'Kaadakalam makes viewers complicit in damage'
Following the Kerala State Award-winning film’s release on streaming platforms, co-writer Jinto Thomas shares the experience of making it.
The issues of the tribal community rarely find an interest amongst Malayalam filmmakers. Those who dare to think beyond run-of-the-mill subjects in the hope of doing something for the underprivileged certainly deserve appreciation regardless of how popular their expression of art becomes.
Recently, a tribal-centric film, Kaadakalam, won the Kerala State Film awards for Best Children’s Film and Best Lyricist. The film, directed by Dr Sakhil Raveendran and co-written by Jinto Thomas, is currently streaming on Amazon Prime U.K and U.S and Neestream, Roots, and Saina Play in India. Post the release, Jinto Thomas talked to Cinema Express about making the film which stars real-life father-son duo Da Vinci Satheesh and Santhosh as the main characters, Murugan and Kunjappu, respectively.
Kaadakalam, which also features Kottayam Suresh, revolves around an Adivasi boy who lost his mother when he was just a child. Though the film won multiple awards, Jinto hopes interested viewers wouldn’t treat Kaadakalam as an ‘award’ film. “We have incorporated some commercial cinema elements to make the film more accessible to all kinds of viewers,” he says. “But the topic discussed in the film is pertinent and need of the hour —something of environmental, societal significance and the socio-economic struggles of Adivasis.”
The film, says Jinto, makes the viewers “complicit in environmental damage” while steering clear of showing any visuals of the destruction, such as trees getting uprooted. “We employed sounds to convey the essence,” he continues. “Those trees are very personal to the community; they hold special significance. From their vantage point, they represent their family members,” explains Jinto, who also worked on the film as an associate director. It was during his work on director Leo Thaddeus’s Jayaram-starrer Lonappante Mammodeesa that Jinto met the two abovementioned actors who joined newcomers and locals in the film’s cast. The team shot most of the film in Upputhara, Idukki, and a neighbouring Adivasi region.
“We scouted many locations and found this place apt. One reason for choosing the place is its visual beauty, which happens to be one of the highlights captured by cinematographer Reji Joseph. Art director Biju Joseph’s contribution also cannot be stressed enough. We had to stay in Upputhara and then travel to the set, which took around an hour. We had to rely on the services of a jeep driver, Tomy, and a guide, Sasi, to navigate the area.
“We also had the support of production controller Raju Joseph (who has a part in the film). It was through Raju’s cousin that we reached this location. Moreover, the cooperation of the forest personnel and members of the Adivasi community ensured a smooth shoot. Aside from Idukki, we shot in Kottayam and Ernakulam while adhering to Covid protocols amidst the pandemic. We had a minimum budget and small crew and also had to be cautious about not breaking any forest laws. Naturally, there were some obstacles to circumvent. Since we were shooting in a reserve forest inhabited by Adivasis, we had to be careful about not polluting the surroundings or disrupting their way of life.”
Kaadakalam has music by Athiran-fame PS Jayahari, while Bijibal contributed the vocals to the lyrics by Harinarayanan. Meanwhile, Jinto is working towards a full-length directorial feature. He has already directed a 25-min segment for an anthology starring Nisha Sarang, Da Vinci Satheesh, Jeo Baby, and Vijilesh for the Pratilipi app. He is presently engaged in post-production.