‘I don’t jump into a film’

Published : Jan 23, 2015 12:30 IST

Adoor Gopalakrishnan at work.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan at work.

ADOOR GOPALAKRISHNAN, in his fourth feature film Mukhamukham (Face to Face), stands out through extraordinary nuances of cinematic language and a unique control over structure and style. With this film Adoor—the only Indian besides Satyajit Ray to win the British Film Institute’s outstanding director award (for his Elippathayam )— has established himself among the best film-makers in India.

Born into a family which practised and patronised Kathakali, the 44-year-old Malayalam film-maker made his first feature film Swayamvaram in 1972—which he describes as a “trip from illusion to reality” and “a film about the death of an idealist”. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline .

How do you actually start a film? What prompts...

The subject can be an incident, a character. It can be something that you saw or went through. It can be a personal experience. Anything that really touches you and makes you think and excites you a lot. Only then you think of making a film. Of course, it does not stop at that stage where you just liked it. Once you decide to make a film, then it should also have the potential of being developed into a film—to grow your film.

My previous film Elippathayam started from a common experience, that most of the time you are not responding to things the way you should. I wanted to examine why we take this attitude. While probing you find that this attitude is a result of economic, social, psychological, even genetic and physiological reasons. The reasons are so many. It’s not so simple as to say, this man is like that. Most of the time it’s not what you see apparently, but things beyond. Maybe, what you see apparently can at times be deceptive about the real reasons. So once I decided to make a film on this subject, I wanted to have a really relevant setting for the things to happen. It has to be specific. You cannot be abstract. When the issues, the character and the incidents are very specific, it will make the desired kind of impact.

After the success and acclaim of “Elippathayam” did you, somewhere at the back of your mind, feel any pressure to make if not a better film, at least a film of that standing?

I think success is outside the film because there may be a very, very good film but it may not get the kind of recognition it deserves. Rarely does it happen that a deserving film gets recognition also. So the recognition that one of your films gets should not really become a problem for you. It has not been a problem for me. Every time I make a film, when I think about it and am in the actual process of making it, I approach it in all seriousness. I start working on a film only when I am very, very happy to do it. Just because a producer is there to finance me, I don’t jump into a film. I think that’s why I have, in my career, made four feature films.

I am a professional film-maker and live on making films. This is my livelihood. So the temptation is to make more films when you have people to back you financially, but I have not yielded to that. So if a film gets a lot of recognition, that does not become a burden for me. That makes me happy because it makes my work easy in the sense people will look at my work more seriously than before because of the recognition. I think because Elippathayam was a success they will look at the issues I am raising and the structure I am adopting in the film more seriously.

Yes, recognition is good and it does good to a film-maker. It will be terrible if anybody takes the recognition for a burden and then it becomes a problem for him that he has to live up to it and things like that. I don’t think like that.

Coming to “Mukhamukham”, you have the Communist backdrop in the film. You have red—the red flag, Lenin’s picture and quotes and the characters move around in this.

Yes, the film has the atmosphere of politics and its subject is politics. But it’s important to see, what did I do with all that. I am not trying to give a political message. The film is about a social condition. If you try to see any similarity with Elippathayam, it is about an individual caught in an inevitable predicament which he has to go through. Here it’s the society—it’s the moral crisis of the society. It is a kind of very introspective look at oneself. So politics is there and more than politics, communism is there in this film. But it’s not just a concern of those who have party tickets. It is not that. You see, communism affects whether you are a pro-Communist, anti-Communist or a neutral being. It affects you so intensely that you just cannot escape it. I think that communism is the greatest, loftiest and most meaningful philosophy that we have come to know, feel, experience and be affected by in the modern times. So there is no question of disowning its presence in our lives. It will be very wrong to pretend that it’s not there. I personally am a very firm believer in the philosophy of communism. Not that I am a cardholder. I have never been very active in the movement. I am just an artist who  is a little more sensitive than the others and more concerned, maybe. So if at all the film is dealing with communism, it’s in a very, very positive way.

Some people think it is an anti-Communist film. I think they are not even seeing the film superficially; they are attributing things to it. I would say that they have not watched the film properly. I never say that the movement has failed. In fact, in the very crucial sequence of the film, you remember he sits arched through the door and then outside you see the roof and this courtyard and you see this lonely image of this man sitting there. Then, almost like a commentary, you get the voice which says, ‘In the onward progressive march of the proletarian movement a group of people are unable to continue with the march and they stagger and stop and the march continues....’ It’s very important. It has the red colour as its theme. It has the Internationale as its theme music. So it cannot be working against.

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