A few minutes into Peranbu, you realise there is much more to the story of a single father Amudhavan (Mammootty), whose whole world is his daughter Paapa (Sadhana). Paapa isn’t your normal teenager. She has cerebral palsy, and is, in fact, too afraid to even let her father close. Ram, as a director, has an easy way of slipping in the details and takes you through the emotions of each character step by step.
In a series of shots, he establishes the relationship between an emotional father, who still tries to understand his daughter. Amudhavan is very caring, but Paapa doesn’t get all that. She is just scared.
She doesn’t eat when Amudhavan is next to her. She often locks herself inside the room and is away from his sight. It doesn’t look like a breezy father-daughter relationship we usually see in films — at least in the beginning. She doesn’t know how to behave. She throws tantrums. She freaks out, uncontrolled.
The director describes this situation best in a voice-over: “Sooriyanum paniyum maadhiri vasikka thodanginom.” (We started living like sun and snow).
Amudhavan does everything possible to make his daughter feel comfortable, but nothing really works. After they move into a tastefully-done house made of wood, things slowly change. Paapa starts trusting her father. They bond over nature, birds and a white horse. Though the film is set amidst scenic visuals of lakes and fog, you see Paapa in a closed room — behind the grilled windows, and you know why.
Peranbu is divided into more than 10 chapters and each one describes a phase of the father-daughter relationship, drawing parallels between life and nature. Some of the chapters are titled — ‘nature is brutal’, ‘nature is love’, ‘nature is full of surprises’, ‘nature is unpredictable’, ‘nature is ever-evolving’ and so on.
Nature is also a character, the driving force and that’s how Ram contextualises the film that adds more heft to it. Peranbu discusses one of the most sensitive things and an under-explored theme in films — female sexuality of a girl affected by cerebral palsy, and how as a parent, one learns to cope with society. Amudhavan doesn’t complain, not even once. Instead, he realises how gifted he is to take care of his daughter, who is a spastic child. He knows she gets wild over the smallest things. Talk about the frustrations of being not fully understood. Sigh. Anger is pretty much a part of their expression because the differently-abled can’t easily camouflage their feelings.
You are introduced to Viji (Anjali), a caretaker who walks into Amudhavan’s life. Paapa notices the nail polish, and instantly likes Viji. Amudhavan is relieved because he thinks Paapa is in safe hands.
Amudhavan isn’t one of Ram’s regular protagonists. He is not an angry man like Prabhakar (Jiiva) in Kattradhu Thamizh or Prabhunath (Vasanth Ravi) in Taramani. Amudhavan doesn’t loathe his wife even though she left him. He thinks she must have had her own reasons doing so. Again, he meets a transgender sex-worker Meera (Anjali Ameer) and doesn’t judge her. He goes to Meera’s house for courtesy when she calls him. You can’t underestimate Meera. She has an unquenchable fighting spirit. You will know what I’m talking about when you watch the film.
Amudhavan is portrayed as a selfless man, who loves his daughter so much that he doesn’t mind help her change sanitary napkins when she is on her period. On the other hand, he is yet to come to terms with his child-like daughter, who struggles not knowing how to deal with sexual desires. He couldn’t believe his daughter is no more a ‘Paapa’.
Mammootty as a confused parent, Amudhavan, is his most natural self. It is amazing how a Superstar of his stature quickly sheds the glitz when given a challenging script. Sadhana tugs at your heartstrings as Paapa as she delivers her role with great aplomb. Her innocent face haunts you long after the film is over. How Meera becomes a part of Amudhavan’s life has been told poignantly, and it’s one of the brilliant climaxes ever written in the history of Tamil cinema.
Two other elements stand out in the entire production — the background score by Yuvan Shankar Raja and cinematography by Theni Easwar of Merku Thodarchi Malai-fame (whose frames resemble poetry in motion). Peranbu, although, isn’t the first film to explore the sexuality of a woman with cerebral palsy. We have had films like Margarita with a Straw that dealt with a similar theme. However, I leave the theatre with a heavy heart thinking about the many Amudhavans and Paapas out there. Kudos to Ram, who has made a profound and layered film that works on you magically.