Rediscovering ‘Niram’, Two Decades After It Defined What Was ‘Cool’ For A Generation

Social distancing led 90s kid Meera Venugopal to watch the 1999 blockbuster again. She was looking for nostalgia, but ended up with a cringe fest.
Rediscovering ‘Niram’, Two Decades After It Defined What Was ‘Cool’ For A Generation

Watching Niram again in the times of Covid 19 is like looking back at photographs from your teens. 'What was I thinking?' is the first thought that comes to mind when you look back at what passed off as fashion all those years ago. Kamal's Niram, in a sense, was THE film that defined cool and what was in vogue for a generation that grew up in the late 90s.  

So when days of self-isolation and the subsequent boredom conspired to throw up 'Niram' on the Hotstar algorithm, I jumped at it. Back in the day, Kamal's Niram was a blockbuster. I vaguely remember nine-year-old me wishing to jump straight into the magical world of college life to find a bestie like Aby. 

The 1999 release was not just a smashing hit, completing a theatrical run of over 150 days, but also went on to get remade in several other Indian languages as well. Twenty years on, when I revisit this childhood favourite, I am thankful for my subtly drab campus life and, most importantly, for the lack of an Aby in it. Phew!

The film starts off with the tag-line, "Friendship is a blessing…" and a jarring background score. The music here is nothing but a clear-cut indication of the ear-splitting two-and-a-half hours that's to follow. Besties Aby (Kunchacko Boban) and Sona (Shalini Ajith), often touted as "Siamese Twins" by their friends, were not just born on the same day but also around the same time. If this isn't enough indication of their Siamese-ness, we're even told that they always wear colour-coordinated clothes and wait-for-it…that they even 'sneeze' around the same time. The similarities don't end there. They are also equally pompous bullies (portrayed as funny), boisterous and are insensitive to everything around them.

So here's a series of post-it notes to my younger self to understand the mind of that naïve girl who thought exchanging everything with your bestie was dope. 

Being loud and snooty 'is not' in vogue

Have you ever met someone who's nosy AF, is all over the place, is loud as hell and considers himself/herself to be the centre of the universe? That pretty much sums up not one, but both the leads in this film, and while I wouldn't want one such specimen lurking in my life, I clearly had a different perspective back then. 

The movie could've simply been titled 'Daaaa'

That Niram brought in the trend of addressing friends as 'da', even if they were female, is a known fact, but have you paid heed to the shocking number of 'daaaaaas' in it? Had there been a category in the Guinness World Records for most number of 'daaaaaas' in a scene, Niram would've bagged that title. Because not one, not two, not three… 14 'daaaaaaaa's' bounce off in less than a minute in the scene where an emotional Sona is packing her bags to go to Bangalore. Perks or perils of being in quarantine? Tell me daaaaa...

The duo's platonic love is served on a 'special' friendship platter

Fine, the movie is all about how Sona and Aby have been inseparable 'friends' since birth and all that. But even the makers seem to be confused as to how they should infuse a love angle into the script, and they simply decide to slip it in as and when they please. When was the last time two best friends danced away in a choreographed, romanticised introduction duet? Also, when was the last time a friend gifted another 'friend' a birthday card with the message, "When you want me, you just close your eyes and I'll be with you, only a heartbeat away." Yours truly is, however, guilty of idolising this 'special' bond, passing it off as love? But friendship? I'm not too sure now.

Insensitivity is packaged as 'Cool'

Jomol's character Varsha is as clumsy as humanly possible and the only relief when she comes on screen is that unlike every other character in the film, she doesn't have an inbuilt amplifier in her throat. But this relief is short-lived when Varsha is made the butt of all jokes. Neither does anyone lend a helping hand when she falls every single time (there are quite a lot of them) but they also ROFL seeing her plight. Even if you look beyond the insensitivity, it's also plain slapstick at its worst.  

There's no regard for anyone other than the two das in the film

Okay. So, let's start with the parents. None of them has a character graph and all of them are very much Siamese in their attitudes. Their job is to simply sing praises of their kids (Mom, dad, please take note) and smile whenever the camera pans at them.

In the scene where Sona shouts across the streets to Aby's parents about their son eyeing a neighbour, you'd hope to see the neighbour reacting against this noise pollution (read Sona). Instead, you not only 'not' see the neighbour in question, but the scene immediately diverts to a 'comic' route with Aby's textbook falling into a fish basket.

Dialogues that go on and on and on and on…..

Every character in the film, from the happy lead pair and the ever-happy parents to the happily squeaky Tamil house-help and their not-so-happy love interests, have long, never-ending, scripted dialogues to mouth. Not only do you want them to stop talking immediately but you also wonder in which alternate universe would a wife tell her husband, "Nammude punaara mon Abyum, Maya-Job dembadhigalude magal Sonayum innu raavile 11 manniku vivahitharayi." A real Malayali mom would rather have said, "Naatukaaru enthu parayum" (what will people say) or "Molu kayyuvittu poyi, ningalu karanam aanu" (our daughter has abandoned us and the reason for that is you).

In another scene, Sona calls Aby from Bangalore, and goes, "This is Sona calling from the Garden city". Best friend or not, this would've been my cue to cut the call, but Aby being Aby reciprocates, "This is Aby speaking from the Queen of Arabian Sea." Face-palm.

Nepotism used to look like Boban Alumoodan in the 90s

Else give me one logical reason for casting the ever-so-expressionless Boban Alumoodan as Prakash Mathew – Sona's love interest. His glasses alone could've done the job,  considering they too do not evoke any emotion – like his expressions.

Niram, undoubtedly, was a rage among youngsters and brought in a whole new genre of college films in Malayalam. From stylish youngsters to a rather laid-back campus life seasoned with fun, music and dance, we are all guilty of adulation, aren't we? But looking back, the film definitely hasn't really stood the test of time urging one to ask, "Nammal endhada ingane?"

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