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Pada is a question directed at society: Kamal KM

There is a lot of buzz around Pada, starring Vinayakan, Joju George, Kunchacko Boban and Dileesh Pothan. Pada, which means battalion, is based on a real incident that happened in Kerala 26 years ago, when four members from pro-Maoist outfit Ayyankali Pada stormed into the Palakkad collector’s office and held the then collector WR Reddy as hostage for nearly nine hours. Four members of the group, Kallara Jayan, Ajayan Mannur, Kanhangad Rameshan and Vilayodi Shivankutti, held the Palakkad collector as a hostage, demanding the withdrawal of the revised Tribal bill passed by the then left government under EK Nayanar.

Kamal KM, who helmed the critically acclaimed Hindi movie ID in 2012, is returning to direction with Pada, which is bound to generate discussion about the unaddressed issues of tribals and other marginalized communities. As the movie is all set to release on Friday, Kamal talks about the inspiration behind Pada, the research for the movie and the politics of his project.

What inspired you to make a movie based on a real incident that happened 25 years ago?

I can only talk about my personal inspiration that made me do this movie. I don’t want to get into the storyline of the movie before its release as that’s not right. I believe that a film belongs to the viewers. As the movie is based on a real incident, I don’t want to kill the interest of the movie by narrating the story. The movie throws light on the condition of tribal communities in India and Kerala. Though this incident happened 25 years ago, the cause for which these four people risked their lives is still not resolved. The community’s issues still remain the same; it has not progressed a bit. The community which constitutes only one percent of the total population is being marginalized by mainstream society even now. Even if we look at international politics, we can see how the indigenous communities in many countries have been brought into the mainstream and are being safeguarded. But here, they are still among the most marginalized communities. So when I do a movie on an incident that happened 25 years ago, people will think and discuss the relevance of this movie, relevance of the act, and the issues faced by marginalized communities.

How do you think the issues of tribal and other marginalized communities can be brought into the mainstream through the medium of cinema?

Through a film, we can ask questions. Every movie gives an experience, be it a romantic film or horror movie. If the film gives only entertainment, it will last only till the time you are in the theatre. However, if a movie lingers in your mind even after you come out of the theater, it’s transforming your thoughts. This movie is a question directed at society. I hope every viewer will ask that question to themselves. In that process, maybe new questions will arise. I don’t think a movie can change society or the world. Instead a movie has the power to ask questions, sometimes disturbing questions.

You have cast some popular faces like Vinayakan, Kuchacko Boban, Dileesh Pothan, Joju George to play the lead characters. Was it a conscious decision to cast popular actors for a subject like this?

When you think about doing a movie, some faces will come up in your mind to do certain characters. In this movie, for the main characters, we had to understand the characteristics of those characters. I even tried to cast actors whose appearance is similar to the real life persons involved in the incident. While casting actors, we prioritized the factors that match with the characteristics of all the main characters in the movie. That’s how Vinayakan, Kunchako, Dileesh and Joju were cast as Balu, Rakesh, Narayanankutty and Aravindan, respectively. Kani Kusruthi plays the role of Vinayakan’s wife. I tried to include some pan India actors like Prakash Raj who fit in naturally to the movie’s narrative.

What kind of research went into the movie?

I started research for this movie at the start of 2018. When we first decided to make this real life incident into a film, my first doubt was whether a real incident can be made into a cinematic narrative, with dramatic moments, visual scope etc. So I had long conversations with the real people who were involved in the 1996 incident. By talking to them, I was convinced that there are so many cinematic elements to this incident. Kallara Babu, Rameshan Kanhangad, Vilayodi Shivankutty, Ajayan Mannur and MN Ravunni helped me understand Ayyankali Pada. I learned a lot about Kerala’s revolutionary movements through conversations with RK Bijuraj, a prominent journalist who has written extensively about Kerala’s history of revolutions. I also had conversations with the then DGP Jacob Punnoose and CP Nayar to understand the official proceedings that happened following the hostage situation. Lastly, I met WR Reddy who was held hostage by Ayyankali Pada. I met Reddy and his wife from him in Hyderabad.

I had long interviews with all these people who were involved in the real incident and dug out what went through their minds on that day. My script was enriched through the details I gained from the conversations I had with them. For me, research is important for every script even if it’s pure fiction. There were some moments of wonder during my research which I can’t reveal now. I have included it in the movie. The film has changed because of these details we got through research. One of the fascinating things was the casting of TG Ravi as Veerachandra Menon, who was the mediator between Ayyankali Pada and the government. Though Menon died a few years back, I have read about him and his role in that incident. When the police made threats, he actually challenged the police. He was such a fearless person. Though I couldn’t meet him in person, TG Ravi was a close friend of Veerachandra Menon. I didn’t have to explain anything about Menon to Ravi because he knew Menon very well. Ravi knew Menon’s behavior, his stance on issues and his character. That was a blessing.

How did you maintain the balance between a real incident and the demands of a mainstream movie?

I haven’t compromised anything for this movie. In order to keep a lucid cinematic language, we have made some small changes to the real story. Other than that, we haven’t made any changes. Most of the movie is based on the research I did for it. I haven’t been forced to include a song or romantic track.

The real incident happened when the left government was ruling Kerala. Now when the movie is releasing, a left government is in charge. What can you tell us about this coincidence?

I definitely have an answer to the question, but I can’t reveal it before the release of the movie. But the movie addresses this question. This coincidence that the real event happened while the left was ruling and the movie is releasing while another left government is ruling shows us how these left parties who came to power through various revolts and protests deal with some issues related to marginalized communities. To see that youngsters have to come out against these left parties in power due to some of their unjustifiable policies also shows the layers of Kerala’s long history of revolutions. I am sure people will also discuss what would be the consequences and repercussions if such an incident happens in this day and age.

What’s the attitude of the members of Ayyankali Pada now?

They were convinced about what they were doing then and they don’t have any regrets about their acts now. In front of the court, they never argued to acquit them. That the questions they raised 25 years ago is still unanswered makes them even more convinced about what they did then. They couldn’t believe it when I told them I am doing a movie on their act of revolt. Now they think this film will be an acknowledgment for what they did. I was a college student when this incident happened. Now, doing a movie based on what they did with mainstream and popular actors is a tribute to their efforts. With the release of this movie, I hope people will discuss many other protests and movements by the tribal communities. They also believe this movie can initiate discussions about the issues faced by tribal communities.

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