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February 13, 2011

Page: 21/38

Home > 2011 Issues > February 13, 2011

The craft of an highly acclaimed film maker
By Manju Gupta

Adoor Gopalakrishnan: A Life in Cinema, Gautaman Bhaskaran, Penguin/Viking, Pp 218, Rs 399

THIS first full-length biography of a celebrated cinema auteur, one of the most critically acclaimed directors after Satyajit Ray, talks of the accolades that were showered on Adoor Gopalakrishnan like France’s Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2004, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2005 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2006.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s life-story begins with his difficult birth to Gouri Kunjamma on July 3 1941 at Pallickal, which lay on the periphery of Adoor in the erstwhile state of Travancore and which is now a part of Kerala. Adoor reminisces, "She was an innocent soul, but spirited and courageous nevertheless and lived by her convictions."

His father was a forest ranger and Gouri would travel with him, much against what Kerala’s Nair gentry ever did. She was fiercely independent, which was perhaps responsible for her unhappy marriage. In her later years, she was separated from her husband and raised all her children by herself.

So enamoured was he of theatre that he joined the Pune Film Institute and began to make feature films in the early 1970s, with his cinema emerging as pure cinema - minimalist, utterly visual and not at all verbose.

The author describes Adoor’s cinema, which is filled with humour that is neither lurid nor loud, and in his film Naalu Pennungal (Four Women), the hero Narayanam is shown to be such a glutton that one cannot help laughing at his undivided attention to food. Often his hero is an ordinary man like Sankarankutty in Kodiyettam (The Ascent), balding and shabbily attired. He would be a simpleton or Aajayan in Anantaram (Monologue), defeated by an illness or he could be Kaliyappam in Nizhalkkuthu (Shadow Kill), reluctant to execute and guilt-ridden.

Adoor’s Kathapurusham (The Man of the Story) documents the history of the period it was set in and the social and political developments are seen through the eyes of the film’s hero. Mathilukal (The Walls) shows the jail in the British Raj and the relationship between the prisoners and the police and among the inmates themselves as presented against a stark reality. The author of the biography says that Adoor’s cinema is subtle yet forceful. His reluctance to speak comes through his works as a lot is left unsaid.

The Marxists were said to be uncomfortable with Adoor’s silence when shooting Mukhamukham.

Interestingly, such subtlety comes from a man who spent his youth dreaming of the stage - writing plays, performing in them and reading about them for a whole year when he was supposed to be learning cinema.

Since Adoor’s family was a patron of Kathakali and supported troupes, his cinema was a sheer visual experience "shorn of dramatic exaggeration that is seen in many Indian films." Though seemingly simple, his stories are intricately woven, covering a wide gamut of plots from unconventional relations to schizophrenia to guilt in crime and sensual mores.

The book discusses more about Adoor’s cinema than his life, probably because his cinema is more interesting than his simple life could have been.

(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017.)

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