How Padmarajan’s ‘Peruvazhiyambalam’ is forerunner to Malayalam’s angry-young-men films

The 1979 film is a perceptive commentary on how society magnifies violence, and romanticises a certain kind of masculinity by lending a sheen to the perpetrator.
How Padmarajan’s ‘Peruvazhiyambalam’ is forerunner to Malayalam’s angry-young-men films
How Padmarajan’s ‘Peruvazhiyambalam’ is forerunner to Malayalam’s angry-young-men films
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Everyone is obsessed with masculinity... no, with ‘fearing and saving’ masculinity. Almost 40 years ago, Padmarajan explored this theme – unfortunately through the perspectives of those who never tire of saving, protecting and violating by turn – in his Peruvazhiyambalam. We look back at the path opened by this critically acclaimed film and how it can be seen as the fitting forerunner in a series of angry-young-men films in Malayalam cinema.

There is a swagger in Prabhakara Pillai’s stride, he spits paan vulgarly. Villagers stare at him with trepidation; an impotent response to a man who had been jailed for rape. He seems to be smirking inwardly at the naked fear in their eyes, and they watch helplessly as he walks into the survivor’s home, shuts the door forcibly and threatens the petrified father with repeating the crime in front of his eyes.

Padmarajan’s first directorial Peruvazhiyambalam, which came out in 1979, is a perceptive commentary on how society magnifies violence and despotism, and romanticises a certain kind of masculinity by lending a sheen to the perpetrator. The film – considered a predecessor to Kireedam – probably created the first angry young man of Malayalam cinema.

It’s villagers versus Prabhakara Pillai – a man who invokes unbridled fear amongst women and the men who live with them. Padmarajan fashions terror around him without fancy BGM or theatrics. His arrival is announced by a lad who runs across the village (this ploy was later adopted in many mainstream Malayalam films). Pillai’s walk is almost demonic, he leers at women, and it’s clear he can unleash violence whenever he wants. The same man, however, scoops up his children with warmth when he reaches home.

Prabhakaran reminds you of a character – who invokes the same repulsive fear – that came a decade later: Bhaskara Patelar in Vidheyan. In both cases, the villagers seem to be fascinated with the (feudal) power the character commands thereby making them servile to his tyranny. Says Raman, in Peruvazhiyambalam, “I respect him, look at the fear he invokes in all of us.”

As the camera diligently follows Prabhakaran through a dusty untarred road, Raman disentangles himself from a group of boys playing there. Barely 17, a skinny lad with large round, wary eyes, wearing a shabby shirt and mundu that clings to his lanky frame, he is the unlikely hero of Peruvazhiyambalam; a forerunner to Kireedam’s Sethumadhavan. A teenager turned into avenger out of helpless anger and fright stemming from the need to protect his sisters from a predator, who has also openly challenged him.

There are also constant conversations about his father, Vaniyan Kunjan – a man held in high regard in those parts. But Prabhakaran dismisses Raman by talking down about his caste (Vaniya – a caste in northern Kerala, professionally known as oil makers).

It doesn’t take many scenes to understand Raman. He is an ordinary lad who loves his family dearly. In one scene, after he witnesses Prabhakaran’s sly talk with his petrified sisters, Raman storms into the hut and senselessly beats them. In the next instance, he happily takes them to the local festival. The raw, muddy fight between the two is a little hazy to watch, as the camera alters between the facial expressions. But it’s interesting how Padmarajan orchestrates it in the background of a Kadhaprasangam (again this has been employed during action scenes in various films later). Padmarajan also does away with visuals of any kind of sexual violence but the tension and violence are gripping.

Raman is found unconscious and covered in mud by a relative (Jose Prakash), who takes him home and hides him from the police. It’s later revealed that Prabhakaran didn’t survive the injuries and died in the hospital. When Raman is hiding from the police, an ironical truth becomes evident – the one who is shielding him admires his courage and has always despised Prabhakara Pillai. A tea shop owner (Bharath Gopi), with a history of hate and betrayal with Prabhakaran, asks the delirious lad: “How many times did you stab him? I heard it went on to 17.” What they are unaware of is that Raman stabbed Prabhakaran to save his own life.

Enter Devyani (KPAC Lalitha), the local sex worker who typically lives miles away from civilisation. When Gopi suggests that Raman tell Devyani he made a girl pregnant and ran away, Raman is offended: “I would rather be a killer than be known for that.” He is equally contemptuous and judgemental of Devyani: “This is a dirty place.”

Of course, Devyani is the stereotype of a sex worker on celluloid – flirtatious and sharp-tongued at the outset, with a sad backstory. Yet a warm friendship grows between her and Raman, the scorn making way to understanding and respect in no time. And his confession comes through an age-old imagery about machismo – when Devyani teases him that he can’t possibly not eat meat and still be wanton.

In the end, Raman returns a hero – the villagers stare and make way for him. There is a new fear in them for him. But the end is ambiguous, and the audience is left wondering: does his visit to Prabhakara Pillai’s home suggest that he is their new saviour, marking his road to redemption?

This article was originally published on The News Minute has syndicated the content. You can read the original article here.

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