Naslen and Mamitha Baiju in 'Premalu' out in UAE cinemas now Image Credit: Supplied

The Malayalam romantic comedy ‘Premalu,’ a feel-good film centered on young love, appears to be providing stiff competition to Hollywood, Bollywood, and South Indian releases in the UAE since its theatrical debut two weeks ago. According to a box-office report from the UAE distributor, Phars Films, the total admissions or footfall have surpassed 100,000 since its release on February 9th – a notable achievement for a film not relying on mammoth stars, big-set action sequences, or boasting an epic scale. It’s still going strong at the box office in its second week and has outshone Hollywood films such as 'Madame Web.'

Directed by Girish AD, the delightful film “Premalu” follows a group of twenty-something Malayalis working in Hyderabad, South India, as they navigate love, lust, attraction, and ultimately life in all its messy glory. Notably, the film showcases age-appropriate casting with youthful actors Naslen, Mamitha Baiju, Sangeeth Prathap, and Shyam Mohan taking on crucial roles. In the movie, Naslen portrays Sachin, a newly-minted engineer who falls for an IT professional portrayed by Baiju, only to find himself relegated to the friend zone. His plans of going to the United Kingdom are thwarted because he couldn’t provide proof of adequate funds to the visa authorities, and finds himself behind a fried chicken restaurant counter, desperate for cash, dignity, and more. The movie is such a spectacular triumph at the overseas markets that the cast were even flown down a week after its release to celebrate their box-office win in Dubai earlier this week.

“I always knew that this is going to be a good film, but I never expected such a victorious lap at the box office. I am truly overwhelmed that ‘Premalu’ was so spectacularly embraced by the Malayali audiences. This is truly beyond my imagination,” said Naslen in an interview with Gulf News in Malayalam. He was joined by actors Shyam Mohan and Sangeeth Prathap for the UAE leg of promotions. Their combined goofiness, without any starry airs both on and off-screen, seems to be a big part of their appeal.

The joyous trio, who made no bones about being big fans of each other, claim that their on-screen camaraderie wasn’t about faking it.

The fun bunch of actors who made 'Premalu' a delightful watch

“Honestly, we were like family. We were in Hyderabad shooting from start to finish. We were all living under one roof and were always in the same orbit. I imagined ‘Premalu’ to be a huge success, but expecting it to do such brisk business at the box office was something beyond my imagination. Being interviewed today and talking about how well the movie has done is also a big deal,” added Naslen.

Best known for playing Melvin in the 2019 sleeper hit ‘Thanneer Mathan Dinangal’, Rasool in 2021 ‘Kuruthi’, and Sangeeth in the 2022 hit 'Super Sharanya', Naslen has become a portrait of that endearing ‘boy-next-door’ hero. The blistering success of ‘Premalu’ has merely bolstered his appeal and fan base.

“But I don’t think I am a big star. I know I have now amassed a dedicated fan base across various ages and I don’t take that for granted,” said Naslen. This movie’s success, which boasts strong women roles with Mamitha Baiju displaying incredible agency when it comes to her personal choices in life, has also proved that the audiences have an appetite for movies that aren’t led by bombastic, seasoned actors, gravity-defying stunts, or dark/violent material. The characters in ‘Premalu’ aren’t complicated. If Mohan played the crafty and smooth-talking Aditya in Mamitha’s workplace with aplomb, then Prathap played Naslen’s roommate and best friend was spot-on.

“We have all known each other for a long time … We enjoy a good rapport and this chemistry that you see was wholly organic among us,” said Mohan. The former private banker claims he had met people like his character Adi at his previous job, before he became an actor.

All agree that it’s a combination of superb writing and acting that made ‘Premalu’ such a stand-out film. Both Mohan and Prathap auditioned for the roles, but Naslen – who is relatively more popular and established – didn’t have to go through an audition process. Naslen’s charm and command over playing the amiable, but confused chap is becoming something of his signature now.

“Naslu has a huge fan following and doesn’t really need an audition. We are just rising stars, so we had to audition,” said Mohan with a laugh. Produced by Dileesh Pothan, Fahadh Faasil, and Syam Pushkaran, this film has lots going for it when it comes to sticking to its lane of putting out an interesting and highly entertaining comedy. The jokes land and nobody takes anybody too seriously in this film. Interestingly, none of these actors have interacted with star producer Fahadh Faasil, fondly called ‘Fafa’ among his peers. Pushkaran and Pothan hung out more on the sets and mingled with the actors.

Naslen and Mamitha Baiju in 'Premalu' out in UAE cinemas now

Prathap, whose credits include ‘Hridayam’, and the others believe that the success behind the thundering response to the film is because every character is relatable. Apparently, all these three actors studied in ordinary schools and not some posh boarding and that makes them relatable.

“We play guys who don’t have it figured out in our life – whether it’s about the women we are attracted to, or our jobs, our careers … We all studied in state schools. We are not sophisticated and that’s precisely the charm,” said Prathap, adding that they are all introverts who open up with each other.

“Not all guys are go-getters. We like being in our comfort zone and we don’t have many friends of the opposite sex. Perhaps, that’s what worked,” said the group. We couldn’t agree more.

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‘Premalu’ is out in UAE cinemas now