A boy stands on the ground with his friend, watching a flock of pigeons feed on grains. His eyes move to the pretty new girl who has joined school and is standing in the corridor, her back turned towards him. Nothing that the other boys do to catch her attention works. The boy claps his hand, the pigeons take off as one, and the girl turns to look...at him. Their gaze meets beneath the beating wings of the birds.
They don't speak but then, poetry needn't always have words.
Soubin Shahir's Parava is a tender story of boyhood, set in Kerala's Mattancherry. There are two story arcs within it - one of Ichappi (Amal Shah) and Haseeb (Govind V Pai), the inseparable schoolboys who are passionate about pigeon racing and stick together through all times good and bad. Then there's the story of Shaine (Shane Nigam), Ichappi's brooding older brother, and what happened to his gang of friends.
The camera never moves beyond the few streets in which the characters are situated but Soubin (co-writing credits Muneer Ali) spins an intricate web of rivalries and allegiances that those involved forge. There is a real sense of community that the script builds for us, a world where everyone knows everyone and watches out for each other. For instance, when Ichappi and Haseeb go to a theatre to watch porn, they're spotted by someone from the older gang. They are duly reported to their parents, even if it means the older guy has to admit that he went for the same film, too.
The bonding happens over parotta and beef curry as well - a scene where a group of Muslims eat beef together with compete ease, devoid of any political statement or undertones can perhaps happen only in Malayalam cinema these days.
Much like the Tamil film Aadukalam, Parava captures poignant moments of the relationship between humans and the birds they care about. At least, by the end of the film, you're likely to stop thinking of pigeons as stupid, annoying birds that shit everywhere. Each has a personality and a startling beauty that comes alive to us through the eyes of the boys. Do you remember seeing pigeons in Yenna Satham Indha Neram from Punnagai Mannan? The way the song is used in Parava, you'll probably pay more attention to the birds than Kamal and Rekha the next time you watch it.
Dulquer Salmaan as Imran, plays a pivotal role in the plot. Though the actor is around for less than 30 minutes, it's what he does and what happens to him that drives the film forward. The gang wars that erupt between rival groups (the director and Sreenath Bhasi make up the bad boys) remind one of Angamaly Diaries. However, though there is enough excitement here, it does not have the same emotional connect as the story of the younger boys.
The women in Parava don't get much screen time, considering the film is firmly about the lives of the boys. But there are little glimpses that the film offers nevertheless - while the boys chase pigeons, play cricket and live their childhood, girls their age are married off and suddenly attain the status of grown-ups. They don't get the luxury of free movement or the consequences that this brings. The story accommodates the realities of life that both genders are subjected to, even if one remains in the margins.
At times, you feel the pace slackening, especially in the first half. However, since we like and care about the characters on screen, we remain invested in what happens to them.
Parava is an impressive debut. It takes time for the story to grow on you and take flight. But when it does, it soars.