Paka

As the City of Toronto is less than a week away from the ‘Festival of Festivals’ Indian Cinema has nothing much to write home about except two movies, although the total number of films selected for screening is one-third of its usual strength. And that too not from the major filmmakers. Nithin Lukose’s PAKA (River of Blood) and Ritwik Pareek’s DUG DUG are the only two movies from India showing up at the 46th edition of Toronto International Film Festival 2021 which is scheduled to run from Sept 09 to 18, 2021. PAKA, a debut feature from Nithin Lukose could be considered a turn up for the Mollywood books in a prestigious festival like TIFF.

Nidhin Lukose
Nithin Lukose

When Nithin Lukose decided to make a film on what he gathered all in his life about, he didn’t have the faintest notion that two renowned filmmakers like Raj Rachakonda and Anurag Kashyap would take it over to produce and reach it further up to one of the illustrious American film festivals like TIFF. Nithin hails from a village called Ayilamoola, near Manathavady in Wayanad. His ancestors were from Central Kerala and very much like all others who migrated in the early fifties to the Malabar region, seeking a better life. But all those people have to fight it out with a host of odds like wild animals and infectious diseases like Malaria etc. Slowly competitions started creeping up in the communities like a wildfire and the devil took the hindmost. As a result, there were long feuding families on different issues. Crimes picked up all over, resulted in murders and the like. The local Orapp River flowed silently witnessing all such mysteries that baffled up all the logic. One can easily imagine how the love life between Johny and Anna can proceed in the midst of such a distressing predicament. Their families are at loggerheads over a lot of issues between them. They decided not to pay heed to the trifles around and resolved to carry on. The film delves into the different levels of vengeance in families and the sins carried over for generations. Things are not that smooth when they are in between the warring families who more often than not after false familial pride and privileges to stand pat with the society they belong to. Despite laying out several convincing arguments, invariably everyone seems to be unyielding or inflexible only in order to show off their muscle power. Wayanad, the forest district of Kerala has a lot to tell the rest of the world when they go deep into the lives of migrants swarmed all over from the other parts of Kerala.

There are no seasoned actors appearing in PAKA except Basil Paulose and Vinitha Koshy who have done a few characters in the past. Vinitha Koshy who has a special jury mentioning earlier carries the lead role in the movie. All other actors like Nithin George, Jose Kizhakkan, Athul John, John Manickal have all been picked up from the surrounding villages who had no qualms about entering into the characters as they all had familiar rings to such a story. Sooraj, a former institute colleague of the director, has guided the actors through a successful workshop. A schedule of a little over a month was enough to complete the project as all behind the camera were well acquainted with filmmaking. Not only every shot is indescribably striking, but PAKA captures the whole rustic sense of Wayanad through Srikanth Kabothu, the Director of Photography. Arunima Shankar has edited the movie with the musical score of Faizal Ahamed. The trio of Pramod Thomas, Jobin Jayan and Aravind Sundar has skillfully taken up the sound designed by the director himself. The production map has been skillfully drawn by Akhil Ravi Padmini.

Although PAKA is the debut feature directed by NIthin Lukose, he has the sound designing credit of over 25 movies so far. Amongst those movies, there was a Telugu one – MALLESHAM, directed by Raj Rachakonda was the one that paved his way to cross the path with him in production. To an inquiry of that effect he answers, ” I had an idea of producing a movie of one of the crew members who helped me in making my directorial debut, MALLESHAM. The idea was under wraps. Of the four stories narrated to me, I decided to pick Nithin’s. There were so many things that hit me in his story including that of Jose who would swim and fish out the dead bodies from the abysses of the local river.”

It’s so good of a far-famed film persona like Anurag Kashyap to join the project as a co-producer outstretching his arms to embrace good films irrespective of the language it speaks. He happened to watch the first cut of the movie which later got adjudged as the best movie from the five shortlisted by the lab of National Film Development Corporation’s (NFDC) Film Bazaar. Nithin fondly acknowledges his gratitude to these two producers making its easy access to the TIFF, a film festival of august lineage.

TIFF this year will take place in a hybrid format with in-person and digital screenings and in total compliance with the Covid-19 pandemic protocols. As the pandemic was at its height last year TIFF had been forced to be altered to virtual platforms and drive-in screenings with very few movies. But, TIFF looks up with better means this year, although it couldn’t get back to the usual modus operandi. It anticipates around 4000 members from the film industry and 1400 accredited journalists to attend the festival. Public digital screenings will be available on its online platform and TIFF Bell Lightbox but will be limited to the Canadian audience. Although the filmgoers do not need any proof of Covid 19 vaccination, masks will be mandatory for everyone attending in-person screenings. Talents and media personnel will be tested regularly. A few of the names of the celebrities who may attend the festival are out. The full slate of awards will be announced at the close of the festival, on Sept 18, 2021.

Suresh Nellikode is a freelance journalist and film critic


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