American film critic Pauline Kael once said, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” This stands true to these thriving film technicians and artists who collectively produced an independent Malayalam short film titled Kaakka (The Crow) amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The short film released on the Neestream OTT platform on April 14 under the pay-per-view category.
As many as 256 budding technicians and artists working in the Malayalam film industry are part of a WhatsApp group called Vellithira which was formed in 2016. When the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were relaxed in 2020, they collaborated to make a short film. That’s when director Aju Ajeesh pitched the idea of Kaakka.
The 30-minute-long film, produced under the banner Vellithira, follows a 25-year-old woman named Panchami who doesn’t conform to the “ideal beauty standards” set by the society- fair skin, chiselled face, curvy body. While she is ridiculed and rejected for her dark skin tone and buck teeth, Panchami realises that she needs to embrace herself and outgrow the unrealistic beauty standards. The film emphasises that true beauty comes from within.
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Speaking to Silverscreen India, director Ajeesh said, “We wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a woman who doesn’t fit the socially-constructed beauty standards. Panchami’s character is inspired by some of the people I’ve met in my life who have faced colourism.”
The short film is written by Ajeesh along with his friends Shinoj Eenikkal and Gopika K Das.
Talking about the film’s title, Ajeesh said it refers to Panchami’s inner conflict where she feels she’s invisible or unnoticed by the people, because of her “unpleasant” look, and is similar to a crow. According to Panchami, the crow is an unnoticed creature and is considered as the symbol of death or bad omen as people only remember it when they have to offer food in memory of deceased ancestors.
The film’s budget of Rs 3 lakh was collected from the members of the Vellithira WhatsApp group, Ajeesh said.
“None of the artists or technicians claimed their remuneration as it was a collective effort with a common goal to produce a short film,” he said.
The film was shot for six days in Aluva, Kerala, in December 2020, abiding by the Covid-19 protocols. “Though Kaakka is a short film, we have used best the equipment to produce a high quality output similar to that of a feature film. Besides, our characters in the film demand a certain look like buck teeth, for which we got an expert doctor to design the prosthetics,” Ajeesh said.
Actor Lakshmika Sanjeevan, who played Panchami, told Silverscreen India: “I was initially sceptical to play the role. However, the director’s narration and references helped me understand the character better and retain the authenticity of required emotion. And I think it helped in delivering good output.”
She said it was challenging to act with her fake buck teeth and would bleed in between shots.
“I have worked as a character artist in around eight Malayalam films, but Kakka is the first one where I got to play the lead role. Playing Panchami was challenging and a life-time learning experience. Many celebrities including Dileesh Pothan, Vishnu Unnikrishnan congratulated me for the success of the short film,” she said.
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Ajeesh said when they contacted Neestream for featuring the short film, the panel was impressed with their work.
“Since the short film is of good quality, they suggested we opt for pay-per-view scheme. Kaakka is probably the first Malayalam short film to be viewed under the pay-per-view category. However, we are planning to release Kaakka on YouTube by next month. The short film has received eight awards from the Indian International Film Award and Celluloid Short Film festival,” he said.
While Tony Lloyd Aruja handled the camera, Abin Sagar composed the background music and Pradeep Baabu composed the film’s song. The film’s creative head was Althaf PT, who is the admin of the Vellithira WhatsApp group. Make-up was done by Joshy Jose and Vijeesh Krishnan.
Ajeesh has previously directed short films like Psycho in Tamil, Kunnikuru and Bra in Malayalam.