When Nithin Lukose, an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India, made up his mind finally to make a movie about the village he lives in with its rustic beauty and the mysteries it has hidden, he didn't have the faintest notion that it would get a renowned Bollywood filmmaker as its producer, and thereby make it to the Toronto International Film Festival- 2021. Nithin hails from a family in Ayilamoola, 8.5 km away from Mananthavady, Wayanad. His ancestors were settlers from Kaduthuruthy and Moolamattom of Central Kerala. The settlers had no option but to work very hard to prove their mettle. The farmers, who had been frequently and adversely impacted by human-animal conflict, infectious diseases like Malaria etc., had to stand up against all kinds of odds for their survival. There were also long feuding families on matters small and big. There were umpteen stories among them that baffled logic and remained beyond any explanations. There were murders and related crimes all over. The miscreants and anti-social elements were hand in glove to make sure that all their campaigns were consistently successful. And the Orapp Puzha flowed silently in between such mysteries with and without bearing the impact of many of these stories.
A lot of stories have been lost and found in the vast abysses of the Orapp River. These stories were handed down to generations of the settlers' families. Nithin too has no hesitation in expressing his emotional indebtedness to the multitudinous stories he listened to from his grandma. He added a few of his personal and family experiences to it, to make it appear plausible on the silver screen. That's the story behind the movie Paka (Vengeance) or as tag-lined in English 'River of Blood', lined up at the TIFF for a world premiere in the second week of September, 2021. It's the only entry in Malayalam that Kerala can boast of for the 46th edition of TIFF. The film falls under the Discovery Section that allows only up to the second film of a movie maker. Although Nithin Lukose has designed sound for many movies, Paka is his debut feature.
The characters appearing in this movie are either partly related to the myths passed on or are living now in the villages beside Orapp River. To the question of why the director preferred people of his surroundings as actors, Nithin says that he was very confident of entrusting the job to them, as they know in detail about each character and seldom needed to be trained. Each actor has done their best irrespective of the screen time they have in the movie. He cited an example of a gentleman named Jose who has the rare expertise of retrieving dead bodies no matter how deep they're buried. He's a living trove of many an untold story. He too is featured in this movie.
Vinitha Koshy, who won the State Award for Rahul Riji Nair's Ottamuri Velicham is among the few renowned actors in the cast. She had earlier appeared in films like Aby and Luca. The other leading actors in this movie are Basil Paulose, Nithin George, Jose Kizhakkan, Athul John and John Manickal. Although Sooraj from Hyderabad, a diploma holder from FTI for acting, was in charge of the acting workshop, the actors reportedly exceeded his expectations in fulfilling their duties. It took 35 days and nights to complete the shoot, for the film to have an easy way to post-production.
Faizal Ahmed has composed the music of Paka and Srikant Kabothu wielded the camera to show us what it's like to live in that landscape. Delhi-based Arunima Shanker has edited the film. All of them are FTII products. Although Nithin has done the sound design for around 25 movies, the work for Paka's was entrusted to Jobin Jayan, Aravind Sundar and Pramod Sundar. Akhil Ravi Padmini is the production designer.
Nithin has Thithi (Kannada) and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (Hindi) among his sound design credits. He also did the sound designing of Mallesham, a Telugu movie produced by Raj Rachakonda, who later joined Anurag Kashyap as a co-producer of Paka. Paka was adjudged as the best movie from the shortlisted five by the Lab of NFDC Film Bazaar. Anurag Kashyap had happened to watch the first cut of the movie and took over the patronage of it, Nithin fondly remembers. It shows his love and commitment to good movies, irrespective of which language and space they belong to, Nithin says.
With almost a year gone by unmarked and festivities remaining largely muted by the COVID-19 pandemic, TIFF hopes to have a reasonably better show this year. As the names of the major titles in the lineup are out, it's good to know that Paka, directed by Nithin Lukose, has found a place for an Indian movie to stand globally acknowledged.
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs from Sep 09 to 18, 2021 in a crossbred format of digital as well as in-person-screenings to go in line with the existing pandemic protocols in Canada.
Suresh Nellikode has written fiction for Malayalam periodicals like Mathrubhumi and Kalakaumudi. He's also been a contributor for The New Indian Express and Khaleej Times. He currently lives in Canada.