Perumani Movie Review: A whimsical comedy with familiar echoes

Perumani Movie Review: A whimsical comedy with familiar echoes

Although the film may leave you yearning for something fresh after a promising start, it still delivers its fair share of heartwarming moments
Perumani(3 / 5)

As a local bus carrying commuters arrives at a lush green terrain, one of the lead characters of Perumani attempts to unload his luggage from the roof of the bus. Suddenly, a stranger, initially presumed to be dead, wakes up and stands atop the roof. This unexpected arrival of a migrant, assumed to be from Bengal, sets the ball rolling for an otherwise tranquil village, leading to a series of absurd events.

Director: Maju

Cast: Lukman Avaran, Sunny Wayne, Vinay Forrt, Deepa Thomas, Radhika Radhakrishnan, Navas Vallikkunnu

The film begins with a fable, presented in an animated format. Narrated through well-drawn animated illustrations, this fantastical tale tells of the arrival of a mysterious figure from the Muslim community, now revered as Perumani Thangal, during a period of chaos in the village. This occult-like character soon achieves the status of a local deity after rescuing the village from the curse of a revenge-driven thief turned witcher. Generations have passed, and the people of Perumani, steeped in superstitions, still worship the saviour and he is a ubiquitous presence throughout the film.

After his notable sophomore directorial set in a bleak environment, Appan (2022), Maju is back with an outing rooted in a rather picturesque landscape. He crafts Perumani on a unique canvas, filled with a myriad of idiosyncratic characters. Perumani, the quaint village where the fantastical tale unfolds, is isolated from the constraints of time and space. The setting is quite reminiscent of Lijo Jose Pellissery's Amen (2013) and Basil Joseph's Kunjiramayanam (2015).

The entire first half of the film is treated like a setup to establish its wide array of whimsical characters. The focus is predominantly on situations infused with humour, with some being adequately effective while others not so much. Despite lacking in laugh-out-loud moments, the storytelling is crisp until the interval with moments that bring a smile to your face.

Though Perumani works to an extent in how superstitions take hold among the villages and cults are formed, the film also consistently leaves you with a feeling of deja vu. As the film takes a convenient turn in the latter hour when the villagers start to consider the newly arrived migrant to be the reincarnation of the much-devoted Perumani Thangal, the writing of the film begins going around in circles with hardly anything novel to say.

Apart from having shades of magical realism from Amen and quirkiness from Kunjiramayanam, the proceedings and the characters in Perumani, at times, remind you of some yesteryear Malayalam films as well. To name a few, Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal (1989), Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu (1988), and Kinnaripuzhayoram (1994). Also, the base plot revolving around the arrangements of a wedding and its payoff echoes a couple of recent Malayalam films.

However, the film still delivers its fair share of heartwarming moments. The sequences depicting Abi's (Lukman Avaran) mother making peace with her deceased husband's second wife are beautifully staged and performed. The interactions involving Mujeeb (Sunny Wayne) and Ramlu (Radhika Radhakrishnan) also stand out with how they convey the warmth of their relationship.

Among the performances, Vinay Forrt steals the show as Nassar, the entitled bridegroom sporting a peculiar moustache. Nassar is often suspicious and paranoid, particularly regarding his bride, and Vinay effectively portrays the jealousy, possessiveness, chauvinism, and insecurity of his character. Deepa Thomas, as Fathima the bride, dutifully plays her part with a certain charm. Lukman Avaran, portraying Abi, leaves a mark, especially in emotional sequences involving his character's mother and stepmother. Radhika Radhakrishnan has her moments of fun and decisiveness in the film, and she makes them count. Also, Sanjana Chandran's assertiveness as the no-nonsense second-in-command to a butcher is a force to be reckoned with. Navas Vallikkunnu also shines with his signature slang and comic timing.

On the technical front, cinematographer Manesh Madhavan and art director Vishvanathan Aravind work together to effectively establish the setting and atmosphere, particularly during the initial hours. Despite the prevalence of aerial and wide shots, a decision that's understandable given the lush locale, they seamlessly blend with the narrative. Gopi Sundar's soundtrack and background score are pleasing to the ears, with the peppy track Pennaayi Petta being the pick of the album.

In a recent interview, director Maju stated that Perumani might have been more effectively explored as a web series. With numerous characters, transitioning to episodic storytelling could have definitely allowed for deeper character development and delved into other subplots involving the village folk. In its current feature format, it is certainly a decent film but falls short of being a truly special experience.

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