Peranbu has been in the news for a while now. In the days leading up to the release of the film, what I came across mostly in my news feed on social media platforms were the rave reviews the lead actor’s performance had garnered in festival circuits and more recently the responses of his peers from the industry after the premiere. Media houses these days have little option but to sing to the tune that the social media crowd plays, to keep their business afloat, and were no different in their coverage. It’s all good. But, to an average Malayali filmgoer, it’s nothing but overkill. I mean do we really need a revalidation of the skills of an actor who has delivered in films ranging from Thaniyavarthanam to Vidheyan to Rajamanikyam ? Yes, Mammooty hasn’t had the best of times at the box office of late but that’s pretty much like Sachin going out to bat for the Indian cricket team of the late 90s, if you ask me. Sachin hits a century but the match is lost because his team lets him down. While the filmmakers closer to home are content with dressing Mammooty up and celebrating his sunglasses, Ram has made a film where this actor unparalleled gets to do what he does best, act his heart out that is. Peranbu is what Mammooty the actor deserves and maybe even desires too. And believe me when I tell you that Mammooty does his best dance performance ever in a film too, in Peranbu.
You are in for a surprise if you thought that this was just another sob story about a parent and a differently abled child. Yes, there are intense emotions that will leave you disturbed, but there’s laughter too. Ram has used a unique narrative arc here to tell his tale. To draw an analogy it’s pretty much like being invited by someone into his home where he makes you comfortable, serves you tea, then knocks you on your head with a club and puts an icepack on it himself right before he sees you out. No, I’m not saying that Ram would be a psychotic sadist if he wasn’t making films, no. Narrated in a dozen chapters or so by Mammooty himself, Ram attributes different moods of nature to each of these chapters. The first half of the film is set in the woods. Beautifully shot, it’s up there with some of the best works in contemporary cinema, in terms of cinematography. The camera compliments not just the script, but the actors too in a process that is as organic as it gets. It’s masterful filmmaking by Ram here, when he gradually immerses the viewer into the landscape and the story being told. Aiding him in the task is a Yuvan Shankar Raja in fine form. One of those rarest of rare cinematic experiences if you ask me. The second half of the film is set in a jungle of a different kind and one we are most familiar with, concrete. The mood of the tale shifts here too. The film doesn’t judge any of its characters, much like its main protagonist, Amudhavan. He is far from perfect and after having failed as a father and a husband, he is doing penance by trying to be a good father to his daughter. He forgives everyone, even the ones who have done him wrong. Though Ram addresses issues that have never been discussed in any public domain, let alone cinema, what he demands from his viewers ultimately is a reflection into their own lives, through Amudhavans eyes and experiences, as an individual and as a parent. Ram doesn’t have all the answers to the questions he raises here, he merely suggests that compassion, Peranbu is all that our fellow beings need from us to cope with the greatest of tragedies.
More than his acting chops, it’s Mammooty’s decision to be part of Peranbu and the willingness to play Amudhavan as Ram dictated, unconditionally that deserves to be lauded I feel. In a scene, which I percieved was a single shot, he proves again why he is one of the best actors to have ever graced the screen. In another brief scene which would otherwise be insignificant, when a family alights from the taxi he drives, Mammooty conveys the whole crux of the film with just his expressions. Because it’s Ram, who conceived that scene and trusted Mammooty to deliver it exactly as he envisioned it as a director and writer, that we can safely say that Peranbu is first a Ram film and then a Mamooty film. But I couldn’t but help notice that maybe the film ended a bit too hastily considering the slow burner approach for most parts. The pace of the proceedings are perfectly in sync with the mood of the story being told. I’m indeed speculating wildly when I say that the festival circuit cut was maybe a different one, especially towards the end. Sadhana, who plays Paapa has the most challenging role here, considering the fact that the portrayal would be subjected to much scrutiny. If a reference must be made, it’s Rani Mukherjee’s performance in Black, I’d say. Anjali makes an impression in a brief role as one of the women in Amudhavan’s life. Another significant addition to the cast is Anjali Ameer, a transgender actor who plays a prostitute in the film. Anjali Ameer excels in this niche role but it remains to be seen how the industry welcomes her. Not every filmmaker is Ram and not every film is Peranbu. At the end of the day, that’s what we lack as a society the most, compassion and Ram holds a perfect mirror to it in this landmark film that will haunt us for long.