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Review Malayalam

Paka (River Of Blood) review: Riveting saga of the cyclical nature of violence

Release Date: 13 Sep 2021 / 01hr 41min

Cinestaan Rating

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Suyog Zore

Helmed by first-time director Nithin Lukose, this multi-layered film packs a solid punch with its seamless storytelling.

Paka (River Of Blood) is a story about the cyclical nature of violence from one generation to the next and how it ends up destroying the lives of even innocents.

Deep in the hilly forests of Wayanad district, a seemingly idyllic part of north Kerala, flows a river that is now a graveyard for two families who have been feuding for decades, always looking to settle scores.

The river has been witness to plenty of gruesome deaths involving the families. One old character remarks, "The river is thirsty and only blood can quench its thirst."

In between the feuding families and their thirst for revenge is a powerful romance involving Johnny (Basil Paulose) and Anna (Vinitha Koshy) which threatens to end the old certainties. The couple have somehow kept themselves away from all the violence and are probably the only two people who can end the cycle of vengeance, but how long can they maintain their air of detachment and allow their love to rise above the stench of blood and the watery graveyard that almost has a call of its own.

Johnny and Anna are all set to get married in secret, but their plan is thrown into disarray when Johnny’s uncle Kocheppu (Jose Kizhakkan) is released from prison after a decade. His return to Wayanad is scored with the theme muksic for the WWE's most prominent and spookiest wrestler, The Undertaker. The wrestler enjoyed mythical status among Indian fans and the theme probably signifies Kocheppu's stature.

The film opens with a body being fished out of the river by an old man with a big white moustache. Another old man sits on the other bank listening to live cricket commentary on a transistor. Johny's younger brother Paachi (Athul John) returns home and informs his grandmother about what he has just seen. Paachi's ailing grandmother, whose face we never see, has obviously seen a great deal of violence and endured a lot of loss in her time. But despite her age she never stops reminding the boy not to forget his duty to his family.

Paachi, who seems like a happy-go-lucky teenager who enjoys playing football with friends, gets slowly sucked into the never-ending cycle of violence. Not just the family members, even the weapons they use go through the same cycle as they are passed down from one generation to the next with just one aim: revenge. There are also ghosts who observe the bloodletting with a sense of fulfilment. Maybe they are happy that they have finally escaped the cycle.

First-time filmmaker Nithin Lukose takes the conventional revenge story and presents it in such a raw manner that it never loses your interest despite some dull moments. The film uses the first half, especially the first 30 minutes, to establish the various characters and plot points. Though certain characters might come across as minor initially, we realize their importance in the second half when they play major roles in taking the story forward. While nothing much happens in the first half, the artistes more than make up for the dull period with their performances.

The film gathers pace in the second half and never lets you rest until the unsettling climax. Paka (River Of Blood) is only 100 minutes long, yet the writer-director has managed to give enough time to each scene and character to make their presence felt. There is never a moment when you feel like the filmmaker is trying to just hurry up towards the climax.

The screenplay moves seamlessly. The film is best appreciated in memorable snapshots — incredibly well-written scenes that slowly but surely get you accustomed to this world of violence. The only issue may be that the film pushes Anna and Johnny's relationship to the background once the violence starts to come to the foreground. If the filmmaker had spent some more time on the relationship, it would have made a greater emotional impact.

Paka examines what it might take for people to break free of the cycle of generational sin, and whether it is even possible. For instance, Kocheppu, though he has spent years atoning behind bars, is still the object of the anger of Anna's family.

Kocheppu is genuinely ashamed of his actions and can't face his past and the crimes he had committed. He wishes he had led a better life. It's the pain of seeing your loved ones pay the price for your sins that makes him sad. You also feel for him as the writer-director smartly presents only his vulnerable side. We only know he killed someone; how and why is not revealed until much later. The film also smartly uses the river as one of its important motifs.

Pava (River Of Blood) is an ensemble film and all the artistes have done an excellent job. Most are newcomers and non-professional artistes, but never once do you get that feeling while watching the film. Basil Paulose and Jose Kizhakkan are top notch. There is not a single false note in their performances. Even the artistes in minor roles bring forth their A-game.

Paka (River Of Blood) marks a promising debut by a filmmaker to watch out for.

Paka (River Of Blood) was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021 and screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival 2022 and the 20th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.


Related topics

IFFLA Toronto International Film Festival

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