Only blood can quench its thirst.

Set in India, Paka tells the tale of two families, torn apart by hatred and feuding over the past, a love set to bring them together, and a river that connects them all.

On the eve of their marriage, Anna (Vinitha Koshy) and Johnny (Basil Paulose) find themselves struggling to reconcile the hatred between their two families when Johnny’s uncle, Kochappan (Jose Kizhakkan), returns from jail. What ensues is a cautionary tale of revenge and the impact it has on generations not yet come.

If you find the descriptions of Paka to be strangely similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, you wouldn’t be all that far off. All of the components are there – two families, grudges, star-crossed lovers, etc. What sets writer and director Nithin Lukose’s story apart from all the rest is that they craft a story that is rooted familiarity but layered with oral tradition. The film itself begins with a note about how this story has been taken from the tales Lukose’s grandmother used to tell them. This is important because this same form of story-telling and history preservation is the crux of the conflict both families face. They are incapable of moving on past the sins of their elders that no matter how they try to heal the invisible wounds, they still continue to bleed.

Symbolism is one of the film’s strengths and is clearly explored with the river that flows through the city. In many cultures rivers, and bodies of water in general, have strong, spiritual meaning. Using the river Styx from Greek mythology as a blueprint, the river in Paka has an “otherworldly” quality to it. Everyone who has grown up around it knows the dangers that it holds, both spiritual and physical. From the family’s point of view, the river swallows the lives of their family members due to its dangerous currents and easy dumping ground for bodies. Lukose uses this real danger to explore tangible issues, but also uses it to represent the crossing of the river to the afterlife. The river in turn, takes the form of a reaper of death, waiting patiently for the inevitable demise of each family. It’s one of the strongest motives in the film and like it, helps keep the pacing and story flowing along.

Outside of the film’s symbolism, the actors each bring emotionally nuanced performances that partner greatly with the film’s narrative. It’s because of the performances that the story itself is so believable. You are simply watching a group of individuals, who very well could be family, navigate their way through their experiences. Naturally, there is a layer of performance here, much like a play, but through the acting and the other more technical elements, you are left feeling as if you yourself are being told a story about two lovers never meant to be. If this was Lukose’s intention, they’ve pulled it off expertly.

Although starting slow, Paka hits the ground running in its second act and continues down this path until its conclusion. Through heavy symbolism, believable performances, and an overall narrative that feels like a story being told to you, Lukose crafts a familiar tale that will keep you interested until its end.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed on September 26, 2021 at Toronto International Film Festival. Rating: TBC. Running time: 101 min. 

PRODUCTION: A Studio 99 Films film. Producers: Anurag Kashyap & Raj Rachakonda. Executive Producer: Nithin Lukose

CREW: Director/Writer: Nithin Lukose. Editing: Arunima Shankar. Music: Faizal Ahamed. Cinematography: Srikanth Kabothu.

CAST: Basil Paulose, Athul John, Jose Kizhakkan, Nithin George, & Vinitha Koshy

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