Dec 29, 2008

Entertainment - In Conversation with Adoor Gopalakrishnan


Adoor Gopalakrishnan traces his journey in films beginning with “Swayamvaram”, three decades ago, and reaching a new landmark with the recent “Orum Pennum Randaanum”.

We might be living in the age of road rage, but there is barely a ripple in the life of Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Amid the hullabaloo at the recent International Film Festival of India in Goa, he maintains a monk-like calm.

The Dadasaheb Phalke awardee is waiting in the Directorate of Film Festivals office for saheb to show up. No tantrums, no anxious pacing up and down the corridor. He just draws a little notebook from the jute bag slung over his left shoulder to check if he is at the right place at the right time.

Such is his modesty. Such is his meticulousness. The Government saheb will take some more time to come. The clerks are busy in their bays. And Adoor talks of his film journey, one that started more than 35 years ago with “Swayamvaram”, and just touched a new landmark with “Orum Pennum Randaanum” (A Climate for Crime).

In an industry where out-of-sight translates into out-of-mind, he has directed just 11 films in three-and-a-half decades. And is still the most sought after filmmaker from Kerala!

Language issues

His films are all in Malayalam — he dismisses any thought of making films in Hindi with a wave of hand — yet his fame transcends the barriers of culture, country and continent. He retains the enthusiasm of an eager student.

“I have my first public screening of ‘A Climate for Crime’ this evening. I have done the subtitles myself. I want to see the film with the audiences. I got a new print made in Chennai. I am very keen to see the response.”

Nudge him a little and he takes a leisurely trip down memory lane. The immediate past is dew fresh in his mind, the distant one still rumbles on.

“I have just come back from a retrospective in Slovenia. Ten of my films were shown there. My films are not exactly about today’s events. Somebody may even complain that my films are about yesterday. But I take care with the subjects I choose. That has to be valid today. At the same time it has to be true to its time. It has to mean something universally. Not just Keralites but all Indians and people elsewhere should be able to identify. After all, human emotions are universal. Incidentally, ‘Swayamvaram’, a 1972 film, is said to be contemporary!”

So, how does he transcend space and time? “I insist on myself that my film has to live beyond the time of its making. I genuinely believe that human experiences are universal even if you change the locales and language. Emotion is rooted in truth. And it is this emotion that I seek to depict.”

Inner truths

As he talks of his long career, for the first time, a shade of pride seeps through. “From Frame One my audiences will know they are looking at a real thing. But it is not the reality of the surface. It is the inner truth that comes to fore.”

However, isn’t the power of silence the hallmark of his works? “Films are a visual medium. We have to use the visuals to get the audiences beyond the periphery. I use silence to take the film to another level. Silence in my films is the time the audience contemplates, my characters grow. Silence means a lot but only when it is bracketed with sound; it has to be meaningful.”

Since his characters depict universal emotions and silence is a wonderful tool of expression, isn’t it time he went beyond Kerala and made a Hindi film too?

“If I have not made Hindi films it is not because of the language. I am not able to make the kind of Hindi films they want these days. In Hindi cinema you get to see the India that you don’t know. It is so sad that they don’t even find romance in their own country. For romance too they have to go to Switzerland. The characters all live abroad; they honeymoon in America or Europe. It is a terrible statement to make before an international audience. The real Indians have all disappeared from Hindi films. You see no villagers. There are no positive vibes, everybody is conniving. There are no soiled clothes on the screen anymore. Where is this India? I cannot reach Hindi popular audiences with my medium, my kind of cinema. I am not even sure how they would receive my films. There has not been any audience for somebody like Saeed Mirza and even Shyam Benegal earlier until he made ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’. I have a very faithful audience in Kerala. Language is no hindrance now. My films are shown all over the world. There are sub-titles.”

That is fine. But why should non-Malayalam audiences not get to see an Adoor film in the first day-first show? “There are a lot of issues. We lack enterprising distributors. We don’t have guys who would spot a good film and make it available everywhere. Doordarshan used to show quality regional films earlier. Now they would rather show some hip-swinging girls. For them too entertainment means Bollywood.”

No stars

Yes, Bollywood with its fascination for big stars rules the film canvas. Yet again, Adoor has been able to defy the stereotype. His films are known as just Adoor’s films, irrespective of any star. How come? “I am not against stars. There are very fine artistes among them. But they don’t make a film. They are merely cast. Films are a director’s medium. The stars or anybody else has to fit in with the vision.”

And how does the veteran, who speaks in the same measured tone as he works, arrive at this fine balance? “It is fairly simple. I look for small details. I am involved with all the small things of the film, including sub-titling for any film festival. After the first print too I make changes. For instance, in my latest film, there is a lot of talking which is quite different from my other films. All I seek of my audiences is an open mind.”

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