Malayalam films have a way of making you complacent and then hooking you in with their narrative. “Paka: River of Blood” is the story we would get if “Romeo and Juliet” was darker, while still being grounded in reality. It is the story of Johnny and Anna, who come from two opposing families. Both of them want to get married to each other, but their families’ history is stopping them from taking the step. But the story is far from sunshine and roses. There is no happy reconciliation at the end or a compromise by the families for the sake of their children. Without showing a single drop of blood on-screen, we see a movie set in a universe where revenge is the law and God, and nothing matters in front of it.
We applaud the makers for coming up with a strong storyline and having enough faith in it to not resort to dramatic music or unnecessary theatrics to drive home the emotions of the script. The makers clearly trusted the audience’s intelligence, something most pieces of content these days don’t bother with. Let us see how this story goes.
Does Kacheppu Agree To Let Anna And Johnny Marry?
“Paka” starts with the people of the village waiting for their local swimmer, Jose, to retrieve a dead body from the water. When Johnny discusses this with his friends, they say that it couldn’t have been a murder because if it was, the body would have belonged to either their family or Varkey’s family. Their feud has been going on for generations and has resulted in the deaths of a lot of people from both families. But since the death of Anna’s father at the hands of Kacheppu, who is Johnny’s uncle, it has been at a temporary truce as he is serving time in jail for his crime. Johnny and Anna are in love and want to get married to each other. They are aware of their family’s history and the existing tensions but believe that it must have come to an end after Kucheppu went to jail.
When he returns after serving a 15-year sentence, the lovers are ill at ease as they suspect that he might want to restart the conflict. But Kucheppu has sobered up with his revenge agenda. He acknowledges that he wasted his life due to it and has no desire to let his family do the same. He blesses the couple and asks Anna to forgive him for killing her father in a fight. Unfortunately, Varkey’s family does not share Kucheppu’s thoughts. They brutally murder him and disposed of his body.
When Johnny finds his uncle missing, his first reaction is to look for him in the river, because that is where the bodies are thrown off. This action shows that his murder was expected, maybe even anticipated. But nothing was actively done to stop it. We cannot think of any other explanation for this other than the force of tradition. It is traditional to pay for blood with blood. And Kucheppu’s murder was expected. As Johnny is figuring out what his next step will be, Pacchi, his little brother, sets out to kill Thankan for revenge. But Thankan, a fully grown man, gets the best of him. Johnny jumps in to protect his brother, ultimately having to kill Thankan. They put his body in a sack and threw him in the river.
Anna is being forced by her family to get married to a boy in Canada, against her wishes. She asks Johnny to run away with her, but he is held back by his familial obligations to his brother and ailing grandmother. To avenge Thankan’s death, Joey and his friends set out to kill Johnny, but luckily for him, he manages to escape. Many, including Anna, assume that he has been killed when he doesn’t return for many days. Anna decides to go to a convent, away from her family and the bloodshed that they refuse to let go of.
Johnny eventually comes back, and as he walks down the road, the exact same way Kucheppu had, which had restarted the whole conflict, we know that he has no intention of peace. When Joey sees Johnny alone, he is infuriated. And as his revenge, he sets out to kill. Something interesting happens here. Joey’s father forbids him from killing anybody on that day, as it is a festival, and their tradition does not let them shed blood on such an auspicious day. He tells him that murdering someone on that day would sully their family name. But Joey doesn’t care. The families had been taking each other’s lives for years, because revenge had become a part of their blood, and it had become a tradition to kill. But when vengeance rules the mind, actions are not executed based on a code of conduct. They are run by raw, irrational emotions. And Joey sets out to kill. But his target is not Johnny. It is Paachi.
‘Paka’ Ending Explained- Does The Feud Between The Families End? Do Johnny And Anna Get Married?
When Johnny discovers that Paachi is dead, there is no turning back for him. He does the deed and kills Joey. But his very next step is to throw away all of the knives and sickles in the river, signifying an end to the feud. Johnny and Anna get married and go on to have a baby, signifying the start of a new and happy life for them.
When it comes to if the feud really ended, it did not happen because the people decided to let it go, but because there was no one left to kill, or so we assume. So when Varkey’s grandson takes his seat as he looks at the picture of his dead grandfather, we know that the instilled fire for revenge in his heart burns strong. This means that there is still someone who can kill, and there is someone for him to kill, which could be Anna’s new family. But this is just an assumption. He is still young, and maybe seeing a happy family in front of his eyes changes his mind as he grows up.
Final Thoughts: What Makes ‘Paka’ Spectacular?
There is a reason the makers of the film opted for next to no background music. With most movies, the audience is the voyeur for whom the storyteller is putting on a performance. With “Paka: River of Blood,” the story has been written for the characters. The characters are aware of the nature of the happenings, and their grief and shock are personal to them. They do not need the audience to understand or comprehend it, which is why they have done away with the dramatics of it. And that is exactly what works for the movie—the authenticity of how it stays true to the story.
Perhaps the most chilling part of “Paka” was the scene with Paachi’s grandmother, where she tells him laughingly how she has been fanning the flames of revenge for so long. We never see her face, not even once. And we don’t need to. It is enough that we understand that our darkest emotions are our very own, no matter who we project them on to.
“Paka” is an extremely hard-hitting movie, but it is still difficult to recommend it to others, simply because of the nature of the story. It is hard to even talk about it, because that is how much this affects us, with its narrative. This is the kind of story that improves your taste in cinema. And we are glad Anurag Kashyap decided to produce it and helped it reach a larger audience.
“Paka: River of Blood” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film written and directed by Nithin Lukose.