A tribute to the film that bridged art and commerce with delightful flair, on its first anniversary…

By Mani Prabhu

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“Dei! I Was Not Ready da…”

Fifty minutes into Premam, when Alphose Putheren decides to change the tone of his magic –the clumsy romantic pedestal he had been erstwhile operating on – the visibly jolted audience goes full-blown SA Aravind mode. Well, almost.

To be fair to them, there is no warning whatsoever. The film-maker just keeps the whole stratagem under clever wraps for almost an hour, taking us on a trip of delightful innocence, and then in a stroke of brilliance, pulls the rug from under our feet.

We are left bamboozled.

Earlier, we are witness to George, a sweet-little teenager, trying hard to be romantic. We laugh at his bumbling pursuits at wooing his crush and in the process, making a fool of himself.  From what we gather, George is someone who is not even able to find his voice when the girl is around. He is the diffident school-going boy trying in vain to be the man, he aspires. But then, But then, life isn’t always what you want it to be. George is eventually heartbroken when he realizes that his girl, smitten by another guy, plans to get married soon.

And at this juncture, the screen fades out.

The years tick on from 2001. The sound of rolling film resonates. It’s now 2005 – the year Mammooty smashed all box-office records with the blockbuster, Rajamanikyam.

As the image slowly fades in, we see George and his two friends sitting in a badly lit space with an unnaturally low ceiling. At first glance, it’s almost impossible to make out what it is. George’s features are not yet clear, but his eyes seem a little different. A kind of brash intent reflects in them as he stares ahead; almost expressionless otherwise. What is happening?  Fingers of light now poke through gaps in the ceiling, giving some orientation to the cramped space.

He holds a lit cigarette between his lips. A rather affected, deep puff… and the curls of smoke almost obscure the field. It’s when George lights a match stick that we get the first clear picture of him. He seems to be having a beard now. Or does he?

He proceeds to ignite a rather wiry wick with the matchstick. And exactly at this moment, the scintillating ‘udukkai’ makes its first appearance. And instantly, it brings with it a feverish aura. George and his friends, rather coolly, start moving towards the exit, crouched up all the while. The camera follows them from behind. And just as they remove the covers and step out into the sunlight, the lines “Kannu chuvakkanu” start, setting up the animated mood. The camera trails them out to the greenery and slowly hovers over to expose the epic transformation in all its glory.

George now stands before us, a thick moustache, beard and a nonchalant look on his face. Only now do we realize that he has emerged from the underneath of a performance stage. What was he lighting there?  All questions take a backseat as his swagger catches us off guard.  It just hangs on effortlessly, as he folds his dhoti and ties it at knee-level. What an effect five years has had on this youngster! The black shirt. The bloodshot eyes. The clasped teeth. The clenched fists. The spirited walk, reeking of testosterone. The details nail the ‘raudhram’ context, and the camera gobbles it all up like an angry man, hungry for some action.

The three of them now walk to the front from the back stage, even as the frenzied guitar and the maddening percussion start working their wizardry. The dashing recklessness in the atmosphere is all too obvious. Puthren resorts to slow motion frames intermittently to get all the dap alive on-screen. As they dissolve into the crowd, we see a college-culturals happening on stage. And so, was that a mini explosive? It indeed turns out to be an act of vengeance at a fellow classmate. But the motivations soon become irrelevant, as all hell breaks loose with George and his friends going on a fist rampage on their rival group.

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Lush green fields. Pouring rains. Wet grounds. Muddled swamps. And loads of electrifying action in slo-mo’, set to the nerve-popping beats. The riveting frames almost transport us into the scene, giving us a sense of the ensuing madness. We draw our fists involuntarily. The magic has worked. And so has the ploy.

Naadi narambu valinju murukkanu”. And that ‘Kalippu’ does, in more ways than one. We could feel the blood vessels bursting within. The thumping pulsations are almost half-heard.

The audiovisual medium had been used, not only for technical cinematic brilliance, but also for narrating a irresistibly compelling tale.