The stamp of the author

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The stamp of the author

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Two corrupt policemen frame a poor, innocent rickshaw-puller and falsely accuse him of burglary. A young man, who gets his lover pregnant, asks his friend to help arrange for her abortion with a quack. A village beauty, who has the whole neighborhood under her enchanting spell leads two men on, never quite revealing her preferences. 

‘The Thief’, ‘The Police’, ‘Two Men and a Woman’, ‘One Woman, Two Men’ — four loosely strung stories, independent of each other but bound together by a recurring theme — crime. Based on the short stories of the prolific Malayali author Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s latest film Oru Pennum Randaanum (A Climate For Crime), is set in the 1940s Princely State of Travancore, where there was rampant poverty, scarcity of resources and unemployment.

Incidentally, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women), his previous film for which he recently won the National Award in the Best Director category, was also based on Thakazhi’s short stories. 

For Adoor, the short stories sowed the seeds of inspiration for his latest two films. But what he was essentially looking for was an idea that he could develop, transform and eventually make his own. “I want to recreate the kind of impression I got while reading these stories, both intellectually and emotionally, and make it effectively accessible to an audience. The short stories aren’t transferred as such. They undergo this remarkable transformation, a certain organic growth and then become cinema.”

Over the years, Adoor’s films have received much international acclaim, beginning with his first feature film Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice) in 1972. What is it that draws people across the world to his films? “At the very primary level, it has to tell something interesting. Beyond that, what is genuine will appeal. It is also how you use the medium, how you treat it and the kind of sophistication you have in telling the stories. You can’t afford to be naïve or crude,” says Adoor.

When Adoor places a film in a particular period, he ensures that every tiny detail is authentic. According to him, there can be no room for glitches since these films are also social documents of a particular period, culture and society. He’s equally particular about the sounds in his films, which he considers as important as the background score, or even more. “Music is part of the soundtrack, but I don’t bring it to the foreground. I don’t like to use it the way they do in commercial films. They think content isn’t powerful enough, so they use music to enhance it. In my films, music is independent of the individual shot.” Even the silences, which often punctuate the dialogues, are created to perfection.

Adoor’s films often fall into the ‘art’ cinema category, at least in the audiences’ eyes. Does this work against him? “Nowadays, when a film fails at the box-office, it is called art cinema. When it does very well at the box-office, they call it commercial cinema,” says Adoor, slipping into laughter.

He prefers to call his films ‘auteur’ films, a term the French use, where there is the stamp of the author, the filmmaker being the author. As for audiences’ aversion towards what is thought of as ‘art’ cinema, Adoor doesn’t blame them entirely. “There have been so many fakes who make films but should not be anywhere near cinema. Everybody claims to be a genius. The most terrible part is that they accuse the audiences of having bad taste.”
What does seem to disappoint Adoor is the way films are easily forgotten in India. He feels that, like some countries abroad which screen important films in their small chain of cinemas, we must also organise retrospectives of important filmmakers, so that their films don’t go down the black hole a few months from their release. This, he says, must be made possible in our multiplexes.

It’s been almost 40 years since Adoor began making films. A Climate For Crime is his eleventh feature film. He feels that over the years his filmmaking has become more austere. “I don’t care for the non-essentials. I don’t beat about,” he says, when asked about his evolution as a filmmaker. But what he’s really happy about is the fact that he’s never made any compromises. 

In the four stories in his latest release, there is a certain quality that makes you rethink the very foundation of what is considered ‘morally’ right or wrong by society. This can perhaps be traced to the sensitivity with which the characters have been portrayed and the way in which their actions are reasoned out, subtly, which makes it easy to empathise with them without passing judgments. The film which has some of the finest actors like Manoj K Jayan, Nedumudi Venu, Sukumari and Praveena has been released in Kerala and Bangalore (running currently). 

For someone as established, Adoor can be pleasantly surprising. “Even now, when I go to a film festival, I rush to watch other films while my film is being screened. I am very abreast with what’s happening around the world. It’s very important for a filmmaker to keep watching films. But after a certain point, for a creator, you must look within yourself.”

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