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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is informing film and television works around the world and Malayalam-language film “Hawk’s Muffin” (“Prappeda”) – selected in this week’s International Film Festival Rotterdam – uses it as a starting point, and adds elements of war to tell a surreal tale set in a dystopian future.

After his plane drops an atomic bomb, a pilot is ordered into hiding by his commanders. The location is an isolated estate where his life intertwines with his daughter, granddaughter, a bodyguard, a priest and a policeman. Things get complicated when the granddaughter befriends a stranger.

“Hawk’s Muffin” is the feature debut of Krishnendu Kalesh, known for his 2017 short satirical noir thriller “Black Beast” (“Karinchathan”), a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack.

“The pandemic is used only as an opportunity to start off a story of century-long conspiracy in the film. I conceived the pandemic period as an occasion for a higher nexus to control people and their movement, and implement their strategies,” Kalesh tells Variety about “Hawk’s Muffin.” “Statistically also, now after two years of pandemic, you can analyze that the rich become richer faster. An organized exploitation of the situation is already proved. I suspect a processed future designed by corporates. I wanted to show that human urge will surpass it.”

The filmmaker added war because “it’s a never-ending, never-resolved human enterprise.”

The film begins with a quote from renowned Indian litterateur Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and on-screen thanks to a few filmmaking stalwarts whose styles and approach have been an influence on Kalesh.

“Vaikom Muhammad Basheer is the most honest and humanly author I came across. He values the environment equally as human beings in the most candid and universal way possible. He quoted that ‘a satisfying itching can stop a fight.’ I find it funny and evocative at the same time, biotic happiness can be vital for peace,” says Kalesh.

“I then expressed my gratitude towards Georges Méliès, because without him cinema would never be a magical art form for the crowds; Andrei Tarkovsky for being the poetic master of internal cinema, with aesthetic superiority; Hayao Miyazaki for his emotional portrayals of characters carrying war affected childhood and imaginations with the help of magical animation style and music; and Guillermo del Toro for his frequent fantasy cinemas against fascist regulation, war and his empathy towards unconditional relationships,” Kalesh explains.

Rotterdam has had a long history of selecting singular film voices. In recent years, the festival has been a happy hunting ground for India with Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s “Sexy Durga” and P.S. Vinothraj’s “Pebbles” winning the Tiger Award in 2017 and 2021 respectively. “Hawk’s Muffin” is selected in the festival’s discovery strand Bright Future.

“More than being one of the important film festivals around the globe, Rotterdam stands out for their brilliant multi-selection of a large number of films with different styles and approaches,” says Kalesh. “Such a sensible and game changing platform makes me equally excited and responsible for my coming films.”

Coming up for Kalesh are a number of genre films, which he hopes will be “universally accessible and intimately stylized.”

“Hawk’s Muffin” is produced by Jayanarayan Thulasidas, who also plays the lead, and the cast includes Ketaki Narayan, Nithin George, Rajesh Madhavan, Mano Jose and Neena Kurup.

The Rotterdam festival plays online Jan. 26 – Feb. 6.