Parthajit Baruah

‘Adoor subjects are always contemporary’

Print edition : October 28, 2016

Parthajit Baruah. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Interview with Parthajit Baruah, the author of “Face-to-Face: The Cinema of Adoor Gopalakrishnan”.

HIS name may not be familiar to film-loving audiences. He is based in Assam where he teaches English and cinema at the Renaissance Junior College in Nagaon. Not quite the qualifications that would draw a steady stream of readers to a book penned by him. Yet Parthajit Baruah is experiencing just that kind of reaction, courtesy his book Face-to-Face: The Cinema of Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

The ace film-maker himself has not been short of words of commendation for Baruah. Excerpts from a chat with Baruah, who travelled all the way to Kerala to spend some time with the maestro before deciding to share his story with readers:

In an industry where a new deity is made every Friday, what explains the success of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, a man who makes roughly one film in half a decade?

In our industry, a new deity is created and recreated every Friday, and interestingly, the next Friday he vanishes like a bubble in the air. Popularity fades away with time, but great works like Adoor’s are enduring. An Adoor cannot be created but is born. He thinks and rethinks and meditates on a subject that will have a perennial impact on us. The subjects of his films are always contemporary and deeply rooted in the sociocultural milieu of Kerala. Adoor’s success accelerates at a slow pace but in an enduring way.

Considering Adoor Gopalakrishnan is considerably self-effacing, how difficult was it to get all the information from him? Was he very driven by the idea?

Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a man with a saint-like personality and he hardly opens up. It is natural for a legendary persona like Adoor to have such reservations. One has to wait for the moment once he starts speaking. You have to gain his trust. And every word Adoor selects to speak on any subject is replete with accuracy and loaded with the deepest significance.

How far is it correct to say that Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films are essentially an artist’s vision not easily comprehensible to the man on the street?

Adoor makes his films for people and does not make films keeping in mind a specific audience. His films have a multilayered narrative and so the man on the street can easily comprehend his films, while others can peel off the layers.

The ace film-maker says in the book that he happened to get into films by chance. He, however, stops short of sharing the details beyond the fact that he was into theatre. Can you please fill in the gap?

Adoor’s aesthetic frame was largely shaped by Kerala’s cultural heritage and his special fascination for theatre. Adoor used to write plays from his schooldays and acted as well. He grew up watching Kathakali performances. He was a voracious reader, and when he came to the Gandhigram Rural Institute, he met G. Sankara Pillai. He encouraged Adoor to work on theatre, and consequently, while Adoor was still a student at Gandhigram, he wrote some plays. He was in Gandhigram from 1957 to 59, and later joined the Pune Film Institute in 1961, and was thus exposed to world cinema.

Could you speak about the challenges of doing a book on the film-maker who has never given in to the constraints of the market?

I was lucky enough to have HarperCollins and Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the managing editor, as my publisher. They understood the stature of Adoor Gopalakrishnan as one of the finest and most revered film-makers in world cinema. His films transcend all linguistic, cultural and geographical barriers and are well appreciated all over the world.

So, I was sure that once the book came out, it would be a hit like Adoor’s films. During the course of my writing, which took almost six years, I too was influenced by Adoor’s philosophy and principles.