There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Pada, featuring Vinayakan, Joju George, Kunnchako Boban and Dileesh Pothan. Pada, which means battalion, is based on a real incident that took place in Kerala 26 years ago, when four members of the pro-Maoist group Ayyankali Pada broke into the Palakkad collector’s office and held hostage collector at the time, WR Reddy, for almost nine hours. Four members of the group, Kallara Jayan, Ajayan Mannur, Kanhangad Rameshan and Vilayodi Shivankutti, held the Palakkad collector hostage, demanding the withdrawal of the revised tribal bill passed by the then leftist government under EK Nayanar.
Kamal KM, who helmed the critically acclaimed Hindi film ID in 2012, returns to direct with Pada, who is sure to generate discussion on the unresolved issues of tribals and other marginalized communities. As the film is set to be released on Friday, Kamal talks about the inspiration behind Pada, the research for the film and the politics of his project.
What inspired you to make a film based on a real incident that happened 25 years ago?
I can only speak about my personal inspiration for making this film. I don’t want to go into the history of the movie before its release because it’s not correct. I believe that a film belongs to the spectators. As the movie is based on a real incident, I don’t want to kill the interest of the movie by telling the story. The film highlights the condition of tribal communities in India and Kerala. Although this incident happened 25 years ago, the cause for which these four people risked their lives remains unresolved. The problems of the community always remain the same; it hasn’t progressed a bit. The community which constitutes only one percent of the total population is marginalized by the mainstream society even now. Even if we look at international politics, we can see how indigenous communities in many countries have been brought into the mainstream and are protected. But here they are still among the most marginalized communities. So when I make a film about an incident that happened 25 years ago, people reflect and discuss the relevance of that film, the 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 to mainstream audiences through film?
Through a film, we can ask ourselves questions. Every movie gives an experience, whether it’s a romantic movie or a horror movie. If the movie only gives entertainment, it will only last until the moment you are in the theater. However, if a movie lingers in your mind even after you leave the theater, it transforms your thoughts. This film is a question addressed to society. I hope every viewer will ask themselves this question. In this process, new questions may arise. I don’t think a film can change society or the world. Instead, a film has the power to ask questions, sometimes disturbing questions.
You chose popular faces like Vinayakan, Kunnchako Boban, Dileesh Pothan and Joju George to play the main characters. Was it a conscious decision to cast popular actors for a subject like this?
When you think about making a movie, certain faces come to mind to make certain characters. In this film, for the main characters, we had to understand the characteristics of these characters. I even tried to choose actors whose appearance is similar to the real people involved in the incident. When casting actors, we gave priority to factors that fit the characteristics of all the main characters in the film. This is how Vinayakan, Kunchako, Dileesh and Joju were chosen for Balu, Rakesh, Narayanankutty and Aravindan respectively. Kani Kusruthi plays the role of Vinayakan’s wife. I tried to include pan-Indian actors like Prakash Raj who fit naturally into the film’s narrative.
What kind of research went into the film?
I started the research for this film at the beginning of 2018. When we first decided to turn this real incident into a film, my first doubt was whether a real incident could be turned into a cinematic narrative, with moments drama, visual range, etc. So I had long conversations with the real people involved in the 1996 incident. Talking to them, I was convinced that there were 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 the revolutionary movements in Kerala through conversations with RK Bijuraj, a prominent journalist who has written extensively on the history of the revolutions in Kerala. I also had conversations with DGP Jacob Punnoose and CP Nayar to understand the due process that unfolded following the hostage taking. Finally, I met WR Reddy who was being held hostage by Ayyankali Pada. I met Reddy and his wife in Hyderabad.
I had long interviews with all those people who were involved in the real incident and dig into what went through their minds that day. My script was enriched by the details I learned from the conversations I had with them. For me, research is important for every scenario, even if it is pure fiction. There were moments of wonder during my research that I cannot reveal now. I included it in the movie. The film changed because of these details that we obtained 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. Although Menon died a few years ago, I read about him and his role in this incident. When the police made threats, he actually defied the police. He was such a fearless person. Although I was unable to 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 the former very well. Ravi knew about Menon’s demeanor, his stance on issues, and his character. It was a blessing.
How did you maintain the balance between a real incident and the demands of a mainstream film?
I didn’t compromise anything for this film. In order to keep a lucid cinematic language, we made some small changes to the real story. Other than that, we haven’t made any changes. Most of the film is based on the research I did for him. I didn’t have to include a romantic song or piece.
The real incident happened when the left wing government was ruling Kerala. Now, when the film comes out, a left-wing government is in charge. What can you tell us about this coincidence?
I certainly have an answer to the question, but I can’t reveal it until the movie comes out. But the film answers this question. This coincidence that the real event happened while the left was in power and that the film comes out while another left-wing government is in power shows us how those left-wing parties that came to power through various revolts and events deal with some issues related to marginalized communities. Seeing that the youths have to come out against these ruling leftist parties due to some of their unjustifiable policies also shows the layers of the long history of Kerala revolutions. I am sure people will also discuss the consequences and repercussions should such an incident occur nowadays.
What is the attitude of Ayyankali Pada members now?
They were convinced of what they were doing back then and they don’t regret their actions now. In court, they never pleaded to acquit. The fact that the questions they raised 25 years ago are still unanswered makes them even more convinced of what they did back then. They couldn’t believe it when I told them that I was making a film about their act of revolt. Now they think this movie will be recognition for what they did. I was a student when this incident happened. Now to make a movie based on what they did with traditional and popular actors is a tribute to their efforts. With the release of this film, I hope people will discuss many more tribal community protests and movements. They also believe that this film can start discussions on the problems faced by tribal communities.