Close on the heels of The Kashmir Files, comes Pada a Malayalam film that is also based on a real life story that happened in Palakkad way back in 1996. Pada meaning “Army” is about how a small group of people called the “Ayyankali Pada” take the law into their hands to get justice for the local Adivasi community in Kerala. That the film is set in 1996 is conveyed to us through various props of those period and news items, for example showing Deve Gowda becoming the Prime Minister of India.
When the film title is shown in deep red colour of the Left, you get a hint on the politics of the film. And just within a few scenes you understand that the film is about the fight for land rights. Taking away the land from the sons of the soil and re-distributing to the so called capitalists in the name of development has been a constant fault line in our country. So back in 1996, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, a group of activists take on the administration to repeal a law that has been passed almost unanimously in the Assembly that would mean taking away the lands from the local Adivasis. The film recreates that fight and what happened at the end in the most realistic way possible.
Few minutes into the film, we are introduced a slew of characters who barely talk but we understand that they are into something sinister. From then on, through a combination of some deft camera shots and editing, we are kept hooked onto the suspense that is soon to unravel. Then onwards, it’s a commentary on how a typical establishment comprising of the Police, Administration, Politicians and Judiciary reacts to the unfolding drama and how it all ends. I am deliberately avoiding any spoiler for the benefit of those who haven’t watched the film.
Director Kamal K.M who also doubles up as the writer stays faithful to history and just focusses on bringing it on the big screen realistically. He does this very well through a well-structured screen play, careful selection and framing of his shots, the location selection and of course a talented cast. Though the second half proceedings are a bit slow particularly in the scenes involving the Crisis Management Group, we are kept engaged overall thanks to some fine nuanced performances of the cast comprising some talented names like Joju George, Prakash Raj, Kunjacko Boban, Vinayakan, Dileesh Pothan, Arjun Radhakrishnan, T.G. Ravi and so on. Vinayakan as the fiery activist is a treat to watch. Some other good actors like Indrans and Unnimaya Prasad whose roles appear to be of significance in the movie don’t get much screen time. I guess their scenes got chopped on the editing table.
Camera work by Sameer Thahir is brilliant and the drone shots of the beautiful green forest lands of Kerala right at the beginning set the tone. But more than that, it’s the way the shots are kept edgy to value add to the narrative which is impressive.
The film for most parts proceeds like a thriller but just that the end comes as a bummer in a play back of the end in the real story. Towards the end, the film takes the shape of a docu-drama with the director taking a clear stand on the politics of the story. It’s a bit ironical that a bill that deprives the tribals of their land was passed by a Left Government in Kerala and an activist group with a Left background had to fight their own Government for their rights!
Pada is very well made film and if you are a politics and current affairs buff as I am, it is a must watch. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime.