By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram
One day, a couple of years ago, V.S. Kundu, the Director-General of the Films Division of India called top Karnataka director Girish Kasaravalli and gave him a proposal: could he do a 90 minute documentary on Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of Kerala's great directors. Kasaravalli was hesitant. “I am a feature film director,” he says. “Documentaries are not my domain.” But, later, Gopalakrishnan called Kasaravalli up and said, “It will be a different type of documentary if you do it.”
Encouraged, Kasaravalli got down to work. He read many articles and interviews of Adoor, as well as two books: 'Adoor Gopalakrishnan: A Life In Cinema' by journalist Gautam Bhaskaran and a book of essays called 'A Door to Adoor', which was brought out by the South Asian Foundation. "I also viewed his films repeatedly to form an understanding of his work,” says Kasaravalli. “Unlike me, Adoor is a minimalist. He has been influenced a lot by Kathakali, which also uses a minimalistic approach.”
After working on the script for one-and-a-half years, the film was shot over a 30-day period in Thiruvananthapuram and its environs. And the end result, 'Images and Reflections: A Journey into Adoor's Imagery', is an absorbing one. Not surprisingly, there are several distinguished talking heads: the historian KN Panikkar, acclaimed directors Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen, the veteran Malayali actor, KPAC Lalitha, senior Kerala-based journalists CS Venkiteswaran and Gouridasan Nair, Gopalakrishnan's daughter, Aswathi Dorje, and, not to forget, the maestro himself.
But it is the Mumbai-based Uma D'Cunha, who does the English subtitles of Gopalakrishnan's films, who caught his personality well. “Adoor looks like a humble person but inside he has an immense confidence,” says Uma. “It is the simplicity in which he tells the story, the way he presents human beings, with all their feelings that somehow the politics does not take centre stage. What takes centre stage is the human being. Therefore, they have a powerful impact on the viewer.”
And, rightly, Kasaravalli has focused on the acclaimed films like 'Elippathayam', 'Mukhamukham', 'Anantaram', 'Mathilukal', 'Kathapurushan' and 'Naalu Pennungal'.
The film is also studded with insights by Gopalakrishnan himself. Here is one about endings in films: “One of the difficulties I face is that the audience wants everything to be told, so that they can forget about it. But I want them to take the ideas home and ruminate over it. At the end of each film, I don't say this is all. Life goes on. This is only one ending that I have given. But there are several endings.”
Unusually, Gopalakrishan's daughter, Aswathi, talks about her father's childhood. “My father grew up in a joint family, where there were several uncles, aunts, cousins, and other relatives,” she says. “It was an environment which allowed him a lot of freedom. In a house which was full of children, nobody paid attention to him. It allowed a lot of room for creativity to come in.”
Kasaravalli has to be complimented for the manner in which he has been able to draw out all the participants including Gopalakrishnan himself. “Adoor is a warm person,” says Kasaravalli. “He is very committed to his art. But more than anything, Adoor is very accommodative. We vibed very well. I found the exercise of making the film very fruitful.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)