Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Naalu Pennungal wins him his fifth National Award for the best director (2007) and the auteur is in a reminiscent mood. “I won the same award for my first film, Swayamvaram, in 1972,” points out Adoor. Since then he has won the National award for the best director for Mukhamukham, Anantaram and Kathapurashan and was also honoured with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2006.
Recently, he won the State Film award for the best director for his latest film Oru Pennum Randuaanum.
Naalu Pennungal, based on four short stories written by Thakazhy Sivashankara Pillai, narrates the story of four women from different socio-economic strata who overcome societal and patriarchal norms to live their lives on their own terms. Without vociferous speeches or sloganeering, the lead characters in the four stories – a sex worker, a peasant, a homemaker and a spinster – break familial and societal fetters to empower themselves through their choices.
It was a Doordarshan’s proposal that made Adoor take a fresh look at Thakazhy’s stories. “They wanted to make a serial based on his works and since I was against the idea, they gave me a free hand to choose what I wanted to do,” recalls Adoor. Since many of his novels had already been adapted for the silver screen, Adoor says he decided to work on his short stories – Oru Niyamalanghanathinte Katha,
Kanyaka, Chinnamma and Nithyakanyaka. Although the stories take place in Kuttanad in Kerala, the universality of the theme is what made the film win accolades in several international film festivals.
For the much-feted director who put Malayalam films on the screen of world cinema, this award must come as a vindication of his belief in good cinema.
“Good cinema will overcome all kinds of setbacks. But there is a difference then and now. Swayamvaram was not a box office success when it was first released. The State-level committee that used to recommend films for the National awards ignored it completely. But after it swept the National awards, it was released again and then it went on become a box office hit. The same was the case with Kodiyettam which ran for 125 days in certain centres. But today I doubt if the same will happen in the case of Naalu Pennungal,” says Adoor.
He feels that instead of blaming the tastes of the audience, filmmakers and the film industry must introspect to identify the reason why many award-winning films never get screened in theatres. “Many filmmakers who should not have been allowed to go anywhere near cinema have been making films and passing it off as ‘art films.’
“These films are bereft of any entertainment and so it fails to attract film-goers. After watching these films, many jump to the conclusion that my films are ‘art films’ as well. That is why I always emphasise that I make films that entertain or tell stories and I don’t make art films,” explains Adoor.
He feels that distributors and exhibitors are often reluctant to screen his films as they fear these ‘art films’ might not draw an audience. “I know for a fact that many exhibitors invest in certain big-budget potboilers and because they have a stake in the films they keep the films in their theatre for weeks together,” adds Adoor.
He adds that his latest film, for instance, has not been screened in several districts in Kerala.
What next? “Well I am leaving for Houston on September 20. My films will be screened at a fete there and also in universities like Yale and Colorado. After that I need to take a break. I have been leaving with these characters and also working on the publicity and distribution,” signs off Adoor.