Premam, when it released in May 2015, became an instant sensation. This movie benefited from the fact that Alphonse Puthren himself handled a number of departments.
Not only did he write and direct the movie, he also took care of the editing. His name also appears under stunt, lyrics and colour grading along with others.
As the movie completes five years on May 29, let us take a look at some of the screenwriting and filmmaking techniques that Alphonse Puthren used in Premam to make it a standout entertainer in our times.
Premamâ€™s promotional strategy and how the movie starts
Alphonse didn't have a trailer for Premam before its release. This helped because most viewers didn't know that the film was about the hero's three phases or what those three phases would be. More importantly, unlike movies that follow this "multiple timeline" pattern (for instance the Tamil film Autograph), Premam doesnâ€™t start from the hero's present timeline and then move to flashbacks. You are directly taken to the young Georgeâ€™s (Nivin Pauly) room where he sits to write a love letter. So, we have no clue about what will follow in the latter parts of the movie.
Giving viewers a small break before the big mass moment
As the first phase ends, the words "Iruttu, kore iruttu" (darkness, lots of darkness) appear on screen, allowing the viewers a few seconds to sit back and take a breath. Because Alphonse wanted the audience to be ready to cheer and applaud in the next transformation scene, when George and his friends land in college.
Getting the mass moment absolutely right
The mixing of various sounds is impressive in this sequence when George and his friends get out from behind the stage and light their cigarettes. It starts from the Rajamanikyam dialogue, moves to the "Kannu chuvakkunnu" song and then the "Beat it" song intervenes from the stage and the noise from the crowd also comes in. The frames switch effectively between slow motion and normal speed. And then there is Nivin Pauly who enacted his part superbly.
Casting a fresh face, Sai Pallavi, for Malar
Another benefit of not giving away much before the release. When a new face walks into the scene where George, Koya (Krishna Shankar) and Shambu (Shabareesh Varma) are ragging juniors, you may not have thought that this character would be an integral part of the movie and would even walk away with most of the credit at the end. Even for a familiar story, Alphonse manages to include such surprises from time to time in Premam.
Letting so many things happen together at a time
Take note of all that happens in the popular "Java" scene. Vimal Sir (Vinay Forrt) starts saying Java is simple, powerful and robust. A student asks if it is robusta banana that he means. George and friends come in. Malar Miss walks through the hallway. Vimal Sir gets distracted and the students laugh. Vimal Sir shows a picture of a cat and dog and asks the students if they understood. He himself admits that he didnâ€™t understand anything. Finally you hear George's voice - "Iyalku oru kunthavum ariyaan padilla" (This man doesn't know anything). This technique of letting too many things happen too quickly is what adds to the entertainment and makes you revisit the movie to absorb it fully again.
Letting so many things happen together at a time (again)
Move to the very next scene when George's dad (Renji Panicker) tells the Principal (Maniyanpilla Raju), "Don't you bloody try to trouble me ever again". The Commissioner theme music starts in the background. Shivan Sir (Soubin Shahir) blows the whistle. The Principal gets scared and asks Malar Miss to take care of George's dad. Renji Panicker stands up, pushes the chair and walks in slow motion. Again, that it is all too quick is what makes it really work.
Evoking nostalgia with old songs
Alphonse doesn't forget to stir up our nostalgia by placing some of our classic songs in the right places. Here, when George tells Koya and Shambu that Malar Miss has replied to his message, Shambu immediately starts singing - "Kanmani anbodu kadhalan" (from Guna) to tease him. A Tamil song because Malar is a Tamilian.
Evoking nostalgia with old songs (again)
This technique is used again in the third timeline when Jojo (Siju Wilson) sings "Mandhara cheppundo" (from Dasharatham) while arranging the cakes in the bakery.
More surprises because of casting a newcomer
Take this scene where Shambu and Koya have little hope while they wait for Malar Miss to train them for their dance. If you didn't know that Sai Pallavi had participated in dance reality shows (and most Keralites didnâ€™t), what follows would have caught you by complete surprise. The expression on the faces of George and his friends after Sai Pallaviâ€™s dance steps would have been there on most viewers too.
Finding humor wherever you can
Itâ€™s the Vimal Sir-Shivan Sir (P.T Sir) combo that takes care of most of the humour in the college phase. Vinay Forrt and Soubin Shahir were rightly cast and Premam gave a big break for both actors. No matter what happens in the main thread, Alphonse keeps bringing back these two characters for quick laughs. Remember when Vimal Sir sings "Ennavale" onstage and Shivan Sir's expression changes? When Vimal gets a shock and falls down on the stage, Shivan runs towards him - but, this is important, to only pick up his sunglasses from the floor!
George's breakdown scene and Alphonse Puthren's editing skills
When George realises that Malar Miss no longer recognises him and walks out of her house, Alphonse Puthren gets perhaps the movie's best scene. Itâ€™s also now time to talk about Alphonse Puthren's terrific editing skills that did wonders to Premam. Making the best use of Rajesh Murugesan's terrific score, Alphonse slows down the speed in the present frame when George walks out. He then plays in reverse motion the flashback scenes from the "Malare" song, the shot where George sees Malar Miss leaving in the jeep and the shot where he sees her for the first time. All these are then mixed perfectly!
More on editing
Alphonse Puthren achieves a lot in Premam with his editing skills and this includes some of the points already discussed above. Jump cuts, cross cuts, fast forward, slow motion - itâ€™s all there. Take this scene where George, Koya and Shambu walk up the stairs to their classroom. The frames are cut between the three actors, the students in the classroom and Malar Miss all at the same time. Like you see in this image, Alphonse uses his cuts to even give us a quick glimpse of an untold love story in the movie.
Second and third timelines start in the exact same way
Both these phases start with the same frames of George lighting a matchstick. When I watched this shot for the first time in the theatre, I thought George had become a police officer. Again since there was no trailer, you had no clue what George had become in life after his love failure. The biggest takeaway for me in Premam is that in this phase, Alphonse didnâ€™t make George a brooding angry or sad guy who is still stuck in the past.
Using Koya's same lines to show George's transition
George's romance tracks might take precedence in three phases. But Premam is also about friendship. Koya and Shambu are there with George through all his life phases. They are perhaps even written as smarter and more mature characters than George. While Koya used to tell George - "Nee nee aayi pokendaâ€ť (Don't go as yourself) in the first two phases, he finally tells George - â€śBe yourself" to show us that George has changed.
Keeping it short
Another big plus for Premam is that it keeps moving fast and doesn't get stuck at one plot event for too long. When Malar's cousin asks her in the climax - "You could have told George?â€ť, she replies - "No, he's happy only, let it be." What was it that they were discussing? Alphonse Puthren keeps it short and leaves it to our imagination!
Itâ€™s been five years now. When are you going to give us a treat like this again, Alphonse Puthren?
(Screenshots courtesy â€“ Hotstar)