Paka (River of Blood), the Malayalam feature film directed by Nithin Lukose, will be screened at the 46th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which is to be held between September 9 and 18, 2021. The film has been selected in the Discovery section, which showcases the first or second features of filmmakers.

The film, produced by Studio 99 Films in association with Alif Talkies Productions, also won the Prasad Lab DI Award after being selected for the Work-in-Progress Lab 2020 of National Film Development Corporation’s Film Bazaar.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, Nithin says Paka is a drama film that revolves around vengeance. “My grandmother had told me many stories in childhood. And one of them was about a feud between two families that led to an act of vengeance.” These stories eventually inspired him make the film.

One of the co-producers of Paka is filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. Nithin tells us it was veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan who suggested he show it to Kashyap after watching the film’s first cut. “Anurag liked it and said he’d like to be a part the project. He helped us with reshooting a few bits, editing, and also marketing. Paka became a bigger film after he came onboard.”

In a statement, Anurag Kashyap said, “Malayalam Cinema is at the moment leading India on the world stage and I am so grateful to be associated with it in a small way. Paka is yet another powerful debut from a rooted new voice.

Nithin, an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India, has worked as the sound designer for the Kannada film Thithi, the Hindi film Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, the Telugu film Mallesham, and several others. He has won several awards including Resul Pookutty – IIFA Foundation scholarship award in 2010 and the Golden Leopard award at Locarno International Film Festival. He has also been the production sound mixer for Hollywood directors like Bennet Miller and Julie Taymor.

“I hail from Wayanad in north Kerala. In 2018, I was working on Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar in Bombay and for some reason, the project got delayed and I came home during that break. That’s when I got the idea to make a film that tells the story of my native place,” the filmmaker says. 

Nithin notes that aside from his grandmother’s stories of family feuds, other elements that inspired him to write Paka included the history of the Orappu Puzha, a dangerous river with a lot of trenches, and the migration of the Christian diaspora from south Kerala to Wayanad in the 1950s. 

“I learned that dead bodies of people (who died due to natural disasters, murders and accidents) were dumped in the Orappu river. And there is a middle-aged man named Jose in our village who has been retrieving these bodies for many years. All these things stayed with me for years and I put them together to create the fictional story of Paka,” Nithin says, adding that he first visited the film’s locations before writing the script in 2018-19.

The film’s synopsis reads: “In North Kerala, a serpentine river witness to the long and bloody cycle of vengeance between two feuding families. Johnny and Anna, a young couple, wish to end the hatred within their families with their love and begin a life together. However, the return of Johnny’s uncle Kocheppu, after imprisonment and his subsequent disappearance becomes a hurdle in their path of love and forces them onto the path of blood, murder, and revenge.”

When he had nearly completed the script, Nithin pitched the idea to Raj Rachakonda, producer and director of Mallesham, and he agreed to produce Paka

In a statement, the producer said, “I decided to produce a film for one of the crew members who helped me make my directorial debut, Mallesham. Of the four scripts narrated to me, I opted to produce Nithin’s because Paka is a poignant story about people’s simultaneous capacity for love and cruelty that displays great depth and emotion.”

Nithin notes that since it is a film about vengeance, Paka features a lot of violence, but these are not shown explicitly. “We have adopted a sensitive and disciplined approach when it comes to cinematography, sound design, and other technical aspects.”

Paka’s technical crew includes cinematographer Srikanth Kabothu, editor Arunima Shankar, and music composer Faizal Ahamed.

The film was shot in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country.

Speaking about the casting process, the filmmaker says 90% of the characters in the film are played by non-actors chosen from among the residents of his village. And this includes his 88-year-old grandmother Mariakutty, who inspired him to make Paka, in a significant role. 

“We set up a camp in the village and conducted a two-month acting workshop for locals with the help of my friend Suraj, who is also an alumnus of FTII,” he adds.

The film also stars Basil Paulose, Vinitha Koshy, Jose Kizhakkan, Athul John, Nithin George, and Joseph Manickal.

The team of Paka will be concentrating on festival screening for the next six months, followed by a public release.

Nithin feels really positive about the current scene of indie Malayalam films. “There are a bunch of really talented filmmakers like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, Sajin Baabu, and Don Palathara who have taken Malayalam films to some of the greatest international film festivals. Also, OTT has opened the door for good quality content. I hope many more aspiring artists venture into filmmaking to tell some good stories.”