic song forced into the script!

I agree, the name of the movie should have warned me, but despite starting out with a realistic portrayal and the claim at the end that Biju Paulose is no superhuman, that is exactly what he ended up as. Especially in that last action sequence: performing impossible stunts, sending the bad guys flying, delivering dramatic monologues on the greatness of the men in khakhi (no offence intended to our police force)… I mean, what was all that about?

One of the many welcome changes in contemporary Malayalam movies is the increased importance given to female characters. From Divya and Sarah in Bangalore Days, Pooja in OSO, Susheela in 1983 to Malar in Premam, female characters these days have character. Which is why the wide-eyed heroine in AHB who has nothing more to do than look coy and clingy is deeply disturbing. If the character of Benitta Dominic wasn’t important to the movie, why have her at all? Why not restrict her to a voice on the phone, for instance?

The reason I am nitpicking is that this is how it all started back in the 2000s. When Mohanlal did Aaram Thampuran and Narasimham, we liked them because while they were dramatic, they fell into the bucket of ‘wholesome’ entertainers. But when these were followed by a list of formula movies the next half-decade-Praja, Ustad, Thandavam, Chaturangam, Natturajavu, Alibhai-what Malayalam moviegoers everywhere lost was more than just time and money.

The thing is, Nivin, we have great expectations from you. You are the next superstar. Even without any of the associated trappings. Perhaps, because you’ve steered clear of these so far.

So, here’s hoping fervently that AHB is not going to be the first in a series of formula movies aimed at piggybacking on its success.

Yours most sincerely

A well wisher.

 

4 Malayalam movies of 2015 that disappointed. Big time.

4 Malayalam movies of 2015 that disappointed. Big time.

Three-quarters of the year 2015 was pretty good in that many of the Malayalam movies that came out did not disappoint and I had many opportunities to wax eloquent about the superior quality and tastes of the Malayalam film industry compared to many others in India. But in the past few months, I’ve had to swallow my words.

Many of the movies I watched with great expectations turned out to be duds. Some were mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad. Others were dull, flat, like a puffed-up kachori that you bite into, and your teeth snaps in air, because there’s nothing inside. It’s empty.

Here are the movies I consider The Worst of 2015, not including the lot that sank without a trace.

1. Anarkali

Pic Courtesy: Magic Moon Productions

This was our Diwali pick, one that our entire extended family went to watch with great hopes. To be fair, only I, SR, and a cousin were so badly disappointed by it. Here’s what I learned after watching Anarkali:

(1) Biju Menon, delightful and talented as he is, cannot rescue every crappy movie. Just the way plastering Sachin Tendulkar’s face on the tube could not save Sach toothpaste.

(2) There is apparently a severe shortage of actresses in Malayalam cinema. Which is why the makers of this movie had to go and find a wooden-faced doll to play the heroine. You will understand my sentiment when I say that Katrina Kaif can emote better than Priyal Gor has in this movie. It didn’t help that all her dialogues were stilted, melodramatic, and inspired by various Hindi soap operas.

(3) There is no limit to the quantum of drama you can pack into a two-hour movie, all to keep it going in the absence of an actual story.

Why You Should Watch Anarkali
(1) If you want to visit Lakshadweep but don’t have the money or the leave balance to go, watch this instead. The island is shown in all its splendor, and you get a glimpse of everyday life there.

(2) Erm.

2. Madhuranaranga

Pic Courtesy: Good Line Productions

First of all, I don’t understand why this movie is called Madhuranaranga. SR says it’s because it is ‘bittersweet’. Funny, I seem to have slept through all the sweet parts.

What I loved about it is the fact that I didn’t have to spend a penny on it. I watched Madhuranaranga when it was aired last weekend, as a Christmas special. All I gave up was 3 hours of my life.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jeevan (Kunchako) and Salim (Biju Menon) are taxi drivers and roommates in Sharjah. A girl runs into Kunchako’s car one day. She is a Srilankan refugee who has been brought to Sharjah illegally and sold to a brothel from where she escapes after injuring a molester. Out of sympathy, Jeevan offers her shelter.

Love happens. Sex happens. One baby happens. All without the government knowing. Then an accident happens. Arrests happen. Suddenly, Jeevan is lying somewhere in Kerala with one side of his body paralyzed. Thamara (the girl) is deported to Sri Lanka. The child is in an orphanage in Sharjah and up for adoption by a wealthy UK-based couple. I forget what happened to everyone else.

The rest of the movie is about how Jeevan and friends go to Sri Lanka to search for Thamara and bring her back so that they can reclaim their child. A lot of wasted film and a miraculous coincidence later (praise the lord!), they are all reunited.

When I told the story to my brother (who hadn’t watched this movie, the lucky dog!), he had just one question: why didn’t Thamara, after she reached Sri Lanka, just ring up Jeevan or his friends and give them her address?

She must have had her own dark, shadowy reasons.
The mystery remains.

3. Salt Mango Tree

Pic courtesy: 1000 Lights Entertainments

This wasn’t as bad as some of the others, because the acting was pretty good and there were a few good laughs. The story goes this way.

There’s this couple (Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya) with an adorable four-year-old son, for whom they are trying to secure an admission in a top school in the city. But the system seems to test the parents’ socioeconomic status and general knowledge more than the IQ or EQ of the child. Preoccupied with getting him into one of these ‘gateways to a better future’, Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya don’t let him enjoy his childhood or spend quality time with his grandparents.

After multiple failed attempts, they enroll themselves in a coaching program conducted by Suhasini, where they get a lot of random, disconnected pieces of advice. (I went out during the interval to buy popcorn and got back to my seat only after the movie had resumed. For five minutes, I thought they were airing a video course in Personality Development as a filler)

The couple eventually attend an interview in which the child is asked a question he wasn’t coached for. As his parents freeze, he launches into a story his grandfather had taught him. But later, while everyone else on the list gets admit letters, he doesn’t.

An angry and frustrated Lakshmi Priya berates the child and drags him with his shoes on the wrong feet to Suhasini’s office (possibly to demand a refund of the course money) While she pours out her frustration, it is revealed that Suhasini had made the same mistake of pushing her own son beyond his limits, and he had attempted suicide. Seeing the bedridden teenager, Lakshmi Priya has a change of heart and runs to hug her son.

As an icing on the cake, Biju Menon comes rushing in with the news that their son is a scholarship student, whose admission news was conveyed directly by the Principal over the phone (which explains why he didn’t get the letter like everyone else)

What angers me is that the director and the script writer took a story with so much promise and so many characters with possibilities, and did… nothing with them. Instead of a happy ending, they could have had the child not get the admission, but his parents coming to terms with it anyway. Instead of showing Suhasini with a paralyzed son, they could have focused on how the grandparents’ lessons and stories helped the child more than the tuition classes and mugging sessions they had forced on him. There were so many possibilities, none utilized. That is disappointing.

On an aside, I’ve realized as I write this article that I am a sucker for Biju Menon movies. I see that guy’s name on the list of actors, and I am convinced that the movie has to be good. Despite a string of disappointments, I don’t stop. Maybe it’s just his mustache and the deep voice. Or the crinkly, smiley eyes. Yeah, probably that.

4. Oru Vadakkan Selfie

Pic courtesy: Cast N’ Crew productions

I must have lived with my head in a hole in the ground, because until I watched it, I thought Oru Vadakkan Selfie starred Vineeth Srinivasan and Namitha Pramod. Well, it doesn’t.

The first half of this movie has a lot of laughs. Nivin Pauly, Aju Varghese, Vineeth Srinivasan and the rest of the cast enact their roles to perfection. And right up to the interval, you are excited to know what happens next. But then you spend the next 1.5 hours in a state of bewilderment.

“Where the fuck is this going?” is the thought foremost in your mind. And this thought never leaves you, even after the movie ends.

What starts out as an extremely interesting slice-of-life movie about a good-for-nothing fellow in a village, slowly turns into a road trip-cum-mystery-cum-drama-cum-I-don’t-know-what-else movie. At some point, it even turns into a discourse on cyber safety.

If they air it on TV, should you watch it? Sure, sit around for the first half. You’ll know when to get up and walk away.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

Premam: The 2nd Movie In The History Of Malayalam Cinema With Nothing New. Literally.

After 2 failed attempts to get tickets, I managed to watch Premam last week It was running (and continues to do so) to full theatres within and outside Kerala, and the rave reviews I’d been hearing made me determined to watch it at any cost.

I sat through the movie, smirked a few times, sniggered a little, and came out. Next to me, SR was raving.

“How much would you rate it?” I asked.

“4.5!” he said, happily. I remained quiet.

“What, you didn’t like it?”

“It was okay.”

That was it. Premam was just okay – funny and sweet in parts, but not mind blowingly awesome as I had been led to believe. And I am part of a target group who should have been predisposed to liking Premam. I fulfill both the essential criteria:

(1) I am a fan of Nivin Pauly

(2) I generally like coming-of-age and friend circle movies

Yet, the movie is exactly what its poster claims: it has nothing new!

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But I am not going to dish it on that argument alone. Here are some of the other things that are off in Premam.

Mary

For me, the Mary story line dragged. It had one too many songs and one too many weird shots of the road in front of the tea shop, and one too many scenes of the angry dad chasing various boys away. (They could have cut this short by 15 minutes-at least-and used it to develop the Celine story. But more on that later) And if they had shown one more shot of Mary stroking her vaikol thuru hair, I would have had to rip my own out (whatever is left of it!)

Premam Stills-Nivin Pauly-Anupama Parameswaran-Malayalam Movie 2015-Onlookers Media

Cafe Agape

I’m not saying that all of us have to display signs of our calling in life from a young age. But really, for 60% of the movie -in fact, until George graduates from college – would you have guessed that he would become a pastry chef running a posh upmarket cafe?

To me, the cafe setting seemed like something fit in forcefully just to provide a beautiful meet-cute for Celine and George. The George we had seen so far had been genuine and ordinary – this suave pastry chef, with his perpetually frowning eyebrows and orders barked at his staff, felt like a complete stranger.

Celine

You would expect a 30 year old man -who’s already been scarred once in a love affair- to be a little more cautious when falling in love with a girl he had last seen as a kid, and for all intents and purposes, as a kid sister. Wouldn’t you expect him to take some time to get to know Celine, and then slowly realize that she’s no longer a kid, but a woman he’s fascinated by?

But no – the director’s already given too much reel time to George’s first love, and is in a hurry to wrap up the movie. So, the Celine plot line is lazily developed, and too much happens in too little time. The treatment is shallow, and therefore, this relationship – the supposedly perennial one in George’s life – feels the most hollow. Quite unfortunate.

There were other little touches that could have made a difference, but were missing in the movie -for instance, Mary and her dad are conspicuously absent at George and Celine’s wedding; What happens to Vimal sir? I always thought he would end up proposing to Anjali, the girl he used to keep telling “Doubt undengil parayanam!”

But I can live without these.

What works for me in Premam is Nivin Pauly’s acting – the man definitely has screen presence, and how he can pull off any look and age is just amazing. 1983, OSO, Bangalore Days, and now this… he is certainly here to stay.

Nivin-Pauly

Sai Pallavi is well worth all the raving – she has screen presence and her simple charm is thankfully unmasked by layers of makeup. The chemistry between the duo also certainly works.

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The boyhood friendship that grows (without maturing!) over time is also done brilliantly. The actors, the banter, the songs… all of it work.

By itself, Premam isn’t a bad movie at all. But like all things overhyped, it falters under the weight of expectation.

And while we are making controversial statements, let me add a few more I’ve been bottling up inside.

Manju Warrier’s best role is not Unnimaya in Aaram Thampuran. (If anyone’s interested, it is Aami in Summer in Bethlehem. More on that in another post)

ARR’s music in OK Kanmani is just about average. The songs don’t grate on your ears, but they are eminently forgettable.

Drishyam is a good thriller and worth a watch, but I don’t see what the bruhaha is about. (And Meena did a terrible job, just as she did in Katha Parayumbol.)

There, I said it!