With his ‘Paka’ (‘River of Blood’) set to to have its World Premiere at the prestigious 46th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, filmmaker Nithin Lukose could not have asked for more. “It’s a matter of great pride. I have always liked that festival. In fact, over the past few years, multiple Malayalam films have been invited there.”
Set in North Kerala, a serpentine river is a 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.
Originally from Wayanad, it was important for Lukose to base his film there though he went to college at a different place before joining FTII in Pune. “I was writing stories at the film school too. Filmmaker Mira Nair’s quote: “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will’ struck me. You can tell a better story surrounded by the elements of your own culture as then, it is not complete fiction, and a lot of real-life elements find a way inside seamlessly.”
For someone who studied sound design and went on to work in ‘Thithi’ in that department, writing has been a long companion. “I was writing poetry and stories even before joining the film school. Sound had always fascinated me, so I decided to do a one-year course in that,” he says.
Remembering how filmmaker Anurag Kashyap came onboard after watching the movie, Lukose says, “A common friend suggested the film to him. When he watched it, he said, ‘I really like it. What is the plan for it?’ Slowly all the pieces started coming together.”
Talk to him about how over the past few years Malayalam cinema has been taking international film festivals by storm, and going places in the world, and the director feels that filmmakers in that language are presenting fresh content, developing new styles and are open to experimentation. “It’s also to do with the culture and literacy. You can make a sensible and people will watch it, and make it a hit. Film literacy is high in Kerala. There is seldom a need to put in elements to cater to the ‘masses’. Also, our cinema operates on a tight budget. I personally feel that the same leads to directors’ pushing creative boundaries.”
Stressing that formal education in cinema has been instrumental in opening his mind to different experiences and exposure to different schools of thought, he says that the five years spent at FTII moulded him into a universal person. “There were film screenings every evening. The seniors, peer group effect you in so many ways, and you begin to look at the world afresh. In fact, my life and art changed, thanks to FTII.”
Adding that India can do with more film schools, he cautions, “The key here is to ensure quality — like in FTII and SRFTI.”
Missing attending film festivals which have been cancelled owing to the pandemic, Lukose says that it is important to be with the audience so as to see their reactions clearly. “It’s a great feeling. Let’s hope physical festivals are back soon,” says the director who is currently writing something new which he hopes to develop next year.
(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)