Vijay Superum Pournamiyum: A romantic comedy that ticks all the right boxes
This film is one of those rare remakes that does justice to the original, and is even superior to it
Before Vijay Superum Pournamiyum's (VSP) release, there had been speculations about it being a remake of the Telugu hit Pelli Choopulu, starring Vijay Deverakonda and Ritu Varma. It was the first Telugu film that I really loved. Now after having seen VSP, I can confirm that it is indeed a remake of Pelli Choopulu, but Jis Joy's film is still worth recommending. This is one of those rare remakes that does justice to the original and is, in some ways, superior to it.
Director: Jis Joy
Cast: Asif Ali, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Siddique, Renji Panicker
Not only does the film appear fresh despite being very familiar, but it also retains the mood and tone of the original. One of the strengths of the film is that it's not in a hurry. It takes its own time to flesh out each and every character without overstaying its welcome. Asif Ali's Vijay is an underperformer and Aishwarya Lekshmi's Pournami is an overachiever. These facts are established in the film's opening scenes depicting their childhoods. When they meet as adults, they are aware that they're complete opposites who are not cut out for/interested in a serious relationship.
What made Pelli Choopulu such a success was that it was not a typical romcom. It did away with all the tried-and-tested, occasionally cringe-inducing romcom elements that usually keep me away from most of the films made in the genre. It did something different while still staying within the confines of the genre. It never went overboard with its sweetness. A matchmaking ceremony doesn't turn out the way you expect it to and a pre-interval twist took things in a different direction. The preliminary 'meet and greet' is not the set-up for a potential romance, in the minds of the two characters. How can they, when both characters have nothing in common and are trying their best to convince everyone that they're not ready for marriage? But they're open-minded enough to have a conversation, and, if nothing else, this open-mindedness is their common character trait. A beautiful romantic liaison is never promised during any of their interactions. The same goes for VSP.
I would even go so far as to call VSP a slight improvement over the original because it does one thing that Pelli Choopulu doesn't: giving a solid background for the principal characters' parents. Vijay's father (Siddique) is an upright, idealistic man who would rather have his son fail in his exams than pass by cheating. His extreme honesty is both his strength and his weakness. Pournami's father (Renji Panicker), on the other hand, nearly freaks out when his wife delivers a baby girl. Unlike in the Telugu version, which made it seem like the parents wanted to get rid of their children as soon as possible by marrying them off, the Malayalam version portrays them as likeable folks, even though they're not always supportive of their children's decision to lead independent lives.
Pournami is an MBA graduate who wants to start her own business -- a food truck ("Good Food Good Music") -- and Vijay is an engineering graduate who actually wants to pursue a culinary career. Naturally, Pournami sees in him a business partner; nothing more. Whether she sees something more is not immediately apparent. By now, Aishwarya has become the go-to actor for playing subtly mysterious women and Pournami is certainly one. Even though she reveals everything about her life to Vijay, you get the feeling that she wants to withhold some thoughts from him. If she has something else on her mind, then we can view the 'business relationship' as a test she puts Vijay through to see if he comes out the other end in one piece.
Pournami is a character tailor-made for Aishwarya. Only last year we saw her playing a woman turning her husband into a 'real man' in Amal Neerad's Varathan. Pournami is essentially a slight reiteration of that character. Aishwarya is an intimidating presence whenever she is on screen. And she is not repeating Ritu Varma's performance from Pelli Choopulu. She makes the character her own. Pournami is like that college professor who berates her students for making it to the movie halls on time but not to their classes. She can make any irresponsible, indisciplined man sweat. And Vijay is a good example of such a man. If you're the kind of man who can't catch up with a woman like her, then you better not think about being part of her life.
Though Vijay is not really a character we haven't seen before, Asif plays him with a conviction and self-assuredness that is always nice to watch. VSP is the best out of his three collaborations with Jis Joy whose direction is much more refined and restrained this time around. Though not an entirely perfect film (which film is?), the flaws present in his previous films are gone. Some may accuse him of making saccharine films, but I don't see anything wrong with getting a dose once in a while. If it's not the kind that's going to make you drowsy, I say why not.