Moutatthu “Adoor” Gopalakrishnan Unnithan is a National Award winning Indian film director, script writer, and producer. Adoor Gopalakrishnan had a major role in revolutionizing Malayalam cinema. Adoor Gopalakrishnan first film One’s Own Choice (1972) pioneered the new wave cinema movement in Kerala. Over the last 40 years Gopalakrishnan has made films, short films, plays and documentaries in the Malayalam language spoken in the Kerala state located in the south west corner of India. All the 11 films he directed, from Ones Own Choice (1972) to A Climate for Crime (2008), were screened at several International film festivals and won him several National and International awards. He won National Film Awards fifteen times, Kerala State Film Awards seventeen times and also won several International Film Awards. He won the prestigious British Film Institute award for The Rat Trap (1981). Adoor Gopalakrishnan received the Padma Shri in 1984 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2006. The Nation honored Adoor for his valuable contributions to Indian cinema by awarding him the highest cinema award of India, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 2004. He is one among the very few Indian film makers who are well known in the international film fraternity. (Razdan )
During the 1970’s a revitalized movement for good cinema called parallel cinema started in Kerala with Adoor Gopalakrishnan leading the cause. Parallel Cinema is an alternative to the mainstream commercial cinema, is a specific movement in Indian cinema, known for its serious content, realism and naturalism, with a keen eye on the sociopolitical climate of the times.
A neo-realist film director by definition Adoor films tend to be much more than that. He involves the audience allowing them to become part of the film rather than just spectators. Adoor’s films and the characters in them are derived from real people and real situations. He uses his films to address underlying social problems presented in his home state of Kerala. Nothing is sugar coated, only the real stories of common social problems and how these problems affect people in their daily lives. His films don’t necessarily try to solve these problems, but show the viewers the sacrifices and hardships those problems present to people that because of different social classes the viewers might not be aware of. By watching other people’s struggles, Adoor lets his audience experience and learn from these life struggles in hopes that the viewers won’t repeat some of the mistakes that were made.
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Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been known as a director who completely dictates every fine detail of his films. From cinematography to acting, Adoor molds each frame of his films, inviting viewers to experience and discover new levels of thinking while still addressing the key overtone of the plot of his film. On the performance of actors in his movies, he stated that – “It is not the artist’s job to do the detailing. I do not want different interpretations of roles that may clash with each other. It has to be absolutely unified.” According to Adoor “in movies, the actor is not performing to the audience like the stage actor. Here they are acting for me. I am the audience and I will decide whether it is correct or not, enough or not.” (Panicker)
The film, One’s own choice (1972) is a film that portrays the middle class of Kerala as it transitions to a more modernist society. The emphasis of the film shows the economic and social crisis that young couples endure while trying to make a life for themselves. In the beginning there happy and together but as life plays out there world is turned upside down and in the end all we see is a woman, distraught, alone and overwhelmed starring into a unknown future by herself and her small child. This was the 1st feature film that Adoor directed and it went on to win many national and international awards.
The film, Four Women (2009) tells the tales of four women in modern India. Each woman had their own roles in the film: the virgin, spinster, prostitute, and house wife. There is no real plot associated with this film or any type of closure enabling the Adoor to focus the viewer’s attention to the individual stories of the women. Each woman has her own social status in the film and their stories reflect their perspective in regards to their status during the time that they lived in. This film tends to show male domination of the women, but also gives way to a feminist rebellion brewing in each woman. Yet the film is not feminist in nature, since Adoor Gopalakrishnan is more concerned in portraying the era and the fine details it holds regarding the rituals and patterns of society than just to present a story regarding the power and will of womanhood. Irrespective of the fact, that he took his liberties in exercising what should be seen and what remains unseen and what remained- the earthly nature of the film, which in all due, is as much powerful to what is portrayed (the role and growth of the woman). These women understand their roles, but are starting to believe that they can be something better. The film puts an emphasis on what constitutes living a life or just going through the motions of life. These women want to be something more than their social class structure allows them to be and without forgetting there place, they strive to be more than they are or at last dream they are. (Nitesh)
Shadow Kill (2002) is the story of a hangman, Kaliyappan. The executioner is unhappy due to the guilt attached to his means of earning income. He realizes that the executions that he often carries out are a result of politics and not justice. To cleanse himself of the guilt, the King issues a pardon in the form of a clemency order, which deliberately arrives a few minutes after the hanging. However, Kaliyappan has no way to absolve himself from the guilt. As times change, the hangings grow increasingly few and far between.
One day Kaliyappan receives orders to prepare for another hanging, which is due to take place in a couple of days. Kaliyappan’s preparations include rigorous prayers and penance; yet as the day draws closer, he becomes more and more perturbed. Just before the execution, Kaliyappan sits down with his friends for a traditional drink. To pass time, one of them starts telling a story about a young girl who was raped and murdered. As the story proceeds Kaliyappan begins to imagine the young victim to be his own daughter. The overpowering thoughts completely shatter his mental framework and he is unable to perform the execution.
In this film Adoor shows the audience what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. Would we make the same mistakes or come to the same reasoning as Kaliyappan did? As human beings are our lives controlled by fate or do we have control of what happens around us? These are some of the questions that after watching this movie become apparent. Adoor gives the viewers the opportunity to face these questions through the eyes of the Kaliyappan.
The Rat Trap (1981) is a film about a middle-aged rural landowner, who has never had to do a thing for himself, loses the female relatives who wait on him, one after another, and watches helplessly as his estate, already ravaged by thefts and mismanagement, falls into decay.
With his only known life in ruins he completely withdrawals to himself and becomes completely self absorbed, incapable of caring or showing any response to change. He is trapped in his own life. Instead of trying to find a way out he simply gives up all hope and does nothing. He is a man caught in a trap or as the movie title suggests a “Rat Trap.” This film went on to win many International awards and won the coveted Sutherland trophy at the 1982 London Film Festival.
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Adoor Gopalakrishnan films are drawn from real people, real lives. His cinema manages to frame details that often escape our everyday glance, turning the mundane into the magical, the commonplace into the startling. Adoor’s characters are extraordinarily varied. A couple living in defiance of society, trying to make ends meet; a rootless, rustic man unaware of his responsibilities; an ex-revolutionary wasting himself, sleeping and eating and drinking, much to the disgust of his old comrades; and a prostitute discovering love only to be separated from her lover by the guardians of society. He invites his viewers to open their minds to different experiences and life lessons that each character presents. As Adoor stated in an interview at the London Film Festival “Ideas come from life, what you have been living through and what
you have observed. Creativity defies simple definitions and explanations. The mysterious and unknown element of it is what make it ever exciting and interesting.” (Bhaskaran) His work has motivated a new generation of film-makers to use their medium in bold new ways and to explore traditionally forbidden topics.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan films are about humanity and what experiences we learn through living. He doesn’t give the answers but his films guide us as viewers to an understanding that unfamiliar or uncertain aspects of life are just that, a part of life, which we can learn and grow from.
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