Pariyerum Perumal translates to the Lord on a horse. The name conjures a majestic image in the head, doesn’t it? Our hero (Kathir) on the other hand, is the exact opposite of that visual. He is just a normal guy, however, born into a lower caste. This determined several things about Pariyan’s life. For example, it meant that he and his village men couldn’t use a waterhole. There are men who want to stay for a fight, but Pariyan leaves with his dog, Karuppi. He has his first day of college the next day and there’s no room for a fight. The conversation between the men who want to fight and the men who don’t, set the tone for the entire film. “What do they have that we don’t,” bellows one guy, in a fit of anger. “Namma vayalum varapum la iruku. Namma kita verum vaayum vayirum thana iruku,” comes the answer. “When will this change?”; “When my father and your father stops to till their lands for income!”
This is the world that Pariyan inhabits, but it doesn’t really hit him until he steps into Law college. He is warned that there would be caste, politics, and several things to divert his attention. And Pariyan slowly understands what he is up against. He is repeatedly picked upon, with insults that are increasingly humiliating than the previous time. The film begins with a card that proclaims “Caste and religion are against humanity.” But that’s the only time director Mari Selvaraj states out a thought. Rest of the time, he tells us a story — where one of the characters moonlights as an ‘honour killing’ expert. A story of how Pariyerum Perumal starts to own his identity.
I was reminded of Tyrion Lannister’s line from Game of Thrones, “Never forget who you are, for the rest of the world will not.” The transition is organic and it takes the audience on the journey as well. What starts out as a meek question, a plea, slowly turns into a roar that drowns the insults thrown at him. “Can we stop the bullies? Then why stop him alone? It is better to die in a fight than opting to suicide,” says the principal, a man who has seen discrimination first hand. Mari’s dialogues open a whole new world of horror, a world that I had only heard about on screen. And even in this war, Mari doesn’t paint the society black and white. He places voices of reason, voices of oblivion. The subtexts are painfully brilliant, Jothi delivers a monologue with her eyes closed — also cut off from the casteist ideologies of her family.
There are films that have powerful stories but are delivered as products of perfunctory filmmaking. However, Pariyerum is a welcome change where Mari packs as many metaphors as possible. In an extremely disturbing interval cut, the camera seems to mirror my movements. I was shaking my head in disbelief. The frames don’t shy away from us showing us everything and Mari gets his details right. He shows us a way of life that seems to run on Ilayaraja’s music. With “Naan Yaar”, the need to claim an identity takes a creative twist; it is easily one of the most creative visualisations in recent times. Ideologies and art become shields and weapons. I was reminded of Ranjith time and again, only because he was the first voice that opened up this school of thought to us on screen. Mari Selvaraj goes a step further. Pariyerum transformed what the colour blue meant to me. I don’t think I can look at without its social significance anymore.
Kadhir comes up with an outstanding performance, aided by an in-form Yogi Babu, who seems to get almost everything right these days. The only weak link was Anandhi, who looks and voices the part but sells the naivete too hard. Santhosh Narayanan delivers a sucker punch of an album that is so raw, the emotion seeps through your flesh. If Karuppi had made you well up, wait till you hear ‘Vaa Rayil Vida Polama’.
There is anguish throughout the story, but Pariyan doesn’t wish to inflict the same back. Mari doesn’t take the easy way out with revenge; revenge is an emotion that is cyclical and continuous. Rather, he takes one step forward, closer to the middle ground. The last frame condenses into a horizontal strip, focussing on just two tea glasses placed on either side of a table. It’s Mari saying ‘Forget everything. No matter who you are and how different you, we are equal. We are humans’. And after a long time, I was shedding tears lined with Kohl at the theatre.
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.