Paka Nithin Lukose Toronto International Film Festival
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Writer-Director: Nithin Lukose
Cast: Athul John, Basil Paulose, Vinitha Koshy
Language: Malayalam

It is almost ironic that Paka is being produced by the director of Gangs Of Wasseypur. When seen from a distance, both films talk about generational violence between two warring families. Both films are set away from cities (Wasseypur and Wayanad) and they both use revenge as their narrative fuel. These films also paint a landscape of a place where blood flows like water, and where terms like honour and justice matter more than peace and humanity. 

But Paka does very different things from within mainstream cinema’s most favourite theme. With its cyclical narrative structure, it gets us to look at revenge with the importance we’d associate with watching a man’s morning toilet routine. There’s little stylisation, even lesser drama and absolutely no victors. There’s a set pattern to extraordinary events and even the villagers here have receded to the role of spectators. So when the local superstar Jose, an expert swimmer, fishes out a nameless corpse from the ‘river of blood’, we can hear radio commentary of what sounds like a football match. For outsiders, the back and forth has become nothing more than a contact sport. There’s no loud wailing. There’s no shocking revelations. It’s as though murders have become a part of lifestyle.  

From this safe vantage point, Nithin Lukose then pushes us deep into the two families involved to see what decades of revenge looks like from the inside. The walls of both houses are lined with photos of fallen ancestors and their most precious heirloom appears to be weapons. A certain darkness too seems to have taken permanent residence here. The patriarch of one family is blind (an eye for an eye, if you will), while the matriarch of the other refuses to let light enter her house. In the case of the latter, we never see her face but she narrates tales (her voice cannot be forgotten easily) of vengeance to her grandchildren the way fairy tales get passed down.  

For people of that generation, revenge is the light at the end of the tunnel. There are no good or bad people, only the brave who either kill or die for the family. So when young Paachi (Athul John) gets trained by her grandmother to go out to kill, she feels he has simply gone to…school. As for today’s generation, it’s not that they haven’t tried to escape this whirlpool. Paachi’s older brother Joey (Basil Paulose) feels love can bring the two families together. Their uncle Kocheppu has already served his time in prison and wants the two families to forget the past to finally be able to move forward. 

But as we learn through Anna (Vinitha Koshy), revenge is at times far more tempting than love can be. Its lure is powerful even if you’ve lived your life experiencing its futility and that’s what makes Paka a film that starts where most films end. For these people, their cycle of vengeance began so far back with an issue so trivial now that it isn’t even important anymore. It tells us that there’s no beginning or end to this cycle and how it will only lead to more pain. 

For this, the film uses the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, two brothers who fought each other until one slays the other. Instead of explaining this through dialogue, the director uses commentary from a WWF wrestling match between ‘brothers’ Kane and Undertaker to underline the theme. In another instance, we hear news bites from the India-Pakistan war to denote the same infighting. 

All this adds up to what’s almost the entire other layer of meaning the makers add through sound. Nithin Lukose, himself a sound designer, chooses to add the sound of flies each time we enter the room of the bedridden matriarch. Without any visual support (we don’t even see her face), this sound is able to give us a notion of how close death is for her. It’s these touches (a knife-smith’s rhythm transitions into beating war drums) that give us the feeling that we’re watching and listening to the work of a fresh voice.  

Centred around a river and its bloodlust, Paka is a visceral landscape that gets you to see the futility of revenge (and its silliness) from both the inside and outside. It takes a theme we’ve seen a million times and still get you to see it differently.

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