Tholi Prema

Tholi Prema was strongly recommended by several hardcore Pawan Kalyan fans. If it gets the most enthusiastic film fans in the world hopping with excitement, I knew I had to watch it. It is not quite what I expected from a 90s romance, and mostly it’s a very nice film. Karunakaran let a couple of vaguely sensible ideas creep into all the filminess, and I really enjoyed the way some of the situations play out.

Pawan Kalyan stars as Balu, an underachiever who seems a bit adrift. He doesn’t live up to his parents’ high hopes and lacks motivation in his academic life. Balu and his father clash time and time again, and there is an unsettled and acrimonious atmosphere at his home. This forces him to spend more time with a group of friends that includes Ali and Venu Madhav. Balu has no trouble being assertive and a leader outside of his home, but he has no standing within his family. He is a decent guy, but just hasn’t quite got himself sorted and relies too much on his uncle (Nagesh) to sort things out for him.

Keerthi Reddy is Anu, the girl Balu falls instantly in love with. She is first seen hopping and clapping on the side of the road in the traditional filmi ‘escaped mental patient’ style. I liked her in Arjun and she is good here as the too perfect to be real rich girl but her role is mostly about looking fair and rather vapid. Anu has good intentions that manifest in ditzy ways. She believes ordinary people who do good should be celebrated so chases them around to get their autographs as though they were celebrities, and she also plays Santa for some homeless kids. Nice ideas but the execution makes her look flaky. Anu has big dreams for her career and study, and isn’t looking to marry any time soon. She wants to win a Nobel Prize!

Balu is looking for her because of her beauty and she is looking for him because he saved a child (in a very stupid traffic incident) and she sees him as a hero. There are near misses, a very dramatic incident and far too much advice from the comedy gang. But once Anu and Balu meet, the characters got a bit more interesting.

Balu is the hero so he does his share of beating up wrongdoers and righteous speechifying. But he is also a little vulnerable and I found him quite likeable. He doesn’t throw his weight around all the time, and he is easily disconcerted by quick witted cousin Priya. Pawan Kalyan looks a tad too mature for the undergrad Balu, but he is very convincing in his swings between diffidence and a more energised and confident state. He can work up a good smoulder as well as a very impressive sad puppy face. He has the Mega family eyes after all! But it’s not simply a matter of the hero claiming his ‘reward’ and he does bring a bit more nuance to Balu than I was expecting. The story plays out in both full blown melodrama and some sweetly sensible dialogues.

Priya (Vasuki) tells Balu to get to know Anu before he proposes. Radical, I know! She also points out that stalking a girl is creepy and not a good tactic as it means the girl is unaware she is in a relationship. And the sensible advice and decisions don’t stop there. When Balu writes a message in blood, another favourite of filmi heroes, Anu is as mad as all get out. She can’t understand why anyone would do that, and tells him so. The boys all fluctuate between moping listlessly and having the vapours when they so much as see their intended, so in some respects they are more like the traditional romance heroine.

Having said that, the notion that a girl is obliged to accept a guy who declares love for her is firmly in place. There are several examples of female characters succumbing to the man’s ‘honesty’ or ‘love’ regardless of whether they had ever exchanged three words in person. The biggest disappointment was in the way Priya’s story was resolved. Having seen how disturbed Balu was by his unrequited love, she couldn’t bear to reject someone who would feel the same pain. So she, giver of sensible relationship advice, married a colleague out of pity. It didn’t fit with someone who was determined enough to live away from home to complete her medical studies in a more conducive atmosphere. And while Anu and Balu were a bit more sensible, Balu showed little sign of applying himself to any form of work, study or career plan. The male characters mostly assumed that they could be useless, as the women would look after them. I think the female characters were getting a raw deal in being lumbered with these manchild types, but True Love is supposed to make everything right, isn’t it?

Most of Balu’s songs are picturesque montages of him wandering lost and lovelorn or behaving foolishly under the influence of daydreams. And he does all that very well. His dream sequences are really something! The opening disco sequence was hilarious and very peculiar. And there is a colourful vintage tribute. Deva’s music is pleasant, if heavily derivative at times, and matches the mood of the scenes. I enjoyed the light hearted mood in this song, mostly because he looks as though he snuck into big brother Chiru’s dress-up box to put the outfits together. And also because of the Ricky Martin ‘influence’.

Ali and Venu Madhav seem to be less irritating in films with Pawan Kalyan. I don’t know whether that is because he takes on some of the comedy himself so they are more contained, or that they often play characters with a purpose. I could still do without them, but I didn’t have my usual allergic reaction. The comedy is often broad and relies on slide whistle, poking fun at stereotypes and cheesy visual tricks. Narra Venkateswara Rao is Balu’s dad and he is a very unsympathetic character for most of the film. But he and Balu share a really soppy moment that was quite sweet, and a little unexpected. Nagesh is fun as the uncle and Sangeetha as the patient but passive mother makes up the rest of the major support roles.

I think every single character cries for most of the last 20 minutes. Luckily the resolution was left to Balu and Anu and the ending was quite satisfying (despite my reservations about Balu ever growing up).

I liked Tholi Prema for the way it took a slightly different path through the romance clichés. There are nice scenes between family members and with Anu, Balu and Priya that added real humour and emotion. I like Pawan Kalyan but if you’re not familiar with his films, this might be a good place to start for people who don’t enjoy the action genre. 3 ½ stars!

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12 thoughts on “Tholi Prema

  1. This is one of the earliest and the best movies of Pawan Kalyan I have seen so far. This is a love story which can be enjoyed by all age-groups. The beauty of this movie lies in its simplicity and my opinion is that it cannot be matched by other Telugu movies in the same genre.
    Nice review Temple…please keep posting more reviews on the earlier movies of the current Telugu actors. I would love to know your and Heather’s views on those movies…I miss the 90s so much!
    Pulkita

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    • Hi Pulkita :) Thanks! I’m glad you liked Tholi Prema too. I generally like Pawan Kalyan in his more action/drama roles but he can be very funny and he does have the looks for a romantic lead so it’s good to see him in a different (for me) film. Have you seen Jalsa?

      I am not generally a fan of the 90s movies. There is something about the terrible clothes and hair (especially for the ladies), the music wasn’t always good and the films started to get sleazier. But this is quite simple and nice, and I agree it could be watched by a whole family with no grave concerns about inappropriate content. I like going back and watching earlier films of established actors. They’re not always good movies, but I find it interesting to see the way some stars have improved and developed.

      Cheers,

      Temple

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      • Yeah. The 90’s is like the lost decade of Tollywood.
        Things only started getting better after 2001.

        There was little chance you could see trendsetters like Okkadu in the 90’s.

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      • I do watch quite a few 90s films, and I think Telugu films from that decade are better than Hindi films of the same times. Some of my favourite stars were active in the mid to late 90s so I persist. What makes you say 2001 is the start of the better era for Telugu films?

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  2. I love Tholi Prema. Despite all the hero and friends acting like man-children, this is a transition movie to show that there is something bigger to be achieved than just the girl.
    I love this movie since the way the ambition is encouraged here and getting married isn’t the ultimate goal, even for women!

    Also, Priya is the highlight of this movie. In addition to being a sensible adviser on Balu’s love affair, she was also sensible in her own marriage IMHO. The ‘arranged’ marriage is going to happen anyway, and if there is no contender for her affections, it is a sensible match to marry someone who knows you and wants you rather than some other complete stranger. Looking at her cousin made her realize how much the other person can invest in the relationship.

    If she wants Anu to look past Balu’s material achievements and value his character and love, then she has to look past ‘physical beauty’ in her choice of mate too. For me, it looked entirely consistent with Priya’s personality. She is no hypocrite.

    I don’t know if subtitles were all accurate but there is a place where they justify Pawan Kalyan looking ‘mature’ for a college student. I guess it is his uncle scolding him for repeating his high school and junior college several times. That would put him way past regular college student age.

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    • Hi Violet – Thanks for clearing up Balu’s academic record :) I knew he was a bit of an underachiever but it wasn’t really clear that he had such a history of failure.
      I agree with you as far as enjoying a film about relationships that wasn’t all tied up neatly with a wedding. But I didn’t get that level of complexity you describe in Priya’s marriage decision. Priya had conversations with Balu’s mum about living away from home and how the menfolk in the family would disrupt her studies so I felt that her degree was the first priority and that marriage wasn’t forecast for the near future. Violet I think you need to start writing screenplays because I like your version much better! Perhaps it is a combination of having a different cultural context and also missing subtleties in the subtitles but that engagement scene seemed to me more like she was capitulating based on Balu’s emotional distress and a reluctance to be cruel to her colleague than the more rational process you saw. I completely agree it is better she married someone who knew and valued her and who she liked. I don’t think she was a hypocrite, but there could have been other options written for her – even a longer engagement that explicitly allowed her to finish her studies.
      But back to things we agree on – it was really refreshing to have a film centred on people talking about dreams and ambitions that weren’t all about True Love At First Sight. Funny how a 14 year old film can seem more progressive than recent releases.
      So given I liked but did not love Tholi Prema, do you have similar films you’d also recommend?
      Cheers,
      Temple

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      • Temple,

        Tholi Prema is unfortunately one of a kind. Pawan Kalyan ‘romantic’ movies (‘Kushi’ – Jyothika was better in Tamil version than Bhumika in Telugu, ‘Jalsa’, may be ‘thammudu’) are better than other tropes out there, but one can’t escape poorly written female characters.

        Despite what is actually shown, the audience are expected to make some assumptions on the type of character (like Bollywood hero is never bad until Shahrukh arrived). Getting married in the final year of college was not unusual for girls in 90s. It is given that most of them will finish the professional degree though. So, it didn’t look so odd to me that Priya got married and didn’t imply giving up her education. She even says that the groom agreed to follow whatever her wishes are.

        May be I am transferring some of those rationalization or discussion among girl friends in these situations. From ‘Mouna Ragam’ to ‘Hum dil de chuke sanam’, the idea was to marry someone who loves you rather than the one whom you love. It is win-win if you don’t love anybody. So, I didn’t see as just ‘pity’ in her decision. (He is also a doctor, and approved by her parents, not a complete under-achiever like Balu’s friends).

        I recommend ‘Madhumasam’ (with Sumanth, Sneha) as a reasonable romantic story, but it falls short of being a total package (may be I just can’t stand Sneha).

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      • Thanks Violet!

        I’ve seen Jalsa and liked it overall. Pawan Kalyan has made some interesting films over his career and seems to experiment a little while still being a proper film hero.
        I do agree with you that the audience needs to fill in some assumptions about the characters and I guess we just apply different notions to what those are. I really liked Mouna Ragam, especially since so many films end with the wedding and I often wonder what happened in their lives afterwards. But I do tend to prefer a film romance where there is a mutual love, even if one person is more into the relationship, and there is a sense of partnership rather than ‘you’ll do’. I think that’s why I prefer action/thriller/masala films where the emotional nuances are usually less of a focus.

        Cheers

        Temple

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