News Column

Cinema in rat trap: Adoor Gopalakrishnan

November 13, 2013


Nov. 13--Mediocrity is toxic. Bad fiction and bad films vitiate your mind

HE FIRST FELL in love 51 years ago and at 72, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the man who ushered in new cinema in India's then Communist bastion Kerala state, still finds his passion as ardent.

"I try to make good cinema. That is my first love. That is what I do," the multiple award-winner says. "It is the media that classifies and buttons down my art."

Swarms of book lovers mill around us, some of them possibly recognising the maestro with his trademark flowing white mane of hair.

Taking a break from the movie camera, Gopalakrishnan is in the UAE for the 32nd edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) and he is impressed by what he sees.

"It is very impressive that His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has himself taken an interest in this event," he says. "The fact that it has been running for the last 32 years is truly commendable. I hope it continues in this fashion and grows further. Let the SIBF become a hub for lovers of culture, art and literature in this region."

Gopalakrishnan, whose own career is far longer than the SIBF's, is however at a loss for words when asked what his legacy will be.

"I would like to see people watch good movies and develop the faculty to discern the middling from quality cinema. To be able to appreciate quality art, be it movies, books or paintings, you must develop a taste."

Gopalakrishnan first burst on the scene with his debut full-length feature film Swayamvaram (One's Own Choice) in 1972. The film launched the new cinema in Kerala and became one of the major films of the Indian New Wave school.

It was a shift from the stage to the cinema. Born in 1941 in Kerala, he had grown up in a family of performing artists specialising in Kathakali, a highly stylised form of dance drama. But the shift brought him greater honour and recognition.

He was conferred the acclaimed National Film Award a whopping 16 times and the Kerala State Film Awards 17 times, not to mention multiple international tributes. The prestigious British Film Institute award for Elippathayam (The Rat Trap) came in 1982 and the French government bestowed the order of Commandeur des Arts et Lettres on him for outstanding contribution to international cinema in 2003.

Gopalakrishnan's movies are a regular feature at top global film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam and Toronto. In 1984 he received the civilian award Padma Shri from the Indian government and the Padma Vibhushan in 2006.

However, the doyen is saddened by the current sorry state of cinema in India: "(The) mediocrity is toxic. Bad fiction and bad films vitiate your mind. I, for instance, don't have the patience to stand some of the contemporary cinema. I get terribly sick."

Age fails to deter the director, who received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2004 for his immense contribution to Indian cinema, from continuing with his work.

"As I am talking to you, a part of me is thinking, perhaps outlining the contours of my next work, subliminally," he says, a twinkle in his eye. "You see, it is a very imaginative process."

The family legacy of Kathakali has contributed to his works obliquely. He has also been making films on the classical art forms of Kerala.

"It has been a rewarding journey because you get to know a lot about your past and your culture," he says. "We have art forms that are both ancient and sophisticated in India. There are some traditional theatre forms which go back more than 2,000 years, making (Indian theatre) the oldest living theatre in the world."


(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

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