The film, directed by Kamal KM and based on real events, features Kunchacko Boban, Vinayakan, Joju George and Dileesh Pothan in the lead.

Four men stand against an office desk raising slogans with their right handsScreenshot from 'Pada'
Flix Review Friday, March 11, 2022 - 16:28
Worth a watch

Building tension moment by moment and then maintaining it for two whole hours of a movie has to be an art. In Pada, Kamal KM’s new film, there is at first the suspense of not knowing what’s happening, then the happening itself, and then the anxiety of how it will end. Going against the usual long disclaimers of distancing itself from any real incident, the film starts off by saying it is based on true events. Actors Kunchacko Boban, Vinayakan, Joju George and Dileesh Pothan appear from four different corners and barely let you breathe, as a very important story about Adivasi rights gets told. If by retelling the incident more than 25 years later, Kamal – the film’s writer and director – meant to serve a reminder of what’s still missing, he does it really well.

The introductions to the four main characters are short but leave lasting impressions, especially Balu’s (Vinayakan) and where he comes from. Two children, playing around beautiful woods (Sameer Thahir behind the camera), their mother (Kani Kusruti) and Balu spend a few easy moments of family life before he splits with a bag. Aravindan (Joju) can’t do anything bad, you know, when thrice, a lottery seller thrusts a ticket on his face and all three times he smiles and says he just can’t do it now. The third time the ticket seller offers to buy him tea. Rajesh (Kunchacko) has been a troublemaker before – a policeman identifies him on the street as one involved in a previous case. Kutty (Dileesh) is a teacher, calming his partner Mini (Unnimaya Prasad), before joining the others quietly.

In Palakkad of 1996, people are walking in and out of the Collectorate, shuttling between offices with their document piles. Mobile phones are not common yet and live news reporting comes from one private channel. To this world of monotony the four men enter, in sync with the rhythmic thuds of Vishnu Vijay’s music. The beats that never really die down in the background are like an invisible character in their story, not letting you forget that every moment counts.

Watch: Trailer of Pada

The drama is minimal as the Collector (Arjun Radhakrishnan) is taken into custody, almost too calmly, and the men make their demand: the repeal of the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Regulation on Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Amendment Act, 1996. Calling themselves the Ayyankali Pada, they want immediate attention to the issue – for 21 years Adivasis have been cheated of land rights by the changing governments and this should stop.

Even as the crux of the matter comes out, you appreciate the moments leading up to it – how well-planned it has all been. The men don’t correspond in public, keep careful distances. Other men helping them are equally nondescript (Gopalan, Indrans all at their very best). The subtlety seeps into the performance of the actors. They are not conspicuous, loud or calling attention to themselves. A world away from the loudly preaching heroes of an earlier time. They become vocal only once they are inside the Collector’s office.

The only bit that looks a tad staged is the day-long exchange between the Collector and the men.

Outside, far away from the Collector’s office, a volley of characters pop into the screen – Prakash Raj as the Chief Secretary, Jagadish and Sankar Ramakrishnan among his staff, Sajitha Madathil and Shine Tom Chacko among the Collector’s staff, Savithri Sreedharan as a woman with memory issues, James Eliya and Karamana Sudheer as police officials, Kannan Nayar as a politician, and finally TG Ravi in a very important role as a mediator. Actor Sreeraman appears briefly as the Chief Minister, speaking in the famous dialect of the late EK Nayanar.

Pada really doesn’t waste a moment. It is so well-paced that you are still processing the enormity of the questions in Vinayakan’s voice as the end credits roll and the real life characters are given their due. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.
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