How can we raise a generation of children who will grow into sensitive and compassionate people and make this world a better place? Film director Ram, through his films, shows us how.
By Sindhu Sivalingam
A middle-aged man looks into an old mirror, contorting his face and making a clicking sound with his tongue. Turning his hand at an odd angle and entwining his fingers, he inches closer to the mirror. Unable to do so, he gives up and walks away. He then looks out from the window of the dusty old wooden cabin he is in, his thoughts echoing: “All these years, I worried why Paapa doesn’t walk like other children. Only when I tried to walk like her did I realise how brutal it is to ask someone to be like another.”
That’s the two-minute teaser of the upcoming movie Peranbu directed by Ram starring Mammootty as the father of Paapa (played by Sadhana of Thanga Meengal fame), a child with spastic cerebral palsy. The movie has been given a rating of 9.2 by IMDb and has received laurels at international film festivals.
Movie director Ram, with his dramatic and poetic storytelling, makes a strong commentary on the society we live in. But, what inspired him to make a movie about a child who is different and a dad who is so much in love with her? In conversation with ParentCircle, the National Film Award-winning director touches on parenting, his relationship with his children and what he feels about issues our society is facing.
Here are excerpts from an interview:
Be it Thanga Meengal (Golden Fish) or the upcoming one Peranbu (Unconditional Love), you’ve chosen to tell the story from a father’s perspective. Any particular reason?
Well, I’m a father, a loving one, and I share a special bond with my daughter. Ever since she was born, my perspective about women has undergone a change.
My daughter is kind and loving. She demands nothing from me and accepts me as I am. I am her hero. She looks at me from only one side — that of love. Everyone else, including my parents or my wife (who have seen my good and bad side), look at me in two ways.
Did your daughter inspire the story of Thanga Meengal?
You could say so. She had some educational issues, so we were moving her from one school to another. That experience helped me understand school education better, especially how exams are blown out of proportion and are overrated. Children are made to feel unworthy if they don’t secure the expected marks. This makes them think that they are not smart enough.
My first movie, Katradhu Tamizh (A Tamil literature graduate) is about what is happening to arts and literature students after globalisation. My second movie Thanga Meengal deals with primary school education post-globalisation. In both movies, I’ve tried to put across the way I see the world.
How did the idea of making Peranbu come to you?
I’ve been involved in working with and for spastic children for the past 10 years. I was doing a phototherapy course for them and interacted with many parents who shared their experiences of raising a special child. That is when I realised how privileged I am, compared to them. If you ask me who are the best parents, I would say they are. During one such conversation, one parent, a father, said something that sowed in me the idea of making Peranbu. He said, “Nature has created everyone differently, but treats everyone equally.”
Peranbu talks about transgenders too...
The father I referred to earlier felt that Nature is ruthless, which is true in a way. In defence of Nature, we can say that she has probably laid down the rules very clearly but we are unaware of them. Maybe it’s all about survival of the fittest. So, yes, in that sense, Nature is a little merciless towards her own creations. But, Nature also loves us in abundance. In the different creations of Nature, you can see that she is generous, and at the same time, beyond us. A spastic child and a transgender are considered deviations from the normal. Yet, they are reflections of Nature’s different qualities. So, I thought when I talk about a spastic child, I should also mention the transgender.
So, the story is centred around the child?
The story is more about her father. It's about the parenting challenges he faces and how Nature tests him. And, through these experiences, how he transforms and evolves into a compassionate individual from a selfish man. That’s true for parents of spastic children. They naturally develop compassion and let go of hate. They begin to love the world.
Tell us how you parent your children...
My wife and I have a daughter (Srisankara Gomathi Ram) and a son (Mayan Ram). Based on their personalities, I parent each child differently. You can’t treat every child the same way. And, parenting is instinctive. That’s what my parents did, that’s what your parents would’ve done. So, when someone asks me how to bring up a child, all I say is, let the child be. Keep his best interests at heart and you’ll know what to do.
What about disciplining a child?
It can’t be inculcated through teaching and preaching. If you’re disciplined, your child will be too. If you don’t practice discipline, you can’t expect it from your child — how you are at home and outside, is how your child will be. You can intervene and offer support, direction and guidance though.
Speaking of children, what is your take on education?
What we hear in the news nowadays can make us feel depressed and insecure. The need of the hour is to teach children how to look at, talk to and respect members of the opposite gender. For example, we now know that stalking is a crime; earlier, it was romanticised. So, we need to teach our children about stalking and that it is a form of abuse.
Also, irrespective of the course a student takes, art and literature should be part of the curriculum as it makes us human. If we teach only medicine or engineering, and the child isn't able to find a job in that field, it is highly probable that he may either go into depression or turn into a sociopath. Art can help your child find balance in life. Poetry, painting, music, dance or any other art form that can be practiced is a need — for children and adults. Sports is another good option.
Do you believe art can bring a child close to humanity?
Only art can. Inventions and technological advancements can make us very greedy. Yes, we do need them. But, owning a phone does not put an end to our need, we would still want a better phone. There are too many brands, too many choices. The child can even start comparing himself with another. This can give rise to feelings of vengeance, greed and even humiliation. How can you help your child then? Through exposure to art. Artistic pursuits can help your child overcome feelings of hurt, put differences aside and feel balanced.
Should all children play sport?
Sport must definitely be a part of children's lives. Not only is sport good for health but also helps a child become resilient, gritty, persevering and more. Any physical activity like running, cycling or walking can help an individual feel calm, irrespective of the age. It’s like therapy. Today’s children have many reasons to feel stressed — from school to lifestyle differences due to consumerism. Children also have problems with self-esteem, especially in cities where the rich and not-so rich reside in close proximity. We need to help a child feel balanced to face all this. Sport can build confidence and self-esteem. And, if your child is interested in team sport, even better. It teaches her to work and interact in unison with others. This is important because, when your child becomes an adult and steps out of home, she will need to know how to work with others. She is not alone on this planet.
What role did your parents play in shaping your career?
During the 90s, when I was growing up, most parents wanted their child to become engineers or doctors. My parents never forced me to do anything. They allowed me to take decisions. They neither stopped me, nor did they glorify or celebrate my choices. They said, “Do what you feel interested in. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll know how to handle it. But, anything you do, do it with passion.” That they believed in me gave me a lot of confidence.
Also, as my father was an avid reader, I was surrounded by books. I embraced the habit of reading and it’s had a great influence on my life.
What books changed your life?
There are several: Gandhiji’s My experiments with truth, Papillon, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Alex Haley’s Roots, The Chinar Leaves about Indira Gandhi, Freedom at Midnight and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and White Nights. I don’t know if reading these books changed my life, but they gave me confidence. The books opened my eyes to the world, influenced and inspired me to become a writer, a creative person. The books helped me understand what a hypocrite I am.
Coming back to Peranbu, tell us about Mammootty's presence in movie...
I’m from Coimbatore where a lot of Malayalam movies used to be screened. So, I’ve watched movies of MT Vasudevan Nair like Sukrutham and Amaram which later influenced my writing. When I watched those movies, I used to think, “If I ever become a director, I will make a movie with Mammootty.” It was my teenage dream.
And now it’s become a reality…
Yes. I always think that if you dream, you can achieve. Mammootty is a big star and one of the best actors in Indian cinema. This is the first time I have worked with such a great star. However, on set, he doesn’t display the air of stardom. He is an eager actor who focuses on giving his best. I’ve learnt a lot from him about acting. I’ve also unlearned a lot of things. Working with an actor like Mammootty is like a luxury for a director. For, you can make him enact anything.
Your child actor Sadhana said in an interview that the movie inspired her to work for the benefit of spastic children. I’m sure other youngsters will also feel that way. Did you envision this positive effect?
It should happen. A movie should tease, stay with you and let you connect with yourself. Sadhana is a dedicated child and a terrific actor. She is very young now, but I believe she will shine well in any field she chooses. And, she will always want to give back to society.
Does society need to become more aware, compassionate and empathetic? Especially with regard to how we look at gifted children, transgenders or women/the girl child. And, will society one day become sensitive to them?
Of course, yes. The human race is evolving, right? In fact, we had all these feelings before as well. However, we began neglecting them once we shifted our focus to issues like religion, caste and power politics. We lost a lot of good qualities and love for others. But, it’s a circle. So, hopefully, we will turn back.
And with that same note of positivity, we bid him good bye. Let’s all take one step closer to a better tomorrow and a better world, by raising empathetic, loving and resilient children.
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