Paka review: This story of revenge and family feuds is not to be missed

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‘PAKA’, one of two Indian films qualifying for the 46th season of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), recently had its world premiere.

Had Valiammachi (Maria Kutty) a chance to watch the movie, Paka (Vengeance – tagged River of Blood), a Malayalam-language film directed by first filmmaker Nithin Lukose, she would definitely read the riot act to him for his inability to show her face on screen and step it up to n ‘ any level. Valiammachi’s disgruntled grunts carry the film throughout the film, possibly aiding the violence among the innocent as well. It is the story of relentless acts of repayments and rewards between the families involved. Families who migrated from central Kerala to Malabar in the 5th decade of the 20th century struggled to weed, but invariably everyone resisted. On the other hand, hostilities began to enshrine between the families and prolonged their existence. Paka says everything in plain language!

Paka, being one of two Indian films to qualify for the 46th season of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), recently made its world premiere. It falls under the Discovery category which presents the director’s first or second film. After sound design for over 25 films, including Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Nithin Lukose entered Canada’s Festival of Festivals with his directorial debut, Paka. And it started from home with the stories heard by the grandmother (Valiammachi). Although she doesn’t exhibit her face in the film, her intermittent soliloquies reveal her inner thoughts and reflections. The flooding of the local river during monsoon followed by summer, she says, is the appeasement of her ardent thirst for blood. Despite her age-related physical fragility, she is not ready to withdraw her stakes in revenge on her opponents. When Orappuzha, the local river, acts as a witness and partner in crime, the grandmother is a living instigator to keep the feuds alive. It’s like that Paka largely became Valiammachi’s film.

The film begins with a ready-to-dive husky Jose, known for his heavily loaded white Schnauzer mustache, asking for a dab of oil to apply to his ears and hair. This mainly prevents water from entering his ears. Jose is the expert local diver with credits to recover the maximum number of corpses from the river. As usual, the inhabitants of the surrounding villages come together, all eyes and ears, to concoct their own open-ended stories. The body of a young man that Jose offers doesn’t create much gossip due to his anonymity.

The introduction of Kocheppu (Jose Kizhakkan) is unmatched as one of the film’s main characters. The transition from an accomplished comedian to a brilliant film character is so impressive in his case. At one point, he regrets everything he has done in the past and decides to lead a peaceful life from now on. Imagine what it feels like to a pack of anxious enemies who waited ruthlessly like a wake-up call! Johny (Basil Poulose) too, who decides to calm down and dreams of a relaxed future life, is greeted with cries of derision in the continuity of the never-ending feud.

Revenge for a perceived evil happens in different ways. The refined way is to seek help from the existing law in force in a place, which will last a long time for when the time comes. The primitive way to deal with this is an “eye for an eye,” the idiomatic biblical phrase that would cause the world to go blind. But in many places where vendetta is strong, witnesses do not come to testify, which facilitates the execution of reprisals. Kocheppu goes to prison overthrows all the plans made by the enemies. There are people who wait to set themselves on fire to keep families warm. Nothing like repaying in kind and the quarrel continues to burn! It is said on the street that there is someone – a ruthless brain would prepare a hunt for the life of another man. Like the ebb and flow of Valiammachi’s thoughts, the Orapp River sags and overflows at times. This multigenerational story of uncompromising revenge also preserves a gripping love story between Johnny (Basil Paulose) and Anna (Vinitha Koshy). At one point, they also land in a strange dead end created by their families. The film draws to a close by showing the birth of a newborn baby and the informal enthronement of another young man in the Patriarch’s chair. Will the quarrel continue with its might and might?

Atul John who appears as Pachi, Johnny’s brother, has a role worthy of being saluted with the main actors, Basil, Vinitha, Jose, Nithin George, Abhilash and John Manickal stand out from a long line of actors where the crowd plays a major role.

A skillful Srikanth Kabothu held up the camera to show us the ins and outs of the field where Paka continues, and Arunima Shankar closed the edit appropriately. Faizal Ahamed’s desks are adapted to the nature of the film. Aravind Sundar, with help from Pramod and Jobin, crafted the sound to perfection, relieving the director’s shoulder. Akhil Ravi Padmini is the designer of the project. Sooraj has all the merit of making all the villagers actors at different levels.

What amazes me is the continued cooperation of Anurag Kashyap and Raj Rachakonda (director – Mallesham) in the production of the film, no matter what language he speaks. These two rank above most Malayali producers who are hardly seen promoting films in other languages. They reassure with their words of consolation that any good film with its powerfully rooted voice would find its place!

Although Nithin Lukose was unable to make it to Toronto due to pandemic protocols, the public got a chance to converse with him when TIFF zoomed in on him immediately after the world premiere. Paka is a must-see and proof that any cinema that tells a different and powerful story will go places.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival closed without ceremony on September 18, 2021.

Also read: How Malayalam Film ‘Paka’, which premiered at TIFF, was made

Suresh Nellikode has written fiction for Malayalam periodicals like Mathrubhumi and Kalakaumudi. He has also collaborated with the New Indian Express and the Khaleej Times. He currently lives in Canada.


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