Dialogue: Adoor Gopalakrishnan


Adoor Gopalakrishnan is not a prolific filmmaker. He has made 10 features since his first in 1972, "Swayamvaram" (One's Own Choice), and about 30 documentaries or shorts. His many layered movies are set in his native Kerala and sometimes on the State's borders with Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. Most often he writes his own stories and scripts. On those rare occasions when he adapts other writers' works, they form, above all, sources of inspiration, lending themselves to newer interpretations and cinematic forms. The Hollywood Reporter's Gautaman Bhaskaran caught up with the director at the 10th Deauville Asian Film Festival in France, March 10-16, at the screening of his latest feature, "Naalu Pennungal" (Four Women), based on four short stories of late renowned Kerala writer Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. Premiered in Toronto late last year, the film's tells of a prostitute, a farm worker, a childless woman and a spinster, each by turns tempted by marriage and love and frustrated by society's ridicule and rejection.

The Hollywood Reporter:
What drew you to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's fiction?
Adoor Gopalakrishnan: I grew up reading Thakazhi, and have always been an admirer of his perceptive literary work, both novels and short stories. Of the 400-odd short stories of his, the four I chose for this film are the closest to my heart. These stories, which reflect the state of women in Kerala's society half a century ago, continue to be relevant to this day.

THR: What are the challenges you faced when adapting these stories to the screen?
Gopalakrishnan: My allegiance lies more with the spirit rather than letter. As I develop the script, new characters and situations emerge. In "Four Women," the stories may appear independent of one another, but actually a thematic development within and between the four stories unites them into an integrated whole. The biggest challenge in any adaptation is to overcome the literariness of the original.

THR: Do you feel the plight of women in Kerala has undergone major changes in these 50 years?
Gopalakrishnan: In Kerala women have always enjoyed greater privileges than in the other parts of the country because of the matrilineal system. But they have also faced restraints due to social conventions and age-old traditions. However, in the past 50 years, several social and political movements, universal education and legislation have empowered women to gain greater economic freedom. A marked improvement in their social condition is clearly visible. Yet, a lot more needs to be achieved.

THR: "Four Women" has been widely appreciated and well received all over the world. It has been a favorite in many festivals. Does the subject of women have something to do with this appeal?
Gopalakrishnan: Yes. Women everywhere, in India and abroad, have strongly identified with this movie. At Deauville, as elsewhere, I found women deeply empathetic in their response to the film's characters and their concerns. The fact that my characters are strong-willed women, not buckling even under adversity, has endeared the movie to female viewers.

THR: How are you able to draw excellent performances out of your actors?
Gopalakrishnan: An actor is my medium. I pay great attention to performance, and the process begins with the casting. Basically, the actor must look the part. I have several rehearsals before the actual shoot. I also go for several takes till I am completely satisfied with the outcome. Having been a stage actor myself in my younger days, I feel I am of greater help to my actor.

THR: What next?
Gopalakrishnan: My next film is also based on Thakazhi's stories. Titled, "Crime and Punishment", the production is nearly complete.

THR: How would you view the Bollywoodization of Indian cinema?
Gopalakrishnan: It is not good for India cinema. Bollywood or Hindi films make for less a fourth of the 1,000-odd movies made annually, and cinema in languages such as Tamil, Keralam and Bengali are as rich, and interestingly different in some ways. They together and individually add to the country's cinematic treasure and memory. Bollywood with its money and muscle power is like a large fish trying to swallow the smaller fish. My kind of cinema, intimate and personal, has its committed audience all right, but does suffer in the face of unfair distribution and exhibition that seem to favor big budget films.

THR: What is the solution?
Gopalakrishnan: Maybe the establishment of small 100- or 200-seat cinemas where low budget, regional movies can be screened. At one point in time, the National Film Development Corporation of India had planned a chain of small theatres, but nothing came of it. The plan must be revived. Otherwise, Indian cinema may become boringly uniform with Bollywood monopolizing the screen.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Birthplace: Adoor in Kerala, India.
Birth date: July 3 1939.
Selected filmography: "Naalu Pennungal" (Four Women), 2007; "Nizhalkkuthu" (Shadow Kill), 2002; "Kathapurushan" (Man of the Story), 1995; "Mathilukal" (Walls), 1989; "Anantaram" (Monologue) 1987; "Mukhamukham" (Face to Face), 1984; "Elippathayam" (Rat Trap), 1981; "Kodiyettam" (The Ascent), 1977; "Swayamvaram" (One's Own Choice), 1972
Notable awards: Padma Vibhushan, India's top civilian honor, 2006, for Achievement in the Field of Arts (Cinema); International Film Critics' Prize, 1990, for the Best Film at Venice for "Mathilukal" (The Walls); British Film Institute Award for the Most Original and Imaginative Film of 1982 for "Elippathayam" (Rat Trap)