interview

adoor gopalakrishnan



Chaosmag: A film like Nizhalkkuthu demands for a highly sensitive audience, whereas, the Indian audience perhaps, is at its all time low on sensitivity. Audience today breeds on things that are skin deep. How would such films communicate with today's audience?

Adoor: I think it would be wrong to condemn the society as a whole for its lack of sensitivity. That would mean a defeatist attitude. I would rather like to look at it positively and take lessons from it. After all my effort is to communicate with my audience however small and ill informed or otherwise conditioned it is. There could be lacunae in my way of communication. This cannot be overlooked. Communication has to be seen as a two-way affair, I believe. My methods may possibly be unintelligible to the majority of the viewers who frequent the cinemas. And, appreciation of art is dependent on several factors. A work of art does not appeal the same way to every one. More often than not the novelty and originality of the work itself, paradoxically, become the impediments to its very appreciation and acceptance. There are times when the cultural climate of a society gets too low -so low that it does not want to bother itself about anything other than what is easily and quickly consumable - without being burdened by the onerous task of thinking. Commercial formulae work here. They provide the audience with the familiar and commonplace escapist fare. They pretend to provide the audience with the stuff that lets it forget the drudgery of everyday life. Gloss and slickness will per se replace reasoning and probability in story telling. Nothing will be left to imagination. The audience, lazy by general definition, would be immensely pleased that everything is brought down to their acceptable level of understanding (the idea is that of preening the lowest common denominator).

Unfortunately, the process of desensitising the common man is on at an accelerated pace today with all the electronic media having moved into our drawing rooms and kitchens -with those terrible but inevitable fares of serial 'killers' ruling the roost.

When you study the situation in the proper perspective, it becomes discernible that the apathy is not singly directed to cinema. It is simply an attitude that pervades our cultural scene.

All the same I have no intention to give up or give in to pressures. There has always been a minority audience ready and willing to step out of the societal confines and expose themselves to new and invigorating experiences and ideas. We need to bank on them and also make sure that we do not disappoint this minority.

Nizhalkkuthu by Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a deceptively simple film at its exterior. But, if one is able to tread his way in, it is an extremely complex film with many layers to it. Perhaps a narrative that is similar to Adoor's own earlier film, Anantharam.

This Interview, based on Adoor Gopalakrishnan's latest film Nizhalkkuthu, was conducted exclusively for Chaosmag.















Chaosmag: The downslide of sensitivity is not limited to the audience alone, but has taken over many serious filmmakers as well.

Adoor: There are of course very many filmmakers who make interesting debut films and later turn to do mindless exercises in the hope of becoming successful at the box office. Some of them surprisingly do achieve success commercially. Taking the line of least resistance is more or less a way to popular acceptance and commercial success. In those good old days they used to meet with critical flak. Now the situation has changed and the so-called critic is one who has a certain facility to write (no matter how little he knows about the medium) and has the special ability to cultivate editors.

Yes, of course. There are many filmmakers who have turned from 'art' to 'commerce' so nicely and effortlessly without any prick of the conscience. And you start wondering if they after all had any conviction about their field of work in the initial place. When one can see filmmaking as a mere profession of story telling and your work being that of an operational director, there is nothing unnatural or shocking about it.

The path of the filmmaker of integrity - any true artist for that matter - is a lonely one. He does not look for company. In the ultimate analysis he is all by himself and he is invariably motivated and driven by his own convictions. Fashions and trends do not influence him. Not even his own success.

Chaosmag: An equally demanding film of yours, Anantharam was released in the 80's. How would you compare the audience's responses between the two films?

Adoor: Anantaram was not a commercial success. It was not a flop either. There were people coming to see the film. They were mostly young people as I can recall -college students, professionals and others. The film was of course shunned by the 'family audiences' by and large.

Many complained that they did not understand it. What they probably meant was that they were not used to watching something that did not conform to their notion of what a film should be like. But then there were also several young people who went and saw it several times. A few of them even took the trouble to come and visit me to compare notes. It was very gratifying.

Nizhalkkuthu also has elicited similar responses. But there are fewer young people who went to see the film. This should be due to conditioning - a direct effect of the media dubbing every thing that is not the usual kind boring and so not for popular consumption.

Chaosmag: Kaliyappan's sensitivity is in high contrast with today's insensitive society. This sensitivity is his trauma, where everyone's sorrow becomes his suffering?

Adoor: As I said earlier, I do not want to dub the whole society insensitive. May be there is a certain erosion of values, lesser feeling of concern for the others and a growing preoccupation with preening oneself. But then in the ultimate analysis, the human society is naturally gifted with goodness. Fortunately, even in the midst of all the vices and rivalries there prevail intuitive feelings of love, remorse, hope, anxiety etc.

In this case, what the film does is to discover the raw and real human being in Kaaliyappan the Hangman who is conventionally considered to be one with no fine feelings. The public does not expect him to behave like a human being, the law wants him to be neutral, the State sees him just as an instrument of its operation.

It is this contradiction that made me interested in the character and the situation.

Chaosmag: The film starts with Kaliyappan's reference to the last execution he did, where he realised that the convict was innocent. Also there are references in the film that hanging has been stopped since then. But later the King's messenger arrives to summon him for next hanging. Is that a nightmarish dream of Kaliyappan? A kind of hallucination?

Adoor: At one level the film is about experience, memory and imagination.

Kaaliyappan is haunted by the guilt of having executed an innocent. That is what he remorsefully reminisces in the beginning of the film. He wishes to drown it in drinks, but the drinks awaken him to the irretrievable guilt.

Otherwise life is normal for the family like the rest of their kith and kin in the village. But then there arrives the Royal messenger to make the announcement of the execution to be carried out 21 days from then.

This turns everything upside down.

As the audience watches, the film unfolds as a regular narrative in direct progression Only on second thought would it become clear that the Warder's story is a replay of the Hangman's guilt -ridden recollection from the past. In fact the second part of the film (the Royal messenger returning to summon the Hangman with police escort) is a nightmare of the Hangman in a state of delirium (he had grown weak and sick and had been led to the bed where he had passed out) - about his fear of having to go back to another execution.

Chaosmag: This feverish fear and its heat are the traumatic moments of Kaliyappan and he is trying to cool it off with buckets and buckets of water through out the film, almost setting the mood for the film.

Adoor: What Kaaliyappan fears most and hates most is the moment of his having to go back to another execution. His fear grows into fever and he, as the moment approaches, becomes more and more restless and guilt stricken. At the height of it, frail as he is, he passes out in his bed. In a state of delirium, his guilt-ridden mind constructs a story of innocence Vs crime. He transposes as personae people who are dear and close to him in real life. Only the flautist boy materialises out of no where as the dramatic situation demands in any story telling.

His burning interior cannot be cooled by any amount of pouring of the well water. His bathings (ritual) become metaphorical in that the harder you to try to wash away something, the more intense its impact becomes.

Chaosmag: Unlike your earlier films, the presence of nature becomes very prominent. We presume that it is intentional. Could mother goddess (Kali) and nature be connected?

Adoor: Kaali is the deified form of Nature. In tropical climates such as ours particularly, Nature is all- giving and also all- usurping. In the humid monsoon every kind of life sprouts and flourishes. In the hot summer, every thing dries up and dies out. So, it is natural that we try to propitiate the giver of all and the destroyer of all.

Kaaliyappan also tries to make himself believe that his job of killing is ordained by the supreme power of Nature - Goddess Kali.

Life and death become part of a natural cycle when you experience Nature in the raw with all its beauty and charm and also its enormity and power making one feel small and humble. I had wanted Nature as an imposing visual presence through out the film and that is why I chose the cinema-scope format. With the use of the verdant hills and valleys I also wanted to achieve a certain quality and feel of timelessness.

Chaosmag: At one point the thread symbolises freedom and through an interesting twist it forms the hanging rope, a symbol of state's oppressive power.

Adoor: The charkha (the spinning wheel) and the yarn spun on it stood for austerity, simplicity, idealism and also freedom as wearing swadeshi clothes was one of the means of declaring the end of dependence on the British- made goods.

In a strange twist of fate and circumstances, the son eventually turns the executioner. The juxtaposition of the two is to forebode what is in store. The death of idealism or rather its execution becomes a fate accompli where a citizen has no right to choose. That is the negation of freedom. It is also significant to know that the hanging rope being manufactured inside the prison uses the labour of the prisoners who are murder-convicts (most of them condemned to life terms and capital punishment).

Chaosmag: And the ashes from the hanging rope heals people…

Adoor: What happens is simple faith-healing. The villagers tend to believe that one who is empowered to nip off life should also, by inference be endowed with some power of healing. This may look like superstition. But we have many such superstitions. As the executioner does prayers and poojas to propitiate 'Kali' the Goddess of life and death, Kali's blessings should endow the executioner with some divine powers. In fact the executioner makes himself believe that it is at Her behest that he is executing the convict.

Chaosmag: In the end, the hangman's son accepts his fate without slightest protest.

Adoor: This is a very wrong reading of the film. For a character like Muthu, the son, there is no question of his not protesting. In fact it is too obvious that he would have protested, but not in the same fashion as we do in a free state like today's. Anything done for and on behalf of the royalty is final and irrevocable. There are suggestions in the film that the son was in fact subjugated to the brute power of the State. Other wise he wouldn't look and walk like the convict who is going to be hanged. The story telling norms established by the popular cinema, I can understand, makes the audience expect a scene where the son makes his violent protests and emerges as a real Hero.

The whole of the section after the Hangman falls sick and passes out in his bed in a state of delirium should also be seen as the Hangman's nightmare of his having to go back to another execution and about the possibility of his son having to take over from him. Here the real and the imagined merge into one another inextricably and I wanted the audience to experience the same. If I had treated this section plain and direct as one imagined by the Hangman it would have lost its desired impact.



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