How often do we use the word Peranbu in our daily lives? Anbu, maybe. But Peranbu? Not really. It is one of those charming Tamil words that sounds deceptively simple. But Ram couldn’t have found a better name for his film which is an intense, explorative film on love, all kinds of it. The desire to be loved and socially accepted and the film’s characters are no different. Beginning with Paapa (a phenomenal Sadhana), the child who suffers from cerebral palsy. ‘People who see Paapa feel sympathetic and therefore pamper her, but she doesn’t realise that they don’t stay’ — Ram’s lines are poignantly insightful. Paapa craves for love that doesn’t leave; that sees her for who she is. Amudhavan (a resplendent Mammootty) is also looking for love — one that cares for him and shares his responsibilities. (Don’t caretakers need to be cared for as well?) However, it is not just about their search, but also the decisions that this love pushes them to take. Thangam, Amudhavan’s ex-wife, decides to leave her daughter in her search for love that respects and acknowledges her. In fact, Peranbu is a collation of a few such people’s expeditions for love and also the turns that their love powers them to take.
Can you talk about love and forget empathy? Isn’t empathy what makes anbu, peranbu? The empathy that Peranbu embodies is what makes the film a moving memoir to life, in all its heartwarming kindness and gut-wrenching indifference. Amudhavan is empathy personified (It couldn’t have been a coincidence that he was named so, Amudhu avan). His story gifts him empathy. No judgments, just empathy. You might wonder how. To borrow a line from the song Dhooramai, “Peru thunbam pazhagi ponale siru thunbam edhum nerathu” (If you’re accustomed to the bigger sorrows, the smaller ones won’t matter.) Amudhavan slowly learns that it is tougher being Paapa, and she has the heart to care for a small bird that has fallen from its nest. If she can, does he have a reason to be otherwise?
Structured as a memoir, Ram’s writing haunts you for long after you leave the theatre. Amudhavan’s words not only act as explainers but they also as act as a reminder of humanity. For every soul which disappoints, there is another who gives hope. Around every corner, at every hurdle, the heart dies a little only to find hope waiting around the next corner. No wonder Peranbu has a song that begins as “Sethu pochu manasu” and ends with “Mella thudikkum manasu”. The cycle continues, until the end. And what powers this cycle, if not Peranbu?
But Peranbu’s strength doesn’t lie just with Ram’s cathartic writing. Theni Eshwar’s camera finds innovative angles to keep all the characters within the frame. They are constantly framed against doors, windows or to use a more inclusive term, boxes of different kinds and shapes. Another motif Eashwar and Ram constantly use is reflections and shadows. The cinematography is beautifully suggestive — we all live in our own boxes, held by its boundaries and constricted by its limits. And since Peranbu evolves as Amudhavan’s account of his story, the frames, more often than not, seem to suggest that we are looking at a version of Amudhavan, the one that he remembers. It also helps that cameras are capturing some extraordinary performances. Paapa plays the anti-thesis to Amudhavan. While she lets it all out physically, Amudhavan internalises it. Every muscle on Mammootty’s glorious face seem to respond and react organically. On the other hand, we have Sadhana who has truly transformed into Paapa. Apart from the different physical positions that she had to fold, there’s a certain innocence in her eyes that keep reminding us of the lovely, simple child she is. For long, we had important stories but mediocre films, Peranbu is an outstanding example of how one can be both.
Music and silence play a crucial role in Peranbu. With an exceptional score, Yuvan Shankar Raja floored me with his solid tunes. But what impressed me more was his usage of silences. During several sequences, the silence enables us to hear ourselves feeling for the characters in the film. For example, well into the film, there’s a scene where Amudhavan counts the money he has in hand. And I could hear myself screaming in my head asking him why he is pulling out wads of cash in public. It was a moment of pure tension for me until the notes safely return to his pocket. I didn’t want him to lose that money; I didn’t want him to lose the battle. It is almost as if they want us to hear ourselves root vociferously for the character. That’s what Peranbu does to you. It makes you scream out in caution, it makes you cry, it makes you smile and sweep you in a flood of emotions. And it shows how beautiful and blessed life can be even when it seems least unlikely.