Director Ram's Peranbu was among 2019's most anticipated films, thanks to the rave reviews that it had fetched in the film festival circuit. Moreover, the film starred Mammootty, whose fans sorely missed watching the actor in a role that befitted his acting prowess.
Peranbu finally released on February 1, to much love and appreciation from the audience and critics alike. Speaking to TNM, Ram elaborates on the making of Peranbu and explains some of his directorial choices.
The parent-child relationship is something you seem keen to explore in every film of yours. We seldom see that in Tamil cinema.
This world is filled with kids as well as adults. So, when I want to make a movie, tell a story, a child enters the script naturally. A child comes into the world with a father and mother, though they may be without them later. And when you bring a child into the story, the parental issues also come along with that. Taramani is about a single mom, even Kattradhu Tamizh, there is a kid. Thanga Meenkal is about a father-daughter.
Peranbu is about nature, gender differences. When I wanted to speak about a conflict created by nature, I chose to pick a father-daughter because it helped me with the thesis of this movie. How a man, a father, moves out of his gender, and understands his daughter, and later marries a trans woman.
There are some scenes in Peranbu which have no precedence in Tamil cinema - like a father changing his daughter's pad, a young girl masturbating etc. Were you confident that our audience would accept such scenes when you were writing the screenplay?
Tamil Nadu is a liberal state. There might be controversies, people might come out and say stuff. I know there are some who are not able to accept it. In Kerala, the audience has accepted it 100%. When it comes to the bloggers, social media users, opinion makers - I don't mean the critics - they have some issues with it. When I was writing, I knew there would be a debate. But I have strong confidence in my audience that if I'm able to communicate something to them emotionally, they will accept it - because it is the truth.
This (exploring sexuality) happens with everyone, every person who watches the film, whether they are 40 or 50, they'd have gone through the same thing when they were 13 or 14. It is not new to them; maybe it is new for them to see it on the big screen. I didn't do it in an erotic way. I just made it like it was nothing - why give so much importance to it, why treat it as a taboo. I feel that the general audience is always open. I feel it's the people who make opinions who get worried.
Films like Peranbu are usually classified as art house cinema. But now that the film is out, how is it doing at the box-office?
It is doing very well. It released in 450 screens. It's not art house cinema. It is mainstream cinema only - people feel if a film has gone to international film festivals, it is art house cinema. But that has changed. Vetrimaaran's Visaranai went to festivals, Taramani also went, in fact to more festivals than Peranbu.
In festivals also, they want to see our cinema. They don't want to see films which are of European standards or aesthetics. I always feel whatever I know as a Tamil director, it's better to do movies in that way, because I know my audience and what they like. So, whatever films I make, I want my audience to watch it. That's my first priority. I made this film for Tamil Nadu and it went all over the world - that's it.
Why did you structure Peranbu in an episodic way about nature?
I feel everything is nature - you, me, everything. We always think we know everything but we don't. We're in conflict with nature; we have questions on whether we're associated with nature, if we're part of it or not. Is nature under me or am I over it? This conflict has been with humans for the last 4000-5000 years. We have created rules, morals, ethics, everything in conflict of nature. Whatever nature says, we want to control it.
A child with cerebral palsy is not abnormal for nature. Nature created every being as they are. I have disabilities, you too have it. We are smart enough to hide our disabilities or we're ignorant enough about them. Nobody is perfect. But when we see people with disabilities, we think they're cursed because we're normal. I didn't want to judge anyone in the movie - the father, the mother or anyone. That is the philosophy of the film.
One more thing, I didn't want to do a film which is on the life of a child with cerebral palsy. It's about a regular man dealing with a child like that, and what he goes through. So I only selected portions which are about changes, which then went into chapters.
Anjali's character Vijayalakshmi sleeps with Amuthavan (Mammootty) in the film, and cheats him. She and her husband say that they have a pressing reason for doing so, but we're never told why. Did you have a reason in mind? Why did you leave it open?
There are n number of reasons. If you ask anyone, they will have endless stories for why they humiliated or cheated someone. I always feel that there are two kinds of people - one who will do something for their own use, and another who will do it because there's no other way out...they have to do it. They are scapegoats.
If you've seen Lawrence of Arabia, the protagonist will save two people, but he will face a circumstance when he has to kill them. He's risked his own life to save them, but after some time, he has to kill them. These things happen in everyday life also. Amuthavan doesn't want to know, and I also don't want to know. Because what can they say? We have heard such stories so many times - the instances, antagonists, time may change. But the situation is always the same. When I leave it open, people can assume whatever they want.
Why does Amuthavan marry Meera (Anjali Ameer) in the end? Some responses suggest that this was merely a match of convenience since he needed someone to look after his daughter.
Amuthavan is transforming from his selfishness, stupidity, ignorance. He's changing from his self-centric, egoistic existence, one by one. If he didn't have Paapa, his daughter, he wouldn't have ever understood a trans woman. For example, in the film, he asks Meera why she came to his home. He asks what she was doing with another man in front of his daughter. That is his perception of transgender people. He's not a noble or great man. He is learning life, he is not an idealistic hero. He's not a hero at all; he's a regular man who also looks at trans women like others do.
Because of the issues he faces, he has space in his life to actually interact with a trans woman. That doesn't mean he has understood or accepted trans people 100%. It takes time. On the beach, it is Meera who saves the child. He doesn't ask her to marry him, she says that she will. I muted the dialogue at the beach - Meera asks him what his problem is, she says that people never accept her as a woman and that she is always humiliated. She tells him that at the most people call her "third gender" but that she knows she's a woman. She also says that if she can live life with hope, why can't he?
I muted the dialogue because I just wanted Amuthavan to listen to it. As a filmmaker, I wanted the visuals to convey it; I didn't want a dialogue to explain it. I've removed a lot of such exposition in the film. Why should the audience listen to the lines when the camera is showing it?
The next chapter, the last one, doesn't start the day after. It starts after some time. And Amuthavan says she (Meera) was the one who taught him what is compassion. Meera was in love with him even before this, and he was able to understand that love and care, the fact that she is a woman, with time. That's when the situation changes.
You don't focus on Paapa's mother's face in the film. Why so?
There's only one shot where I focus on her face. When Mammootty comes and stands in front of the door of her house, there's a 10 second shot when the camera pans from right to left, from behind the door. She will be sitting and talking to her husband. There's only that one shot. Amuthavan sees her all through the movie, but as a director, I did not want to embarrass the character by showing her face. She doesn't do anything wrong. I didn't want to show her as sad or whatever. I wanted the audience to imagine what Amuthavan will see on her face. I didn't want to make it dramatic or make people comment on her.
I feel that hers is a very beautiful character. She had taken care of the kid for 13 years and this guy came just a year back. She's far superior than him, and she's suffered a lot because of him. He didn't visit for several years, he came only for short periods of time, and just sent money. She was living in a joint family - inhibition was there, depression was there, sexual problems were there...despite all that she'd taught the child to do everything. But she's also human, she's also part of nature and it troubles her. She also needs a shoulder for support. She doesn't choose a young man or a handsome one - it's just a normal man, someone she felt will take care of her. Or she might have killed herself long ago. That's my perspective about Thangam.
But whatever it is, if she has to react when he comes, I didn't want her to lower her gaze before Amuthavan. She's better than him. That's why I didn't show her face when she knows Amuthavan is there.