Cast: Mammootty, Anjali, Sadhana
Ram's Peranbu is not for those who may be diehard fans of Mammootty, those who are used to seeing him as a superstar, larger than life. Here, he is no hero in the sense Indian cinema has been transforming its male actors into: swashbuckling, biceps flaunting guys who vanquish dozens with the whiff of a fist.
Ram turns Mammootty into a cab driver, Amudhavan, who returns from Dubai after a decade to find that his wife has eloped with another man, leaving behind a teenage spastic daughter, Papa (Sadhana). The girl shivers at the sight of her father, but later gets used to him and to the idyllic surroundings in Kodaikanal he takes her. There in a wooden bungalow, Papa lives with a horse and birds for company, deeply missing, though, her mother.
Ram builds into his screenplay – divided into several chapters, named after the many moods of Nature – a variety of incidents that merely add up to Amudhavan's struggles as he tries to cope with the mood swings of a growing girl, her menstrual dilemmas and even her sexual urges.
There is a scene where the father literally pushed to the wall goes hunting for a gigolo. There are other such worries which Amudhavan faces while he tries to make ends meet, driving a call taxi in Chennai, where the father and daughter find themselves after being cheated out of their Kodaikanal bungalow by land sharks. This is the least convincing segment of the movie, where the plot drags us beyond suspension of disbelief. It is really hard to find a man, well into his middle ages and after being dumped (or cheated) by his wife, meekly falling prey to the charms of another woman, Vijayalakshmi (Anjali in a small but significant role).
Having said this one must give it to Ram for his extraordinarily sensitive portrayal of a father-daughter relationship (we saw that even in his earlier Thanga Meengal). And mercifully, palsy-afflicted Sadhana is not reduced to a caricature. In fact, she is just brilliant as a girl lost and longing for a mother, and when Vijayalakshmi walks into her life at Kodaikanal, the teenager begins to sparkle, assuming that her family is now complete. The film captures in all its nuanced essence the turmoil and angst the girl goes through. Also Amudhavan's, whose helpless inability to take care of his daughter is explored with a kind of feeling not often seen in Indian cinema.
However, Peranbu could have been far more powerful if it had been shorter and tighter. The narrative tends to weigh down on you after the first half ends. But I would still go with four out of five stars for a work that is bound to stay with you for a long time.