Two South Asian gems at TIFF 2021 - New Canadian Media
Photo collage of the two films (l to r) "Dug Dug" and "Paka (The River of Blood)."

Two South Asian gems at TIFF 2021

TIFF triumphs even in the middle of another pandemic-hit year. NCM’s Iqbal H Chowdhury profiles two debut films from India that showcase off-Bollywood talent.

At TIFF 2021, we had two intriguing films from India in official selection (Discovery section), and neither was from the so-called mainstream cinema or Bollywood.

Dug Dug, directed by Ritwik Pareek, takes place in a remote village of Rajasthan, while Paka (The River of Blood) is set deep in the forests of Kerala. These two powerful-beyond-Bollywood selections ‒ and the directors’ debuts ‒ clearly mark the prowess of Indian regional cinema.

Though the pandemic affected the prestigious film festival, which normally attracts nearly half a million people annually, this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was still a special occasion for South Asian cinema lovers.

Dug Dug

Country: India
Director: Ritwik Pareek
Cast: Altaf Khan, Gaurav Soni, Yogendra Singh, Durgalal Saini
Synopsis: A motorcycle driven by 40-year-old drunkard, Thakur, is recovered and locked up at a nearby police station after his death in a spooky road accident. The “Dug Dug” brand bike mysteriously reappears at the scene, with its locks intact. Baffled, police officers take the bike back to the jail again, but it keeps returning to the scene.   

“Dug Dug” Photo Courtesy: TIFF 2021

Debut director, Ritwick Parek, took an unorthodox subject and handled it skillfully: a freaky motorcycle accident and the birth of a new religion surrounding the bike’s ghostly appearance.

The remarkable motorcycle ride sequence at the beginning sets the mood for the film. The scene is excessively long and, like a slow-burn thriller, the ride gradually becomes intolerable and nerve-wracking. It gives the audience the bizarre and woozy feel of a drunken rollercoaster ride.

It takes a lot of bravery to make a satire out of religion, faith and temples. Though Parek’s satire is a comment on the commercialization of religion, he makes sure to keep it subtle: Dug Dug questions and ridicules but never quite harms.

The storytelling style of Dug Dug is compellingly linear and orthodox. The stylish and thoughtful visual style with astonishing colours also makes it a pure cinematic pleasure. 

You can watch the TIFF trailer here:

Paka (The River of Blood) 

Country: India
Director: Nithin Lukose
Cast: Basil Paulose, Athul John, Jose Kizhakkan, Nithin George, Vinitha Koshy
Synopsis: This story of vengeance is set deep in Kerala’s jungles, where the river is witness to a bloody, generations-old conflict. The love story between a couple named  Anna (Vinitha Koshy) and Johnny (Basil Paulose) soon turns into a grisly thriller when Johnny’s uncle Kocheppu (Jose Kizhakkan), is released from prison after a decade.  

“Paka” Photo courtesy: TIFF

Paka is a story of blood and vengeance and another South Asian gem endorsed by Anurag Kashyap, widely known in the International festival circuit for films like  Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Bombay Velvet (2015) and Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) — movies that share elements like vengeance, greed and deep-rooted family rivalries. This resemblance justifies Kashyap’s attachment with this film as one of the producers. Paka could be dubbed the Godfather of Kerala with more nature in it. 

Paka is the name of the local river which is now a graveyard filled with more blood than water. The intriguing opening scene where a search for a corpse in the Paka river is taking place, lures the audience to the rest of the film. As the director himself explains in his initial message, there is only one person in the whole village who could successfully locate a corpse. 

The love story between Anna (Vinitha Koshy) and Johnny (Basil Paulose) is the dominant aspect in the first half of the film. But what looks like a rural love story quickly turns into a killing spree as the underlying family feud strikes. The elders become bloodthirsty, which provokes the younger generation to kill. 

As the writer-director, Nithin Lukose is equally fascinated by nature and brutality. His style of portraying violence is nerve-wracking and incredibly realistic. Lukose’s work looks closely at understanding the roots of the feuds and how it passes from generation to generation. However, the growing love story loses its track with the emergence of the bloody clash between the two families. The magic realism aspect of the film remains underdeveloped.  

You can watch the TIFF trailer here:

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Iqbal H. Chowdhury is a journalist and filmmaker. He has covered major film festivals around the world including Cannes, Berlinale and TIFF. Chowdhury completed his post-graduation degree from Centennial College, Toronto, in Advance TV and Films. Before moving to Canada, he worked for the daily Prothom Alo, the largest newspaper in Bangladesh, for 10 years.

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