Pariyerum Perumal: About caste, love and life

Director: Mari Selvaraj

Cast: Kathir, Anandhi, Yogi Babu

Rating: 4/5

When Pariyerum Perumal confesses to his law college principal during admissions, that he had always wished to become a doctor, everyone in the theatre burst into laughter. The light-hearted moment lasted only for a few seconds because when Perumal clarifies that he meant 'Dr (BR) Ambedkar and not medicine', one realised that they were, in fact, laughing at his caste.

This tough yet brittle subject of caste is narrated in a very realistic and natural manner by the debut director Mari Selvaraj. 

Though the inter-caste love stories -where 'upper caste’ girl falls in love with a ‘lower caste’ boy- are told many times, Selvaraj, also the story writer takes care to not slip into any clichés. 

The movie does neither ends with an expected climax nor lets ‘love’ be taken away from ‘caste’. 

The plot, beyond the love story, revolves around the protagonist Perumal’s (Kathir) relationship with his dog Karuppi, natives, his crush Jyothi Mahalakshmi (Anandhi), friend Anand (Yogi Babu) and others.

The movie starts with ‘Karuppi’ –who is already familiar to us through the song ‘Karuppi en Karuppi’. Karuppi runs to the dirty pond in the middle of a barren land in Puliyankulam village where Perumal and his friends are resting en route forest for hunting. Their discussion hovers around their identity and caste relations with another group (the upper castes, who make an appearance in the following scene). Perumal is visibly afraid of the group. "They don’t like us to go hunting with dogs,” he says urging his friends to walk away from there to avoid a conflict.

Karuppi soon disappears and is seen tied to a rail track in the next scene. Perumal rushes to save her from the approaching train but in vain. As understood from a song, Karuppi is ‘murdered’ by the upper-castes. 

Perumal compares his own situation with that of his dog or even worse. This represents the caste discrimination rampant in Tirunelveli and many other places in Tamil Nadu. 

There are intricacies of the caste system that are highlighted even with Perumal's ownership of a female dog. Upper caste female giving birth to a lower caste male’s kid is unbearable according to the caste system. However, it does not get affected if it is vice-versa. The same ‘Manu’ rule is applied to the dogs as well. Dalit families in these areas are not allowed to own a male dog. If a lower caste has a male dog, chances are high for upper caste’s female dogs to give birth to their puppy.

This is a very conscious selection, which can be seen throughout the movie. Each frame tells us several stories.

The story develops through Perumal’s stint as a law student. His decision to study law has a story- why and how learning law is also a way to power and why power is important to the Dalit communities. 

College life does not give the same experience to all students. Especially when you are from a vulnerable community or group. Perumal makes you step into his shoes while Selvaraj describes the bullying and caste atrocities Perumal faces in the Government Law College, Tirunelveli. Despite having good marks in all subjects, Perumal doesn't succeed in English. His demand for classes in Tamil gives an assertion to the idea of education in mother tongue. Not knowing English doesn’t make anyone stupid. But it leads to embarrassment at the higher education institutions when you refuse to hide your weaknesses. Who are the victims of this? Mostly those coming from an economically unsound background which is again linked to their caste.

The story then takes the ‘love turn’ as Perumal get closer to the ‘upper caste’ friend Jyothi- or Jo. Their relationship and its not-much-complicated consequences take the lion share in the story.

A pusillanimous Perumal later turns out to be vehement and assertive of his identity. One who hid his artist father due to shame later shows the courage to bring him to the college. Perumal’s father is a ‘Therukoothu’ dancer (roughly translated as street-play). He dresses like a woman and dances. He is feminine even when not working. This is the first time that this art form and the gender identity is being represented in a movie.

An assassin, who has executed murders for his caste which he considers as a service to god shed lights on the gory face of caste. One incident brings the memories of the murder of Dalit youth Shankar in 2016 for marrying Kousalya. 

In fact, All the murders in the movie will fade away as a mere news report or a poster. At some point, Perumal feels that he is each and every one of them, including Karuppi. The ‘insignificant and unknown faces’. 

Dialogue delivery, at times, gives goose bumps to the viewer. Some dialogues which belong to a particular scene or sequence in the movie have a larger political picture in it. One such example is when Perumal tells Jo’s father that "Don’t think you are saving your honour by doing all these. It is my alms to your life.”

It is noteworthy that this is the debut production of Neelam Productions of director Pa Ranjith. Ranjith, through his previous Rajni movies, brought Dalit assertion to the mainstream popular cinema. The association of Ranjith and Mari, who belong to different Dalit communities that are not ‘so friendly’ in the Tamil Nadu politics brings hope to the political arena as well.

Casting

Kathir, who plays the lead role is an excellent choice as his acting is natural. Jo’s father Marimuthu and friend Yogi Babu (Anand) as usual, give their best. Babu, a well-known comedian, plays a serious character this time. He shines in this role as well. However, Anandhi’s Jo was a bit atypical. The character itself, at times, is very ‘ignorant’ towards her surroundings and developments- which is odd in the story. Anandhi also struggles slightly to uncover Jo at times.

Sridhar’s camera gives you the best of the rural Tamil Nadu. Santhosh Narayan’s music in a folk tune makes the experience really great.

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