“Pada” brings to attention a true event that unfolded in Kerala and shook the State Government. The film revolves around a group of four who fought for the rights of the Adivasi community with a toy gun, ropes, and pipes.
While all might not agree with the way they fought, the necessity of radical protest cannot be dismissed. The way the film deals with the incident is commendable. Kamal K.M brilliantly brings together the difference in ideology and the similarity in purpose between the “Ayyankali Pada” activists and the collector, Ajay Shripad Dange (based on W.R. Reddy).
The “Ayyankali Pada,” named after the eminent social reformer Ayyankali, advocated for the rights of the Adivasi community. Their demand was for the Kerala government to revoke the 1996 amendment of the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction of Transfer of Land and Restoration of Alienated Land) Act 1975. The controversial Bill passed by the Kerala Government in the interest of the Adivasis, in effect, made it impossible to restore alienated lands to them. While the fight for land, forest and water continues for the Adivasis, “Pada” brings the conversation into the mainstream.
The morning of October 4, 1996, was unlike any other. The collector, Ajay Shripad Dang, entered his office in Palakkad and was held hostage by four men who entered the premises as visitors. With a gun in their possession, along with dynamite and bombs, the group locked the collector in a room. The police were instructed to take no drastic steps for the safety of the hostage.
The collector, Dange, wanted to resolve the matter through conversation, but the activists wanted immediate action. It was their form of protest for the oppressed; it was through disruption that they hoped the State Government would take action according to their demand. The film keeps its focus steady by not exploring anything beyond the act; it only deals with the 3rd and 4th of October. The Ayyankali Pada had planned to hold the collector hostage on the 3rd, but the absence of Dange led to a change of plan. It worked in their favor as they were able to assemble the bombs and dynamite.
The police noticed a member of the Ayyankali Pada, Rakesh Kanhangad, on the streets the previous morning and drove him to the police station. They recognized him from a past case in which he was accused of burning down a bus. But after enquiring about it, they found that he was acquitted. They checked his bag and found dozens of broken pipes, wires, and ropes. Rakesh responded that he was now involved with a theater group, and they required the materials to build a few fake pieces of equipment. To think about it later, the hostage situation was nothing short of a theater drama unraveling. A drama that demanded quick action, that decided to bring the fight of the marginalized into prominence, and that was able to cause discomfort to all those in power.
The film explores the relationship that developed between the collector and the activists over an issue that they wanted to resolve, albeit in vastly different ways. The collector represented the government and hoped to bring changes by working within the system. He was aware of the Palakkad district crisis, and he was going through the nitty-gritty legalities required to bring reform into action. The Marathi collector represents a percentage of civilians who have faith in the judiciary system, and it is through education and legal assistance that they hope to bring forth change. Unlike the activists who had reached their threshold of tolerance and were putting their lives at risk for the marginalized, After a few hours spent with the collector, they realized he was not a threat, and they untied him. Even though the collector was a government official, he was sympathetic to the cause and did not try to escape from the scene.
With the help of a mediator, Adv. Jayapalan, and Judge Justice Thankappan Achari, the group tried to resolve their case. The conversation was recorded by the media, who were allowed to enter to witness their demand. The judge promised to work on the case file but reasoned that it was impractical to expect an immediate change. Adv. Jayapalan also spoke in favor of Ayyankali Pada’s free release since they did not harm the collector, and there was no casualty. The collector spoke for the group. He testified that he was treated well by them and that their cause was genuine. The police agreed to not take any further steps owing to zero casualties. The group showed the audience that they did not have any real weapons in their possession. They had toy guns, and their dynamite and bombs were made out of pipes and ropes. It was their protest, their reaction against the injustice they witnessed and their way of bringing attention to the Adivasi community. The actual footage shows one of the members discussing how their protest was to prove how “all reactionaries are paper tigers,” a famous quote by Mao Tse Tung, invoking how they were able to dismantle even the most powerful through their actions.
All promises were not kept, as we learn in the end. According to the true event, the police had filed a case against six people the next day. Collector W.R.Reddy was transferred within a week. He was accused of defending the accused before the Enquiry Commission. The District Judge also had to face the consequences in his career. The mediator, Adv. Veerachandra Menon, refused to cooperate with the Enquiry Commission; he even challenged the police to arrest him. Vilayodi Sivankutti, Ajayan Mannoor, and Rameshan Kanhangad were sentenced to prison for three years on November 27, 2003. According to the judge, it was the social significance of their actions that helped them get a reduced sentence. When Kallara Babu surrendered on November 13, 2015, he was acquitted by the court. The film ends with a collage of various clips devoted to the numerous protests held by the Adivasis. The neglected and landless continue to fight for their rights to this day.
In an honest attempt at creative liberties, “Pada” retells the 10-hour long hostage situation. The film unveils one tense situation after another, keeping the audience engrossed throughout the runtime. An incident that perhaps is forgotten by many is reinvigorated by the film bringing into attention, not just those who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their community but also the cause that remains significant even now.
“Pada” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film written and directed by Kamal K.M.