When Nivin Pauly and Sai Pallavi-starrer Premam released in 2015, its sense of style and fashion were quickly emulated by a hoard of youth easily influenced by cinema. The beard, the glasses, the black shirt and traditional mundu raised to the knee — the whole drill. Its songs and its proclamations regarding romance was also well-received. Nivin, already a beloved actor in the industry, saw his popularity going up by several notches thanks to his winsome performance in the film. However, it was the fresh-faced newcomer, Sai Pallavi, who became cynosure of all eyes post release.
Sai’s portrayal of Tamil teacher Malar was new, subtle and sweet. The actor had a charming screen presence as she interacted with her students, teased them and punished them. Even when she falls in love with one of her pupils, you don’t see anything wrong in it, because Nivin’s character should have been out of college long ago, but his bad grades kept him there. Malar and George were meant to be. She was charming and intelligent, he was a little rough around the edges but passionate. It was the quintessential filmy match, told in a way that was grounded, and yet over-the-top when it needed to be.
Nivin’s character George falls in love thrice, but it is the connection he has with Malar that is the epitome of romance. Heady, dizzy, unadulterated love, symbolised appropriately by a pair of butterflies. At one point in the movie, George’s friend asks him, ‘What is so great about Malar, she even has pimples?’ which actor Sai Pallavi does in real life too. But it was this untouched, imperfect beauty that attracts George to her in the first place, and we — as audience — follow him. Malar stands out in the crowd because she chooses to show herself exactly as she is, not editing or filtering herself to please anyone. Therefore Malar is relatable; she is us.
Kudos to director Alphonse Puthren for keeping Malar on film as she was written on paper. After the release of the movie, Sai quickly became a household name, not only for her loveliness on screen but for her energetic dance moves too. The song, “Rock Kutthu,” voiced by Anirudh Ravichander, is memorable to this day. Here is some trivia; Sai Pallavi has previously participated in several dance shows, including two televised ones where she emerged as one of the finalists.
Premam is a defining moment not only in pop culture of Mollywood, but for Sai Pallavi herself, who had confessed in an earlier interview with Film Companion that she had discovered herself while playing the character of Malar. “All women go through a phase where they have insecurities that they have to accept and move on from. I have a skin condition called Rosacea which I shouldn’t be talking about again and again, but it’s something I had to deal with. When I was in Georgia, everyone had flawless skin and I tried everything, but couldn’t get rid of it. I was very conscious. But when it came to Premam, I thought the director was crazy to let me act on screen with no makeup. I hadn’t seen movies where the actors don’t use makeup,” Sai said.
George and Malar’s love never came to fruition, the sequence where Malar cannot recognise George is one of the most heartbreaking parts of an otherwise enjoyable movie. But it is this balance of humour, ache, naivety and vulnerability that makes Premam what it is today — a romantic drama devoid of duplicity.
You can watch Premam on Disney Plus Hotstar.