While M. Padmakumar’s Orissa is a love story set in a feudal backdrop.

Love in the time of violence. That is what Orissa, M. Padmakumar’s latest film, is about. A photograph of a hut guarded by a policeman triggered this story of love in Orissa. “I was struck by that grim photograph of a girl who had to live under the shadow of the gun. I wondered about the relationship between that beleaguered girl and that lonely police officer. That motivated me to think of a film exploring their relationship,” says filmmaker Padmakumar.

The snap accompanied an article about a young girl in North India who was given police protection to prevent her from being forced into the flesh trade. “It is based on a real-life incident. In that feudal set-up, the upper caste feudal lord could pick the girl of his choice, who would then be forced to become a Devadasi. When a mother protested against her daughter being forced into the system, she was shot and the girl was given police protection,” narrates Padmakumar.

Unni Mukundan plays the police officer, Christhudas, while Sainika Nambiar, whom we saw as a child actor in Olympian Anthony Adam, debuts as the heroine, Suneyi. Incidentally, Unni had worked in the director’s previous film, Ithu Pathiramanal, as well. “Unni has evolved into an excellent actor. He has lived this role on screen,” says Padmakumar.

Although Suneyi speaks only Oriya, romance has a language that breaks barriers. Christhudas’ sympathy for her predicament turns into empathy and love. Stories of today are what attract Padmakumar who tries his hand at making a love story for the first time in his career. Known for his gritty tales that negotiate spaces between reality and perceived realities, trials and tribulations, Padmakumar agrees that this is an experimental film that is set in Orissa and shot in Cuttack. “Portions of it were also canned in Mysore and Gundalpet. Our art director had a tough job setting up an Oriya village in south India,” says Padmakumar. Several actors speak in Oriya to lend authenticity to the movie. There is even an Oriya song featured on Kaniha.

“I wanted a fresh face to play Suneyi and that is why I cast a debutante in the role. Kaniha plays Chandrabhaga, her elder sister who had no choice but become a Devadasi according to the outdated custom of the land,” adds Padmakumar.

G.S. Anil has scripted the film that has been shot by Vinod Illambally. Music has been composed by Ratheesh Vega.