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Parava is a joy to the senses. Another remarkably worthy addition to the new age of Malayalam cinema, this is a film directed by Soubin Shahir, who has been wowing us primarily as an actor for the last few years.Through this film, which released a few years back but one which I came across only now as part of my COVID lock down watches, he continues the fine recent tradition of actors and directors in Malayalam cinema who seem comfortably adept at switching between the roles behind and in front of the camera. An instance of which in this movie is of the ace director Aashiq Abu doing a small role as a police officer. Truly a wondrous time to be a fan of this state’s regional cinema.

The movie’s credit sequences start the artistic assault (in a good way) on our senses with some creative wordplay. The story opens up on two kids finding an impressively innovative way to take back a fish which was stolen from them back to their own home. The two kids are Ichaapi or Irshad (Amal Sha) and Haseeb (Govind Pai) and they live in a tightly knit, both literally and metaphorically, community in Mattanchery (an old and densely packed locality around Kochi in Kerala). The movie opens us up slowly to the life of these clever kids and we realize that they love the pigeons they keep in their terrace garden. They take the birds out and release them into the soaring sky to time their flying efforts before they come back. There is a pigeon race which happens every year in the locality and the kids want to make sure they are up to scratch. It’s a serious business this. Tactics, both legitimate and underhanded, are brought into play to make sure the opposing teams’ pigeons don’t soar on race day. One of these involves sometimes stealing away your competitor’s pigeon, or a pigeon’s mate, which will make the pigeon disoriented when flying. The main rival for the kids is the team led by Shine Tom Chacko’s character, who doesn’t miss a beat on their preparations.

Away from the battlefield, there are other concerns too for the growing boys. Ichaapi has failed his class and has to repeat the year,while his best friend moves on to the next year. Luckily, his teacher, a refreshingly positive performance from Unnimaya Prasad, is on his side and she promotes him to the role of class leader. He also finds the flushes of first love for a new girl who has come to their school. The way this girl exits his life is played as a lighthearted moment in the film, but it has a quiet intensity underlying the confusion of the two boys. Just as they had been, we too get surprised at what happens and the moral ambiguity of the situation in a place where too many young girls get married off as soon as they attain puberty and discontinue further studies.

Also, there is darkness lurking in the shadows of this picture of adolescent ingenue. Ichaapi’s brother, Shane (Shane Nigam), is a quietly disillusioned presence in the background of their pigeon adventures and is usually seen wordlessly mouthing off his sorrows into the puffs of cigarette smoke he lets out into the indifferent air of the city. There is a story there,and in why he hardly talks to his family, including his father (played by the ever-reliable Siddique), and his friends from the locale. The friends are an easy-going bunch who have had their own struggles to grow into the adults they are now. These characters are played with irrepressible conviction by a bunch of young actors, like Arjun Asokan, Jacob Gregory among others. The story of their friendship and Shane’s current plight is one which flashes onto the screen when Ichappi and Haseeb come across a couple of lowlifes who trigger powerful memories, and not very good ones, in their minds. A more innocent time, when the young men were mostly enamored by the local cricket rivalries and the young women they fancied, unfolds on screen. Dulquer Salmaan makes a powerful extended cameo in this section, proving that the charisma of his father is rooted firmly within him too, lighting up the screen whenever he is on it. This part of the narrative has an account of a completely avoidable tragedy in the lives of these people, the echoes of which resonate into the lives of Ichaapi and Haseeb and the others in the present day.

The film is a lovely slice of life account of life in the by-lanes of this cloistered area but it mixes this with some eye-catching cinematography that brings alive the sights and sounds of the place in brilliant clarity. Showy, yes, but not off-putting. The performance, as already mentioned, are all beautifully rendered by a range of actors from young to old. Soubin Shahir himself appears as one of the antagonists, as well as Sreenath Bhasi in roles off the beaten track for both of them, and they inspire the necessary menace to this picture of an otherwise tranquil existence. The pigeon racing too has been captured incredibly well, and the bond the young boys share with their birds are shown in the heartfelt little vignettes, like the way they transfer water from their mouths to the beaks of the birds, as well as the loving way they look at the recently hatched ones. Speaking of which, the heart and soul of this film are the two boys and they are perfect for the roles; mixing up the wide-eyed innocence and growing pains as boyhood turns into adolescent teenage angst with the alacrity of new performers but the attention to detail of seasoned performers. I hope we get to see much more of these boys in film.

It could have been a perfect little movie, but I do wish they just stuck more to the pigeon racing and story of the boys. In the latter half and especially towards the end, the story does veer off a little into revenge fantasy mode, with even the adults stepping in, but this is forgivable. On the whole, this is a film which captures one’s heart and stays there. A must-watch for all.