Based on an actual incident in 1996, this tightly wound hostage drama has its nervous tics and politics in the right place. Writer-director Kamal K.M. sets up a divergent team of five men who criss-cross into Palakkad city, displacing their familial coordinates (wives of two of them, played by Unnimaya Prasad and Savithri Sreedharan, children, and other unseen and unshown people, but the impact surely cutting broader), undertaking this chevachee to spotlight a much larger, profound displacement. The first 40 minutes of the movie is a restless, kinetic collection of frames as the gang of Rakesh (Kunchacko Boban), Aravindan (Joju George), Babu (Vinayakan), Kutty (Dileesh Pothan), with Usman (Gopalan Adat) converge outside the collector’s office. Part of the Ayyankali Pada (Pada stands for army, Ayyankali, a well-known social reformer), the men want the government to rescind the Adivasi Land Amendment Bill that’s powered to reclaim tribal rights on lands they’ve lived on and ecologically co-existed with. The movie thrums on this tension even as it employs the space and time inside the hostage’s dimensions—collector Ajay Dange’s (Arjun Radhakrishnan)—to take minutes of the cause, swivel the discussion away from the drama building up outside the office, and highlight just how greed and an appetite for funds fuel the machinery to destroy indigenous land and population. As Chief Secretary Rajasekaran (Prakash Raj), mediator Jayapalan (T.G. Ravi), and the collector’s gunman Sadik (Shine Tom Chacko) try to stream the events inside the collector’s office into a steady path from without, the director balances the tension with the message. Buoyed by a powerful cast and Vishnu Vijay’s troubling brass pieces, Pada is disturbing food for thought. Regardless of how this story played out, what’s immutable is that protected land continues to be ravaged for profit and the ‘economy and jobs.’ The tribals are but the first-line victims of this assault. Their displacement will, eventually, cascade into homelessness for us all. (Streaming on Prime)
In story-telling and folklore, the river has been a metaphor for life and death, a river bank akin to a destination or solace. The water gurgles with life and, as with every beating heart, must keep moving until it meets its ultimate fate: an ocean of unfathomable vastness and nothingness. In Paka (Revenge): River of Blood, this streaming service is used as a device, not for its breadth but its depth. Writer and debut director Nithin Lukose tracks a long-forgotten-why-but-existing clash of families that has its roots in the great Malabar Migration of the early 20th century when families from Central Kerala explored newer pastures, thus forever altering the region’s demographic. And thus, we land up in Wayanad, the Orappuzha river winding its way quietly across the populace. It is this stillness that’s disquieting, sound designer Aravind Sundar using booming cinema hall sounds, radio commentary, and little else to slowly ratchet up the tension that’s magnified by Faizal Ahamed‘s uneasy background score and Srikanth Kabothu‘s mesmerizing cinematography. This uneasiness hangs low between two warring families who’ve been killing each other for so long that they don’t even remember the causal trigger anymore. Johnny (Basil Paulose, as calm as the river, but deeper, sadder) and Anna (Vinitha Koshy, hypnotically expressive) hope to break this murderous tradition with their love story. There’s just a speck of hope.
Until Johnny’s uncle, Kocheppu (a marvelous Jose Kizhakkan), returns from jail, full of remorse for the murder he committed that irreversibly changed Anna’s life. With her brothers (Thanakan played by Abhilash Nair, while the terrific Nithin George as Joey makes you brace every time he’s on-screen) baying for blood, the sickle gene in their DNA, it’s only a matter of time before the violence cuts the couple’s plans into pieces. As the flow of violence sucks in the next generation (Johnny’s younger brother Paachi, played by Athul John, while Jeff Stephan Johnson essays the brutal-stare Unni on Anna’s side), Paka raises the question: is this how violence and revenge become part of the evolutionary process, eventually embedding themselves in our genes? With the plasma-coated family trees egged on by the patriarch and matriarch (Varkey played by Joseph Manickal and the unseen grandmother on Johnny’s side played by Mariyakutty), the gory allegory’s hard to miss: the man’s blind and the woman’s demented: the two forces sapping out critical senses, lack of which fills us fragile, foolish humans with anger and violence. The river flows on, true, and if we’re sensible enough, we’ll draw the right life messages from its forward march. But there’s a reason it’s opaque. And that downward and murky force is a more irresistible pull any day. (Streaming on Sony LIV)