What makes Peranbu a singularly powerful cinema is the realization of the fact that director Ram rejected at every turn the natural temptation to lapse into unreflective sentimentality. It is the closest an Indian film has come to emulating the tenderness of my favourite Pedro Almodovar movies. It explores humanity among the wretched of the earth, and sheds light on it in such an illuminating way that it generates both awe and empathy from audience. To the casual viewer – if at all it’s possible to watch such a thematically complex movie casually- Peranbu will make them count their blessings. For movie lovers, it’s a universal celebration of cinema in its purest form.
The film follows Amudhavan (Mammootty) who returns home after 10 years in Dubai during which time he left his wife to singlehandedly fend for their only daughter with spastic cerebral palsy. The premise is immediately established when we learn that his wife has married another man, leaving him the responsibilities of Paapa. In a life devoid of motherly affection, Paapa grows increasingly volatile and is equally enraged by the arrival of father who had been long absent from her life.
Unbeknownst to him, Paapa doesn’t find Amudhavan any more compassionate than the people who eventually end up ostracizing her. In fact, film leaves a lot about Amudhavan’s compassion and lack thereof to our imagination. After, all he is the same father who left wife and kid for good upon learning about her disability. His countenance reveals a strange air of fortitude and fragility. It’s Mammootty’s subtle display of the latter quality that makes Peranbu a gripping experience. He can barely accept the news of his wife’s departure, never mind the exclusive responsibilities of his ailing daughter. He plays with conviction a middle-aged man who is condemned to be a silent witness to the internal conflicts raging within him.
Daunted by the hopelessness of rearing his daughter amid all the social ostracism, Amudhavan moves Paapa to a remote house in a rustic setting. Little does he know that there is more than just father-daughter bonding opportunities in store for him during his stay there. Despite the well-meaning gestures in the best interests of his daughter, one is still compelled to ask a few questions about the father and his new found compassion: How do you know that this is not just display of compassion to hide the guilt that is starting to eat away at his heart? Is he as ruthless as the next person? Is he as unpredictable as the nature he tries to protect her from?
The story is punctuated by the voice over narrative of Amudhavan (Mammootty) who breaks down a series of turbulent events in his personal life into 12 chapters. All chapters are important in that each one symbolizes different phases in the lives of father and daughter. During their stay in the isolated home, Ram starts each chapter with a deeply meditative shot of a river enveloped by swirling fog. A few chapters into the film I saw the recurring themes assume a cyclical but rhythmic reverie.
As the story develops, Amudhavan dismisses the betrayals from trusted people with the stoic resignation of a man who has lost faith in humanity. And the same nature that shows callous disregard for humanity, offers reasons for cautious optimism. Ram is essentially opening a window into the black box that is life. Broken as he is, Amudhavan finds in the damned fringes of society, an infinite spring of life. Creatures like horses and birds become the sole beings capable of connecting with Papa. These sequences had the effect of the writer whispering to the audience that there is no shortage of humanity around us, and that we are just looking for it in all the wrong places.
What makes Peranbu a singularly powerful cinema is the realization of the fact that director Ram rejected at every turn the natural temptation to lapse into unreflective sentimentality. In the course of an exhilarating fare, I spotted unmissable nods to the likes of Tarkovsky and Víctor Erice. Take for instance the understated shot where the film creatively explores the sexuality of Paapa who is seemingly on the cusp of her adolescence. In what was a scene akin to that of “The Spirit of the Beehive” we see Paapa smearing the lollipop on her lips, and look on longingly as if to announce her availability to the world. That shot was just heartwarmingly original. Embellished by evocative instrumental passages, you see him placing the ruminative characters in close-up shots just long enough for the audience to dialogue with them. The most relatable one being the scene where Meera (Anjali Ameer) with the car window rolled down, gazes wistfully into the night.