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Adoor Gopalakrishnan Retrospective at Osianama

September 18, 2015 | By

Osianama’s cinematic retrospective of Adoor Gopalakrishnan from Friday 18th till Thursday 24th, 2015 is one of the most important things that could have happened in Mumbai in 2015.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Adoor Gopalakrishnan is one of India’s finest film-makers. Hailing from the southernmost part of the country Adoor’s films are topical and rooted to the land of whose inhabitants he chooses to explore. Like all great artists, he is universal in his individualism. Yet, discussions on Adoor’s cinema are rare primarily because in a land that generally considers Hindi cinema made out of Mumbai as ‘The National Cinema’ of India, every other voice is marginalized and hence shoved below the carpet that wishes to be a red one but more often than not turns muddy and murky consistently.

Secondly, Adoor’s films are not all readily available and hence even the few books (including two excellent ones – A Door to Adoor edited by Lalit Mohan Joshi and The Films of Adoor Gopalakrishnan – A Cinema of Emancipation by Suranjan Ganguly) that tend to create interest in the minds of the readers otherwise uninitiated to Adoor’s cinema, to quench the thirst becomes improbable. Hence, Osianama’s cinematic retrospective of Adoor Gopalakrishnan from Friday 18th till Thursday 24th, 2015 is one of the most important things that could have happened in Mumbai in 2015.

Most importantly, the audience will get to see a couple of documentaries on Adoor – Images/ Reflections directed none other than renowned film maker Girish Kasaravalli and a rather lengthy one Feet Upon the Earth (Bhoomiyil Chuvadurachu) by Vipin Vijay. The retrospective will also have a Masterclass by Adoor himself – discussions and seminars and a few favourite films of Adoor himself that include Pather Panchali, Rashomon, Tokyo Story, Andrei Rublev, The 400 Blows and Pickpocket. Why did Adoor choose these films from a list of a few hundred masterpieces over the period of time is an intriguing question which hopefully the audience will be able to understand through the programme.  The retrospective also will exhibit a few of Adoor’s forgotten documentaries which are even more elusive than his rare feature films.

A still from Swayamvaram

A still from Swayamvaram

Since his first film Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice) in 1972, till date Adoor has made eleven feature films till his latest Oru Pennum Randaanum (A Climate for Crime) in 2008. Osianama has indeed made a very commendable job in holding the retrospective of nine of Adoor’s features excluding just the last two films.

Exhibition of Rare Vintage Memorabilia - Glimpses of Genius Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray

Exhibition of Rare Vintage Memorabilia – Glimpses of Genius Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray

Though the retrospective starts off with Swayamvaram and ends with Nizhalkkuthu the screenings don’t follow a chronological pattern apart from the common thread of the ‘outsider’ in Adoor’s films transcending the social-space as in Swayamvaram to a more mental one in Nizhalkkuthu. In Adoor’s work, there is a search for emancipation where both the ‘good’ and the ‘villain’ are not painted with extremes, they both share the same palette and occasionally change sides like we do in our real lives. And in this he reaches almost prophetic heights the way he upholds the innocence of the wrong-doer and shows him as a pawn in the system like the tyrannical master in Vidheyan. Yet, there is a search for transcendence in most of Adoor’s films which just relaxes the noose around our throats a bit.

In an interview Adoor once commented – “Kathakali unfolds in a completely mysterious atmosphere, in the dark of the night with hardly any background props—it’s the most minimalist theatre you can imagine. Everything unfolds before an oil lamp, which barely lights up the face and hands of the performer. What you see is not real. It is a highly exaggerated presentation”. As Suranjan Ganguly has observed in his book “the most obvious influence of Kathakali is felt in Gopalakrishnan’s use of chiaroscuro. Characters stand in pitch darkness, minimally lit, or gradually emerge from it into the light and reveal themselves. There are such moments in Kodiyettam, Mukhamukham and Elippathayam. While he rejects the extreme stylization of such theater, its minimalism is reflected in his own pared-down structures where less is often more.”

In many discussions Adoor had proclaimed that ‘no-sound’ is itself a component of sound design. His films bear the trademark of minimalism in expression which is so important in an art form where any exaggeration should always seem preposterous.  That the popular idiom of film-making in today’s cinema (which boasts to be different) dabbles on the excess is a different lunacy that one has to bear with unfortunately.

Mumbai will feel itself fortunate that the ‘outsider’ of Indian cinema will spread his magic for a week in the city.  Everyday there will be a guided tour of the exhibitions of Rare & Vintage Memorabilia from the Osian’s Library, Archive & Collection. The two exhibitions are titled “The South Indian Contribution to the History of Cinema” and “Glimpses of Genius: Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray” respectively and somewhat positions Adoor strategically between the two themes that are close to his heart.

Osianama has done a great service to the cause of thinking cinema in India by conceptualizing and implementing such a retrospective. The next step will be in doing such programs with regular intervals with other masters of Indian cinema and spreading these programs to the other parts of the country as well. But till then, even for this, well done Osianama!


More to read

The State of Independent Cinema in India
India’s Vanishing Films Need Urgent Policies to Avoid a Bleak Future
60 Years of Pather Panchali and Some Questions on Indian Cinema
History, Rare Heritage Stars Of Osian’s Film Memorabilia Auction
Coveted Merchandise From Cult Films Go Under The Hammer At Online Auction Today

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Amitava Nag is an independent film critic based in Kolkata and editor of Silhouette. His most recent books on cinema are Murmurs: Silent Steals with Soumitra Chatterjee, 16 Frames and Smriti Sattwa o Cinema. His earlier writings include the acclaimed books Satyajit Ray’s Heroes and Heroines published by Rupa and Beyond Apu: 20 Favourite film roles of Soumitra Chatterjee published by Harper Collins India. He also writes poetry and short fiction in Bengali and English – observing life in a platter. He can be reached at
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