I watched the much talked about Malayalam movie Premam earlier this year, almost a year after its theatrical release. Though I didn’t understand a word of the language, I instantly fell in love with the film. Maybe it was the music, the locations, visuals, acting, chemistry, love, pimples, Java, or god knows what…the film was pure magic!
Later, I came to know it was being remade in Telugu, my native language. I felt it was a bold move, maybe a stupid one too...Premam is a piece of ART, and ART is sacrosanct, not to be tampered with. Were the makers committing blasphemy?
To find the answers, I waited with bated breath for the Telugu release. Caught the film during the first weekend, and then the unexpected happened.
I walked in expecting to see a ‘copy paste remake’ but what I instead got was an ‘upgraded version’ of the original.
It felt as if the original Premam was put on a treadmill and made to lose all the flab, in place of which it grew muscles – muscles called LOGIC.
It was a given that the director would make changes to the film to suit sensibilities of the Telugu audience, but he also added extraordinary depth to the narrative – tying up loose ends, giving meaning to seemingly random occurrences, expanding the canvas of the film beyond its confined settings, including the angle of parents into what was a one dimensional narrative from the hero’s perspective in the original.
The soul of the film remained intact but the structure and the interpretation of the soul now had far more weight and logic than the original.
If someone were to remake the film in another language now, they would have to without fail refer to the Telugu version as the starting point.
This fact shook me to the core. It actually turned my world upside down.
Isn’t ART an absolute…how can we have VERSIONS of it?
Wasn’t the original film perfect as a piece of ART in itself?
Is the concept of ORIGINALITY overrated?
Finally, I found the answers. I found them as parallels in some real life scenarios, and in the most unexpected of all places – the movie itself.
That’s what I am going to talk about next.
Sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting a detailed review of the film; that definitely warrants another post.
I shall begin with the real life parallels first and then the movie. Once you are done reading, do let me know what you think; shall wait to hear from you.
The art of obsolescence:
Let’s put our movie aside for the moment and look at some of the most successful consumer-centric enterprises of our world – they hold the clues to the answers we seek.
Apple and Facebook are the two names that come to my mind first. If you look at the products they deal with, be it the devices from Apple or the Facebook experience – they are not stuck in time; both are constantly innovating, always challenging the status quo.
It is not like the first iPhone wasn’t an amazing product. It was a path breaker. But that did not stop Apple from refining it further, making it faster, leaner and sexier. The outcome – we now have iPhone 7 which isn’t even scared to get rid of the headphone jack. The phone just gets better and better over time.
Mark Zuckerberg does the same with Facebook – not afraid to fix mistakes of the past, try new things and continue to refine to such an extent that close to 2 billion people on earth are hooked to his product. You think the results would have been the same if he was happy with the first version of Facebook? Your guess is as good as mine.
There is an equally good chance that these companies could have messed up their products. That didn’t happen because they ensured their core values remained intact.
What if we apply the same logic to ART?
Why can’t great ART, in the right hands, be refined further to make it greater?
Based on the above examples, the concept of originality as a measure of greatness or perfection seems to have limited appeal. There is always scope to build on top of what’s great and create something greater.
Having said that, it does not diminish the value of the original; we will always hold in awe the first iPhone that came out, it is like the original Premam. The remake is just the next spruced up version; not a lame copy. At heart both are still the same.
Bottom-line: It is OK to challenge the status quo, take risks and improve upon something that is already perceived as great; originality isn’t the be all and the end all of things even when it concerns ART.
Let’s switch back to the movie now and see how it proves the same point.
Three stages of love:
Drilled down to its core, Premam is a story about change.
It speaks of three stages in a person’s life and how they influence him. Alphonse Puthren, director of the original uses a butterfly as a metaphor to drive home the point. The Telugu version does away with the butterfly. Chandoo Mondeti, director of the remake, conveys the same through the father’s character as well as the logic he uses to tie the stories together.
The first love story has innocence and then the baby fat melts into the second episode, and then the third. Our hero doesn’t get fixated on his first love forever; he moves on. His feelings carry forward, but his expectations change, his circumstances change and he finds a newer (for the lack of a better word) version of love.
The original Premam is like his first love - fresh, innocent, and pure. The Telugu version is like his second love - a bolder, more logical, mature version of the same. I am sure you get the gist by now.
Premam’s story is no different than our feelings for the original movie and its remake!
The third love story…we shall wait for Bollywood to show us how it pans out. Last I heard, Alphonse Puthren himself might work on the Hindi version, and guess what, he doesn’t want to make a scene by scene remake either and wants to retell the story in a new format (his Facebook post).
I am eagerly waiting to watch how it shapes up. At least I know for sure now that I am open to falling in love with Premam once again. My world is back to normal.
I hope you feel the same too. Let me know in the comments.
I hope you feel the same too. Let me know in the comments.
PS. Realized that I didn't mention the names of any actors here; each and every one of them were brilliant. If Nivin Pauly blew my mind in the original, Naga Chaitanya owned it in his own way in the remake. Same with Malar and Sitara and all the other actors and technicians - they deserve the highest level of praise for making us fall in love again and again.