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Copyright 2004




Adoor Gopalakrishnan: Ray of hope in a murky scenario

THERE IS something fascinating about Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Something so mesmerising that it is difficult to put my finger on it. Could it be his grey frizzy hair or his serene eyes ? I cannot fathom, as I sit talking to him in a Mumbai restaurant recently.

But there is far less confusion in my mind as it wanders beyond him, his physicality,
Adoor Gopalakrishnan
to the canvas that he created through his camera. His quarter century of cinema has not merely been refreshing, even idealistic, but uncompromising, even daring. If a Ray could have made ``Ganashatru'' - where he questions the purity of a temple's holy water - and survived to tell other tales, Adoor lives in the lion's den, Kerala, and takes on sacred cows like feudalism and Communism. His last feature, ``Kathapurushan'' is a bolder indictment of that ism, whose failure drives his protagonist into taking refuge in Naxalism.

Adoor's guts is admirable in an age when film-makers are relentlessly panning the easy way out, bending over to please, and all for the moolah. But our director, whose celluloid milieu has always been Kerala, whose language has never been any other than Malayalam, turned down a crore of rupees soon after ``Kathapurushan'' only because he was not ready with an idea.

That was about five summers ago. He is yet to make the next feature, although his average has been one in three years. ``This time, the period has been longer, I agree. Normally, I take three years to forget the one I made, that is the time I take to wean myself away from its influence.''

This clearly reveals Adoor's overwhelming involvement in his movie. He starts with his own idea, writes the script, and goes about doing just about everything else himself. Quite a task; the energy for this can only come from a man whose passion, nay his very life, is cinema.

And Adoor does not let anything shoddy slip through him. ``I usually write a script, leave it alone for a year and then return to it. If I find it as interesting as it was when it occurred to me earlier, I plunge into it''. Apparently, there is a feature in his mind, but a sense of complete satisfaction has been eluding him.

So, he pushed it to the background, and filled the space between two points of time with a documentary. ``Kalamandalam Gopi'' is a riveting piece, that traces with feeling the Kathakali artiste's life and career. Emerging from poverty and deprivation, Gopi rose to be one of the best, and Adoor's film offers rare glimpses of the man behind the ``vesham''. Often, the two mingle and mix in such wondrous measures that it is difficult to separate Gopi from the characters he personifies. In fact, he says in the closing shot that he wishes to die on the stage with his make-up on!

It took a year to complete ``Kalamandalam Gopi'', despite the fact that Adoor knows this classical form like the back of his palm. ``For four generations, we have been patrons of Kathakali. We even kept a troupe or two till about 30 years ago. We also had one of our own. Kathakali has been very much part of my upbringing.''

Adoor has made several documentaries on several dance forms. ``They refresh me between features. They are greatly inspiring and provide invaluable experience. I have also been disciplined by them. My first work was a documentary, and I got into it because I was desperate to do something. When I graduated from the movie institute, where we were all trained to do features, lack of money drove me to directing non-fiction fare. I am happy it happened that way, because I learnt a lot: in a documentary unit, most of the time you are a one-man army. In my case, I had to handle the camera as well, because there were not enough funds.''

Despite such significance, documentaries - some can move you immensely and in a manner that a feature cannot - continue to lead a back- and-beyond existence. Adoor regrets that ``we do not have a tradition of appreciating a documentary. We have not built it up. Also, our entire system has been devised to cater mostly to commercial cinema. Theatres have been constructed for that. Publicity, government attitude and everything else have been designed for just that. Where then is the space for a picture that is truthful, integrated...?''

This curtails very effectively one's choice of viewing. Even if one wants to watch, let us say, something that Adoor or Ray made, there is no way he can do it, at least in the normal circumstance. Adoor hopes that the concept of multiplexes - now being mooted - would have a corner for small films, both fiction and non-fiction. ``Even a small corridor will do'', he remarks, not even trying to hide the sorry state of affairs in a country where meaningless blockbusters have been spoiling taste and poisoning imagination.

Till better sense prevails, one has to suffer a heroine stripping to vulgarity or a villain indulging in sadism all in the fond (but mistaken) expectation that this is what the masses want. Adoor avers that even television is now reluctant to air anything without star appeal.

However, it is men like Adoor Gopalakrishnan who are the last vestiges of hope in a murky scenario that appears to be getting darker with the ticking of time.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated February 25 2000)

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