HEADLINES:
December 12 2019
Pariyerum Perumal review: caste away
29 September 2018

An outstanding anti-caste statement that deserves to be seen by all

When the lines ‘caste and religion are against humanity’ appear in the first frame of a film, you know that you’re in for a hard-hitting couple of hours. But it is entirely to director Mari Selvaraj’s credit that he slips in this message subtly into a moving tale that chronicles caste issues in Tamil Nadu.

The film opens with Karuppi, the dog that’s now famous thanks to the popular number. It’s 2005, and the dog’s looking out at a passing train, even as its trainer Pariyerum Perumal (Kathir) is chatting with his friends nearby. And then something happens — and this is within five minutes into the film, mind you — and we’re moved to tears as tragedy strikes and Karuppi is gone, a bit too soon. “Ellam manusanum inga onnu illa [Not every human being is the same],” goes a line in the song, hinting at what’s coming at us.

The death of Karuppi the dog is affecting — the filmmaking and the song that ensue are poignant — but it’s to the director’s credit that the sadness doesn’t linger. We quickly move on to the tale of Pariyerum Perumal, who is now off to Tirunelveli to study law. “I want to become a doctor,” he tells the Principal there. “Doctor Ambedkar, I mean.”

But everything’s not rosy in college, because of his lack of English skills. His closeness with Jothi Mahalakshmi (Anandhi) is something that puts off her family and friends, who belong to a upper caste. The irony is that all this happens right inside the campus of a law college.

Pariyerum Perumal
  • Film: Pariyerum Perumal
  • Genre: Drama
  • Cast: Kathir, Anandhi, Yogi Babu
  • Storyline: A law student from a lower caste has to battle his aggressive upper-caste fellow students

After a few neat jokes, thanks to Yogi Babu, the director settles in for the bigger picture — caste conflicts. Pariyerum Perumal doesn’t flinch from asking tough questions about caste inequality. It shows a mason who indulges in honour killing and reasons by saying that it’s his service to God. It’s no coincidence that the mason has to, much later in the film, target a certain ‘Perumal’.

Caste equality might not exist out there in the streets in the film, but it seems to be in wine shops. When Pariyerum wants a glass of liquor, a man — with three lines on his forehead and wearing the sacred thread [in the wrong way... was that a deliberate touch?] — offers him a glass. Another drinking scene takes place inside the building site of a temple. Pariyerum Perumal is filled with such powerful statements.

Kathir is a wonderful choice to play the lead. Watch him in a scene in which he’s pushed inside a ladies toilet. He’s squirming on the ground but later, when he walks away, there seems to newfound confidence and aggression that he’s discovered. As Jo, Anandhi plays her part well, but does overact a few times. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that she is called ‘Jo’ in the film (in a nod to actress Jyotika).

The film excels in the technical departments as well; Sridhar’s restless camera seems to want to communicate something all the time. Composer Santhosh Narayanan transports you to the milieu with his bag of tunes — while ‘Potta Kaatil’ stands out for its melody, the existential ‘Naan Yaar’ plays around with colour, much like how director Pa Ranjith (the producer for this film) envisioned the climax of his recent Rajinikanth-starrer Kaala.

With such strong statements to make against caste, the film could have easily adopted a dark theme but it prefers to stay hopeful. The climax is easily among its most touching moments. If there’s one film you’re watching this year, it has to be Pariyerum Perumal.

 

 

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