Adoor Gopalakrishnan is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of India. In a career comprising four decades, the Padma Vibhushan (the second highest civilian honour) awardee has scripted and directed eleven feature films and several shots and documentaries. Considered the pioneer of the New Cinema movement in Kerala, Gopalakrishnan’s films have fetched him over eighteen National Awards. In 2004, he was awarded the title, ‘Commander of the Order of Arts & Letters’ – the top French honor for culture. Winner of the highest honour of the nation, the Dada Phalke Award, the septuagenarian spoke to National Award winning editor, Apurva Asrani, about his films, his views on popular cinema, and his vision for an intelligent, and committed distribution system.
1. Why are your films not widely available in India?
Firstly, there is the hurdle of language. I make films in Malayalam and this limits the audience for my films to Kerala. I am aware that there exists a niche audience outside my state but there has been little effort to take these films accessible to the audiences outside the state. My films can very well be exhibited with sub-titles in English. We have so many big cities in India and they can substantially support a movement for meaningful cinema in this country. The Governmental agencies like NFDC have done precious little to explore these possibilities.
Strangely even private initiatives are wanting. We lack an intelligent and enlightened distribution system that does not hesitate to explore new avenues for a different kind of cinema.
2. Do you think there is an audience for world cinema in India?
There certainly is. You can gauge the interest from the success of the several film festivals spread all over India now. Especially with the advent of the multiplex, it is possible to programme decent films and generate reasonable revenue. But distributors should have faith in these films and be ready to venture into unexplored areas.
3. How true are you to your script? Is there room for improvisation during the shoot?
I always work with a detailed script. And then I prepare a shooting script before I go for a shoot. All the same, no script is sacrosanct when you actually film on locale.
Scripting is perhaps the most important stage in filmmaking. But it should not be treated as final and inviolable. A script is written inside a room, but on location where you have nature and real people interacting, there is every chance for change. Even the position of the sun in the day becomes a very critical factor.
4. What is editing according to you? Do your films evolve in the editing room?
Editing starts even as you are writing your script. It accords the film its rhythm and flow. It is again not necessary that editing follows the script strictly. In fact I do not refer to the script while editing. Though a lot of thought and planning may have gone into scripting, the editor/director should not hesitate to improve upon the material that is available to him. There are many instances of my having altered even the sequence of scenes. The impact is what maters.
5. If we talk of Indian cinema gone global, only two prolific names come to mind immediately; Satyajit Ray and your self. Why is it so?
It may be because we have not compromised with market pressures. These films deal with real people, their problems and their aspirations. Nothing is faked for dramatic or spectacular effect. As these films portray life lived in our land they become authentic documents of Indian life.
6. Would you make a film in Hindi like Ray did?
(Laughs) I don’t see the need. Also, my understanding of the Hindi language is very rudimentary. And don’t forget, language is the flower of a culture. It is not just a mere vehicle to transact ideas. It should not be forgotten that Ray made only one attempt at making a film in Hindi (Shatranj ke Khiladi -1977).
7. In Nizhalkkuthu (2002) you have followed a rhythm different from your other films. It is fast paced, stylistically shot and features a mainstream music composer(Ilayaraja). Was that a successful experiment?
Each time I make a film, my attempt is to try things I have not done before. So, every time I pose before myself a new challenge and then try to meet it. The process is very exciting. Some films are slow while others are faster. The pace of a film is invariably dependent on its theme and treatment.
As for the score, I wanted to use folk music as a lait motif. Ilayaraja happens to be a master at that and it worked very well. I was very happy with the result.
8. In Kodiyettam (1977), the lead character, Shankaran kutty slowly sheds his childlike conduct after his marriage. In Swayamvaram (1972) marriage is seen as a rude wake up call from a love story. Do you see marriage as a failed institution?
No. In fact, I see it the other way. Marriage is the meeting of two minds. Sankarankutty who is not prepared for a married life and the responsibilities that come with it, slowly grows into it. His real marriage takes place at the very end when he buys clothes and presents it to his wife. Man presenting clothes to the woman is the core ritual of a Hindu marriage in Kerala. Swayaramvaram is the story of a young man and a woman choosing to live together without the formal bonding of a marriage. It is devoid of the supportive network of their parents. It is the society that they come into that proves to be unwilling to accommodate them.
9. Your stand against popular cinema. What factors you think would allow parallel cinema to survive in India?
I am not against cinema becoming popular. We all want our films to be popular. In their effort to make their films acceptable to the masses, people make all kinds of compromises and the end product turns out to be simply run of the mill. Let me also hasten to add that I do not make parallel cinema. Parallel cinema is a misnomer. I simply make films. It is others who call them by convenient names and I think it is unfair to do so. My films are processed in the same laboratories as the commercial ones and often I use commercially successful stars in them. And I exhibit them in the same cinemas as the others. There is nothing in the making, promotion or exhibition of these films which qualifies them to be termed parallel.
10. How would you compare our approach to film distribution vis-a-vis the west?
Quality films deserve to be treated differently. We can borrow examples from the West. Both in Europe and the US, if a film wins a good prize in an International festival, it becomes the selling point. Our own experience is just the opposite. A film winning a national award is looked down up on with suspicion. Our distributors discreetly avoid it because they presume that popularity or commercial success is inversely proportional to the quality of a film.