“Premam Effect”: Some Reflections on the Normalization of Love
|Sudeesh K. Padanna||July 17, 2015|
In her award-winning novel God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy demonstrates the symptoms of the macroscopic world of the conventional “love laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much”. Eschewing the grand narratives of the orthodox adult world, she weaves tiny narratives of the otherwise repressed microscopic world of love that struggles to cross the boundaries of faith, caste, class and region. Anybody who is familiar with Arundhati’s polymorphous microscopic world of Ayemenem might make a casual connection with Alphonse Puthren’s Premam, a phenomenally super hit Malayalam film that captures the beautiful landscapes of Aluva. The film portrays the journey of George David , a poignant love journey which begins from the teenage love for the most attractive girl Mary. The film belongs to the genre called period film which shows the different phases of George’s life.
It should be stated in no uncertain terms that the kind of filmmaking style, especially the one that projects the post-millennium teenage infatuation and then the youthful campus love and the final wrap up of George David's story in a happily ever after married life, is highly innovative and energetic. The romantic fantasy screen that is unfolded in the film is that of a male gaze, a rather refined Malayali (hereafter mallu) male gaze .The innocuous romantic teenage gaze remains unreciprocated. George David’s teenage heart hankers after the extraordinarily beautiful girl Mary. She has got plenty of followers in the locality. Here teens are shown as love-sick chocolate chaps. They are immature lords of the fantasy world of love. Being the most attractive girl, Mary happens to be everybody’s heroine, everybody’s heartthrob. To everybody’s collective frustration, Mary is already in love with a boy. The chapter of first love closes here. George’s second love blossoms forth with the arrival of Malar, the young lady guest lecturer. She is very kind and considerate towards her students. It can be easily inferred that Malar who have almost been exalted into a popular Mallu prayer song (Malare Ninne Kaanaathirunnaal), is an upper caste Tamilian with a cosmopolitan bend of mind. She is at once modern and traditional with her flair for modern breakdance and with her taste for the exquisite Hindu traditional feminine adorations like sandal mark for the forehead and jasmine flowers for the long hair.
In Malayalam cinema, campus is the typical space of the masculine social transgressions. Society outside campus space is full of norms and morals. There are several moralists who argue that loving a teacher is a big sin. The film shatters such moralism in its steadfast duty to the illegitimate love of George David as opposed to the legitimate love of Vimal Sir, the colleague of Malar. Here George attains a novel sensorium of experience, the ineffable ecstasy of love. Bringing a turning point, there arise an alibi for separating the inter-caste and inter-state love between George and Malar. Malar met with an accident and plunged in the unfortunate situation of memory loss. George has to cut down his second love at this crucial moment. In the final phase, we witness the third love of George, the self-restrained love of George who has attained adult maturity. She is none other than Celine who happens to be the young companion of his first love Mary. The film ends by showing the happy faces of the newlywed couple: George David and Celine. Though the storyline sounds all too familiar, it is the mode and the form of the storytelling that renders the otherwise simple and light-hearted content of the film profound and palpable.
On the whole, the film offers a very resigned risk-free zone of conjugal life. Every struggles of love are thus resolved in such a way that a matured conflict-free family life is guaranteed. All the adventures of love are suspended in favour of the established mallu adult maturity. Though the presence of conventional moralists preachers are ridiculed in the movie, the presence of modern moralist preacher called soft-skill trainer is very much present in the film. The film is indeed proposing a big moral lesson. Love failures needs to be treated as training ground in the great journey towards marriage. Finally, marriage is constructed as a safety valve against the fickle-mindedness and perils of wayward love. The film does not show the life after marriage.
There were no big claims about the film on the part of the director. This absence of making big claims or putting catchy taglines cannot however be equated with the modesty and market unfriendliness of the director. Instead, it should be read as a new tactic, a disavowed injunction for watching the film. Film songs play a pivotal role in intensifying the romantic thrills and colours of the film. In fact, video songs acted as the teaser of the film. The spectacles of songs play an important role here. The song “ Aluvapuzhayude Theerathu” puts an emphasis on the secularized version of human love by caricaturing the ritualistic Catholic Church practice of praising the stiff love of God (Daivasneham Varnnicheedaan Vaakkukal Poraa). Then the song proceeds to visualize the beauty of the enthusiastic first love as it is embodied by George David. Ironically, love itself appears to be a new deity to be praised and worshipped with the passionate involvement of the devotees of love.
The "scene contra" song brings to the fore the typical reaction of frustrated mallu boys in the form of warning and consolation.Being a hilarious friendly advice,this song appears as a double negation.Celine rejects David's proposal as she is already engaged to another person.She has no other option but to reject his proposal. Then there is a negation love as such in the song. Thus, there is a negation of a negation.Nevertheless, this negation of negation is also an affirmation of a disavowed attachment. David's friends are not just trying to console David. This song can be read as an exhortation to reject heterosexual love's labour in general.It can even be observed that the song makes a veiled plea for homoerotic love which is stable and secure, for the homosocial male bonding would never be perceived as the unnatural form of relationship.The lines “Avalu Vendra, Evalu Vendra Ee Kaanunnavalmmaaronnum Vendra, Love Vendra, Namukku Vendra ( Dude, you don't need this chick, you don't need that chick and we don't need any of these chicks and we don’t want love) can be interpreted in this way too: We guys(or gays?) don't need heterosexual love. We boys don’t need to waste our valuable time running after a girl. It is always a risky endevour. A girl's love is always uncertain and untrustworthy as she is already guarded by traditional forms of parental authorities.Instead of getting trapped into such dangerous situations, we can be content with our homosocial male bonding.Thus, the song is not just an advice to the love-sick boys to abandon their futile struggles to win the heart of the haughty chicks.
In the final phase, we see George David in the position of the proprietor of a well-maintained café named Agape. This is a cosmopolitan café where only the elite sections gather. Where did he gather the money to build such a big luxurious café? The source of investment is not revealed in the film. Also, the film presents an internal critique of the old authoritarian capitalist model where the profit-hungry capitalists treat their workers like slaves. Unlike the old authoritarian capitalists, George is very friendly with his workers and he takes offence when his assistant manager Jojo calls him “Muthalali”(capitalist entrepreneur). Alongside this, the film caricatures the old symbolic authorities like the flirts, the official language, the patriarchal father, the church, the teacher, the police who arrests the youngsters for wearing the Bob Marley T-shirts, the government that increases the price of petrol and so on and so forth. However, film produces newer forms of symbolic authorities in a subtle and sophisticated manner by way of embracing a normalized endogamous marriage towards the close of the film. Because of this, Premam’s butterfly is mentally normal. So is its Love.
One pertinent question needs to be raised here. Is marriage the ultimate sign of normalcy? As a rule, marriage is posited as an ethical ideal as opposed to the chaos and tensions of love. A quick glance at any heterosexual matrimonial ads give you ample proof regarding the nature of individual tastes and preferences based on skin colour, height, size, caste, religion, occupational identity etc. What not, even the first homosexual ad that appeared in a leading newspaper said, ‘Iyer preferred’. In this scenario, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the recent facebook celebration of queer pride with rainbow colours after US SC’s declaration of the legalization of same sex marriage shows the perennial strength of the age old institution called marriage. Is this a celebration of Queer Pride? Isn’t this a celebration of Normalcy Pride? What is so queer about demanding state-recognition and its juridical protection? What is so queer about getting integrated into the heterosexual normativity of traditional marriage? What is so queer about asking marriage alliances on same-caste and same-class lines? After all, what are the criteria of separating queer love from straight love? The liberal idea of free love completely cut off from the market as well as societal fantasy matrix is a utopia in itself.
Is marriage, after all, a normalized conflict free zone of affection? Family is indeed a thoroughly overrated agency of socialization in India. If you examine the nature of conventional marriage, you can plainly see that family is a place where all the ‘abnormal’ transgressions are effectively played out. More often than not, marital rape and masturbations are naturalized within the institution of married life. The Malayalam film Drishyam which has already been remade in several other Indian languages best represent the transgressive desires of conventional family life. The distance from Premam’s George David to Drishyam’s Georgekutty is a very short distance. In Drishyam, we see a Georgekutty who uses the body of his wife to realize the sexual fantasies aroused by the hot film scenes or hot film songs. Georgekutty’s wife Rani has to succumb to his lustful passions even though she is not at all interested in sexual intercourse. There is always something embarrassingly violent about these untimely sexual advancements of Georgekutty. Marriage is a place where public fantasies are sought out, cherished and realized.
People opt for the conventional rituals of marriage because of the comfort zone that it offers, especially the insured and durable conjugal life. Conventional same-caste arranged marriage offers a risk-free conjugal life since there would be no conflict of caste, class-based tastes, preferences and rituals. This is yet another utopia constructed by the orthodoxy. More often than not, the parental-cum- horoscope-modulated arranged marriages end up in divorces or lifetime domestic imprisonment. Most of the divorced couples would vouchsafe the observation that they got married taking into considerations all the protocols of conventions including the sweetly coated dowry system. Still, their married life got messed up out of certain incompatibilities of subjectivities. Horoscope or theological or popular magazine-driven guidelines or communal ties fails to provide a tension-free married life. The moment you feel that loving a person is a duty and moral responsibility, love ceases to exist. The case of a married couple who are supposed to fall in love after marriage is also a precarious field of big risk and gambling. In the book titled In Praise of Love. Alain Badiou, the French philosopher, reclaims the space of love invaded by market economy. Badiou was appalled by the publicity slogans for French online dating site Méetic such as “Get perfect love without suffering” or “Be in love without falling in love”. He adds : “For me these posters destroy the poetry of existence. They try to suppress the adventure of love. Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. Méetic try to go back to organized marriages – not by parents but by the lovers themselves." With exceptional leap of faith, Badiou demonstrates that love is not a narcissist act of finding one’s own self-image in the other. Love, he says “is not a contract between two narcissists. It's more than that. It's a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”(In Praise of Love)
Premam naturalizes the institution of marriage. Nevertheless, one striking feature of Premam is that the final narrative closure with the endogamous marriage offers a nostalgic space for nurturing the transgressive desire for an inter-caste and inter-state love. By marrying Celine who hails from his own faith community, George David elevates Malar as an absolute object of desire.
|Cinema, Essay, premam, Arts & Literature|
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