Pariyerum Perumal is a fervent portrayal of caste-ridden society in which the dominant and hegemonic caste groups unleash acts of victimisation, exploitation and humiliation at different levels against the vulnerable, gullible and marginalised Dalits.
The director’s characterisation and the extensive use of moving symbols and powerful visuals exemplify the gruesome side of caste and how it functions in different layers. The movie scores in the powerful climax that summons for a constructive and positive discourse with a culmination of meaningful dialogues between the dominant and the dominated with regard to caste inequality.
Pariyerum Perumal pictures the story of Pariyan, a lower-caste law student, who strikes a friendship with Jyothi Mahalakshmi, the dominant caste girl and consequently encounters series of humiliation in the hands of dominant caste. The director’s meticulous treatment of storyline, symbols and powerful visuals than that of lengthy dogmatic dialogues makes this movie a must-watch.
The omnipresence of caste is shown in the very beginning, in which an upper-caste man is shown pissing in the pond that has been used by the lower-caste men. The very next scene is the deep-seated depiction of the death of ‘Karupi’, the hero’s dog which sets the tone of the film. The killing of hero’s dog Karupi by upper-caste men reminds us that caste doesn’t even spare a dog and how the dominant castes in the movie establish supremacy and hegemony by killing ‘Karupi’.
The film pictures how the titular character Pariyerum Perumal grows through humiliation and oppression that he faces. The heart-rending scene just before the interval of the movie pictures an upper-caste man pissing on the hero Pariyan because he has struck friendship with his sister. Pariyan’s consecutive encounters of domination at the hands of upper-caste students and teachers in college campus strikes resemblance with the discrimination that Dalit students face in educational institutions today.
The omnipresence of caste is shown in the very beginning scene in which an upper caste man is shown pissing in the pond that has been used by the lower caste men
The humiliation causes the hero to experience simmering anger that is beautifully shown in the song ‘Naan Yaar’, emphasising Dalit resistance. Pariyan in the first scene of the movie urges his companions to move from the place when he sees upper-caste men approaching. We could later see the same Pariyan in college campus, claiming that he would sit in the first row, when a dominant caste guy threatens him to go sit at the back bench. Pariyan asserting that he will sit in the front from now on is not just in relation to the bench but certainly more than that.
Just like any other ordinary rural Dalit, Pariyan initially feels ashamed and hesitates to even reveal his father’s real folk artist identity, but later in an occasion after so many caste encounters from the dominant caste people, he gains confidence and self-esteem in accepting his father’s real identity and finally brings his father to his college.
The parallel storyline depicts how an old man (the hired killer) belonging to an upper-caste discreetly plans and executes murders of the lower-caste people in a way that those murders (honour killings) seem like accidents. There is a shocking episode where the old man proudly recounts this heinous crime as a sacrifice to god.
There is an instance where the audience gets to see how the old man kills a lower-caste boy who is in love with an upper-caste girl. Another episode shows him killing his community girl named Kousalya for falling in love with a lower-caste guy. The name Kousalya would ring a bell with that of the honour killing of Shankar in Tamil Nadu, who married a dominant caste girl Kousalya.
Yet another important episode where the hero is left to die in the railway tracks reminds us of Ilavarasan, a Dalit from Dharmapuri, who married a dominant caste girl and was found dead in the railway tracks. Thus the director has purposefully depicted the honour killing episodes which hit us hard and never fail to kindle the faded memories of the tragic honour killings of Ilavarasan, Gokulraj and Shankar in Tamil Nadu.
The victimisation of caste is not just shown in relation with the lower-caste but also how it extends to upper-castes and how the society bounds upper-castes too in the name of caste. This is very well depicted through the heroine’s father; he is bound by the norms of caste-ridden society and functions accordingly. He doesn’t really seem to hate the hero Pariyan for being friends with his daughter. Instead he feels scared that his daughter would be killed in the hands of fellow upper-caste men for the sake of befriending Pariyan. This upper caste father expresses fear, helplessness and insecurity about his daughter but not anger or hatred towards the lower-caste hero which makes him the victim of casteism. It therefore implies how caste is ingrained in the society to the extent that it disables human beings to function or lead a normal life.
The death of the old man in the end is as shocking as Karupi’s death. The movie starts off with the death of the dog exposing inhumanity and caste violence and ends it with the death of the upper caste old man explicating the idea of how the society is embedded with caste to the extent that it is not ready for any change. The old man kills himself in the wake of his inability to kill the hero and also due to the fact that he didn’t want to live as a failed caste man amidst Dalits. The death of the old man is a moving scene that notifies the dominant ideology of not accepting the liberation and activism of Dalits.
The symbols used in Pariyerum Perumal are emotive and astounding. ‘Karuppi’, the cross breed dog that is dead in the beginning reappears as the symbol of empowerment that inspires Pariyan to become resilient. The blue colour, conventionally and traditionally associated by Dalits to be the symbol of liberation, used extensively in the song ‘Naan Yaar’, subtly denotes Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his anti-caste revolutionary principles. The recurring image of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the scenes that displays the name and image of Ilayaraja (famous Tamil music director) and the poster image of K.R. Narayanan, the first Dalit president of India exposes the stark reality that though people from oppressed caste have attained such great position, the caste still continues to exist.
The blue colour, conventionally and traditionally associated by Dalits to be the symbol of liberation, subtly denotes Dr.B.R. Ambedkar and his anti-caste revolutionary principles
The film also emphasises that Dalit activism and empowerment is possible through education. The two characters, the law college principal and the old Dalit whom the protagonist reveres, encourage Pariyan to face the oppression through education. The principal recounts how he had been subjugated in the name of caste and how education enabled him to resist in these lines, “Thingura panni maadhiri ena adichu adich viratunanuv, odi olinju poitana ah… aprum edhu avasiyam nu therinjutu pei maadhiri padichen, anaiku ena adakunum nu nenachavan elam inaiku ayya saami nu kumbudran (the upper caste people treated me as a pig and troubled me a lot, but did I vanish or what… later I understood what was important and got educated, the same people who thought of suppressing me earlier now greet me with respect).”
It is ironical that, on the occasion of successful running of this movie, the 50th day of its release in Tamil Nadu, the real life brutal honour killing of Nandesh-Swathi in Hosur, Tamil Nadu is in headlines leaving us in shock. Such unending incidents of caste violence can be eradicated only if there is positive change.
Pariyerum Perumal is an emotionally-charged movie which not just creates awareness of caste politics that is inherent in the present society, but also emphasises the need for constructive and positive dialogue between the dominant and the dominated, towards envisioning a society that is equal and caste-free. The director does it through the symbolic representation of two same tea glasses with a flower in the middle, in the climax.
In the climax, the hero strongly claims the change in the mind-set by saying, “neenga neengala irukra varaikum, nan naaya dhan irukanum nu neenga ethirpaakra varaikum, inga edhuvum maaradhu, ipdiyae dhan irukum (until you remain yourself and expect me to remain as a dog, no change will happen here and it will remain the same)”, which reiterates the famous saying by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “Caste is the state of mind“, whereby he sets an optimistic tone anticipating a change of mind-set of our casteist society.
Featured Image Source: A still from Pariyerum Perumal via Deccan Chronicle