‘Peranbu’ review: Ram’s father-daughter tale is a delicately crafted must-watch film

Mammootty and Sadhana deliver powerful performances in a film that takes Tamil cinema to uncharted territories.
‘Peranbu’ review: Ram’s father-daughter tale is a delicately crafted must-watch film
‘Peranbu’ review: Ram’s father-daughter tale is a delicately crafted must-watch film
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An animal parent seldom wastes time or resources on an offspring that is born weak and has minimal chances of surviving on its own. Sometimes, they even eat their young which cannot withstand the world, making that act of final cruelty akin to compassion. Absorbing into themselves the pain of a life denied. 

But what of human parents? A part of the deal when you bring a baby into the world is that s/he will eventually grow up, become independent, and inherit the future. What happens, though, when you have no such hope? When you are growing older and so is your child, but you will forever have to be a caregiver? 

Ram's Peranbu is a difficult film to watch. Divided into chapters that each speak of the moods of Nature, the film itself is like watching still water - on the surface, things barely move. Time passes imperceptibly. But beneath the surface is a great churning. 

Mammootty's Amudhavan is in stark contrast to the bombastic, macho male characters that the actor has been playing in film after film in recent times, much to the disappointment of his fans. Here, he is delicate, vulnerable, helpless. Emasculated. There's a scene when he makes a hard to stomach request to a woman in an NGO and she delivers a slap right across his face. But he braves on, explaining himself - the obvious choice would have been to burst into a lament and make the scene into a look-how-well-I-can-cry performance. But Mammootty is restrained; his choice as an actor is to react as a father, immersed as he is in Amudhavan. 

Sadhana does an incredible job as Paapa, his teenaged daughter who is born with cerebral palsy, never letting the portrayal of the disability slide into caricature. She is difficult to love and isn't the adorably chubby Anjali paapa from Anjali. Amudhavan barely knows her but circumstances force him to step up and take charge. But you cannot become a parent just like that, you have to earn the acknowledgement from your child even if you assume the label for yourself. 

Early on, Amudhavan makes an insightful comment on being a parent - for strangers who meet Paapa for a few minutes, it is possible to sing and dance and put a smile on her face. Because they can and will leave after that. But what about him? How much energy can he possibly expend when he knows he must stay on, knowing that there is no end to this struggle? I remember watching Majid Majidi's The Color of Paradise years ago, much before I became a parent, and thinking how selfish the father of the visually impaired boy in the film is. More than a decade later, I don't judge him as harshly, knowing as I do now that a parent's unconditional love is not constant, though that's what the fairy tales say. 

At first, when Ram shows Amudhavan moving his Paapa to an idyllic home, complete with a beautiful white horse, you think this is going to be that kind of film with sweet moments of bonding but which makes it all look too easy. Paapa will stay a baby, lost in her own world, and we can go home with a few platitudes on innocence. But he courageously takes the film to uncharted territories in Tamil cinema. A father handling a daughter's period. A young girl masturbating, watching a handsome man on TV. A husband and wife crossing moral boundaries due to pressing needs that are never explained.

We are used to seeing a hero abusing a woman who has cheated him, we are used to watching such women die horrible deaths, we are used to watching trans women on screen who are there only for comic value or as tokens. But what happens when a director extends his ability to love to all the characters in the film and not just the hero? The result is Peranbu. At times, the film can take the turn of a documentary, but if you have been around parents who bring up children with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, you will know that the learning never stops, the desperate desire to part the curtains just a little bit and view life from their eyes (why can't we count the stars as 1,2,3 and 1,2,3 again?) never abates, the advice from well-meaning strangers on "cures" never stops. We learn along with Amudhavan that Paapa is her own person - though she's stuck with a name that emphasises infancy, the film's point is to show how wrong that assumption is. 

Anjali as Vijayalakshmi and Anjali Ameer as Meera get their own character arcs to leave an impact in the story, though the film undoubtedly belongs to Mammoottty and Sadhana. Yuvan Shankar Raja's background score intrudes a bit too much in the scenes when Amudhavan and Paapa are getting to know each other (perhaps this was to underline for viewers that tragic as it may be, this is also a story which comes with its own small rewarding moments), but it is quieter, more involved as the film progresses. Theni Easwar's camera allows us to see the challenges in Amudhavan and Paapa's lives through their eyes. There's a pivotal moment in the film when we see the characters from underwater - one is joyous, the other is filled with apprehension and grief, and watching the scene from that perspective, and feeling what the characters were experiencing, I felt I couldn't breathe myself. 

Peranbu is a depressing film, yes. It's a film about a loner finding himself unlikely companions in his journey. It's about people, who society has rejected, coming together to find their own space, and live with dignity. And in that sense, it can also be an uplifting film. Much like nature, cruel and embracing all at once.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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