A voracious appetite for films
Adoor Gopalakrishnan may not have an appetite for great food but films get his creative juices flowing.
Distinction personified... Adoor Gopalakrishnan at The Imperial in New Delhi . Photo: R.V. Moorthy.
THE WORKS of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of the country's most distinguished filmmakers, with nine award winning films to his credit, tend to create more of a splash on the international festival circuit, which is curiously removed from the world of Indian box office success. But the division between commercial and `art' cinema, for Adoor, is an artificial one. "These divisions have been made by journalists," he smiles, sitting in the pleasant ambience of 1911 restaurant at New Delhi's The Imperial hotel. "I make a film according to my own conviction - what I think is worth making. My theory is, if I like my film, if it is dear to me, there is no reason why it should not be liked by others."
There is no sense of concession here, he says, as in the case of a filmmaker creating cinema `for the masses', "making films the way he thinks the people like. There are times when the two match and they really become successful."
It's past 11 in the morning, and though some of us may have that `elevenses' craving for a cup of coffee and a snack, this diminutive, pleasant gentleman allows his vegetarian samosas to languish as he talks about his work and his life. He is a compelling speaker, and heads are turning here and there as the quiet crowd in 1911's open section, which overlooks the gardens, overhears his remarks and observes the flashbulbs.
"It's like a writer," he continues, on the topic of making films that speak of one's own conviction. "You can write a story, fiction. What is important is you should say something new, otherwise the listener will feel let down. As a narrator you should lead to a new experience of life and living. Otherwise it becomes trite. So when you have new things to say, how you say them will depend on what you are saying."
Some people accuse him of making films the man on the street cannot quite follow the symbolism of, but Adoor, who started acting on the amateur stage at the age of eight and was a playwright before switching over to screenplay and direction, is aware his is a medium that has to communicate. "Nobody should suffer a film in a theatre just because someone said it is a great work of art," he points out.
So although his films have been critically acclaimed - Shadow Kill (Nizhalkkuthu), Man of the Story (Kathapurushan), Ascent (Kodiyettam) and others right from his first, Swayamvaram (One's Own Choice), in 1972 - he points out, "Cinema cannot remain elitist. By it's very nature, it has to be seen by a large number of people."
Speaking of criticism, Adoor too is a critic. "As far as cooking is concerned, I am only a critic," he declares, and avers his wife doesn't allow him into the kitchen. "People keep asking, `What's cooking?' I only cook stories. Of course, I don't cook up stories," he clarifies.
His description of the woes of Malayalam commercial filmmakers - "They are really struggling" - is rather like the worries of a cook not quite clear what is going to be the result of sloshing a lot of ingredients into the pot. "Out of about 75 films released a year, only four or five get their money back. There may be one or two hits a year. It's like gambling. They think if it was unsuccessful this time, next time it will be successful. They change the actors, etc."
In the end, he feels, nobody knows why a film becomes a hit. "Everybody is surprised!"
Most of his film watching opportunities today come from his participation in film festivals. In his Film Institute days at Pune though, "There was a cinema house that used to show Hollywood films. On holidays etc., at half rate tickets, you could forego your lunch and see a film, or have a light lunch and see one." That was where he saw some of the world's greatest cinema.
Appetite for films
Born in 1941 in Adoor, the only film he saw in his hometown during school days was V. Shantaram's Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, "with Gopikrishna and Sandhya. And Shantaram was the last word at that time."
In festivals he still manages four or five films a day, though earlier he could go up to seven. "If I see something very impressive then I don't see anything else for the day. That way, bad films abet your appetite for films. You are looking for something to satisfy you."
Speaking of appetite, 1911 restaurant offers an array of options. There are sandwiches, momos, fruit juices and freshly brewed coffee to tempt you. Adoor eyes his samosas amusedly. Flat and perfectly triangular, they are nowhere near the rustic roadside samosa look. "They are Imperial samosas," he chuckles at the perfectly set out line cutting a swathe across the diameter of his plate.
So the man who makes such serious films keeps you quietly laughing. But on entertainment, he is clear. "A film has to necessarily entertain an audience. The question is, at what level. Falling over a banana peel...some people will definitely laugh at that. It is a transient feeling at the very lowest level. But a work of art should entertain you at the very deepest level. It should grow with you."
A vegetarian now
As in his films, so in life, Adoor has grown into new things. If he started his career as an investigator in the National Sample Survey, if his films come after longish breaks - "The average interval between films was three years, but the last one broke all records: seven years!" - over the last year, a new development is his turning vegetarian. He recalls, "When I was a non-vegetarian and there were vegetarians travelling with me, I used to wonder how they survived!"
It is clear the man who as a youngster used to "marvel at the spectacle, the magic of cinema of those days" is still full of wonder at the little innocent things of life. No wonder he has yet many a tale to cook, and we can only wait for the next serving.
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