'It is about the fight between two families, why they fight, how they fight and what they feel.'
Sound designer-turned-film-maker Nithin Lukose says his feature debut Paka is heavily influenced by his childhood memories of listening to his grandmother's stories, his hometown Wayanad in Kerala and its people.
The Malayalam film, which translates to The River of Blood in English, is set to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival's Discovery segment and Nithin admits there is "a lot of pressure" as a first-time director.
The prestigious gala will open on September 9 and conclude on September 18.
Nithin, an FTII alumnus, got into sound design after an internship with Oscar winner Resul Pookutty and worked on films like Thithi and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar before taking the directorial plunge.
He said he knew that whenever he would make his first film, it would be connected to the place and people he grew up with.
"In 2019, when I went back home, I got this idea of making a film in my place and while writing also, I felt convinced that my first film should be set in my hometown, among the people, culture and the space that I really know," the director, 36, tells PTI in a telephonic interview.
"Then I started thinking about the story I wanted to tell and I spoke to my father and my grandmother. She is 88 and she has also acted in the film. She had told me a lot of stories of the past, where a lot of migration took place in Wayanad. I would say it is half real and half fiction. I have shot with people I know like my friend and my cousins," he adds.
The official logline of the film describes Paka as a tale of a river that swells with the blood of two feuding families and a young couple that tries to overcome this hatred with their love.
The story of a family feud instantly brings back the memory of Romeo and Juliet, but Nithin said he finds his film closer to the Mahabharata and the story of the Kauravas and Pandavas.
"It is about the fight between two families, why they fight, how they fight and what they feel. In this regard, it is very close to the Mahabharata," he said.
Produced by Anurag Kashyap and Raj Rachakonda, the film features an ensemble cast of Basil Paulose, Vinitha Koshy, Jose Kizhakkan, Athul John, Nithin George and Joseph Manickal.
Paka had earlier won the best WIP project in the Work-in-Progress Lab of NFDC Film Bazaar 2020.
"I wrote the film for a year, did the casting and pre-production and we shot in January last year. So it was a very gradual process of the film. Then NFDC Film Bazaar happened. The NFDC lab really helped and now the film is going to premiere at TIFF. It is a lot of pressure as a first-time director but I am looking forward to it."
Asked about the growing trend of young film-makers exploring their roots in their debut films, Nithin said that's the very idea of a film school, where people from different cultures and languages converge, learn the craft and go back to make the film.
"I also followed that philosophy. I did not know how much I will be able to express, but I knew that it will be truthful in expression as this is something I know personally and this is how I have lived my life. I spent my childhood there, listening to the stories of my grandmother.
"It makes the process of film-making so interesting and maybe many film-makers follow that route because they feel this is the right thing to do."