Director: Soubin Shahir
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Amal Shah, Govind V Pai, Shane Nigam
How do you steal a fish from someone’s house and bring it back to yours, with no equipment but a pair of bicycles? Soubin Shahir’s Parava (Bird) – written by Shahir and Muneer Ali – opens with the answer, and during this stretch, cinematographer Littil Swayamp gives us a guided tour of Mattancherry. The camera squeezes into tiny alleys. It soars over the terraces of cramped flats. A little later, it bobs about in a kitchen, mimicking the bobbing neck of a pigeon. You’ve heard of the bird’s-eye point of view. Parava gives us the pigeon’s-eye point of view. The film spends a lot of time in the sky. Why? Because the protagonists, two boys named Irshad (Amal Shah) and Haseeb (Govind V Pai, who’s wonderfully raw), are into pigeon racing.
But they can wait. The characters around them can wait. Their conflicts can wait. Like Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu and Angamaly Diaries, Parava is, foremost, a record of a certain way of life. It’s about the men playing carrom. It’s about the creepy pharmacist, who exploits the woman who works for him by directing her to the shelf with condoms. It’s about the man seated near the fish cart, who leaves when he hears the prayer call from the mosque. It’s about making fish biriyani. It’s about making manja for a kite. It’s about the son who returns home after three years, upon hearing of his father’s death. It’s about a wedding celebration. It’s about how Kamal Haasan’s kissing scenes influence young boys.
It’s as though we are entering a world that already existed and wasn’t just created by the production designer. And the echoes in the screenplay deepen our involvement
These incidents imbue the narrative with lived-in texture. It’s as though we are entering a world that already existed and wasn’t just created by the production designer. And the echoes in the screenplay deepen our involvement. Take the father and son who have a screaming match in public, outside the former’s shop. (The son thinks it’s beneath his dignity to work there.) But at least, they are talking – unlike Irshad’s brother Shane (Shane Nigam) and their father. Or take the man watching a match on TV, as a batsman scores a six. This segues to real-life games of cricket, more sixes, one of which introduces Haseeb (and us) to the gang of druggies that will prove to be the root of all problems – not just for the characters, but also the film.
Parava tells two stories. The first, about the boys, is easily the better one. There’s nothing much that’s new here. We get the usual assortment of classroom scenes, first-love experiences, hormonal experiments like watching soft-porn. But the writing is alert to not just the event but also the consequence. What happens after Irshad fails his finals (he weeps as Haseeb moves to X-B) turns out to be something he can hold over Haseeb (a sympathetic teacher makes him class leader). What happens after Irshad returns from the adult film also tells us about the father’s fears, that he shouldn’t alienate this son too. What happens to Irshad’s crush at school turns out to be a small comment on this quaint community, on practices that might seem barbaric to the modern eye.
Dulquer Salmaan can own the smallest of roles and light up a scene without overwhelming it with star power. But the too-good-to-be-true character is a drag
The portions with the adults are nowhere as interesting. They are notable for how Dulquer Salmaan can own the smallest of roles – he plays Shane’s friend, Imran –and light up a scene without overwhelming it with star power. But the too-good-to-be-true character is a drag. And the big scrape that Shane gets into comes out of nowhere – despite the insight into joblessness as a cause of violence (something we saw in Angamaly Diaries as well), it all unfolds like a series of clichés, right down to the big action scene at the end, staged with the kind of flash that feels hideously incongruous with the naturalism in the rest of the film.
Parava doesn’t find a balance between its two narratives, two moods, and indeed, two modes of storytelling: one small and intimate, the other broad and more commercial, with a score (by Rex Vijayan) that just won’t stop. And for a story that we entered through its children, it feels like a betrayal when they are abandoned for large stretches focusing on the grown-ups. Shane’s love track with an orphan girl doesn’t carry half the heft as Irshad’s love for the new girl at school. In the former, we just get shy glances. In the latter, we get a triumphal moment where Irshad, who’s never been able to execute a back flip, does so for the first time, and when he looks up, he realises she’s right there. It’s a double win.
I could have also done with fewer shots of pigeon racing. It’s hard to see how the sport plays out, for all we see is these birds in flight and a stopwatch in the referee’s hand. The director’s excessive fondness for slow motion makes things worse. But it’s hard to stay cross with a film with such a big, beating heart. Even the pigeons get a love angle – they fly better when with their mates. There’s birth: a chick crawls out of an egg. There’s death: a pet dog is accidentally killed. The cycle of life, in these parts, isn’t just restricted to the humans.
Watch the lyric video of Pyaar Pyaar from Parava here: