Wednesday, June 5, 2013

KODIYETTAM (Malayalam) (1977)

Adoor Gopalkrishnan’s second film ‘Kodiyettam’ aka ‘Ascent’ is the journey of life and maturity of the man named Sankaran Kutty. He is a simpleton who’s physically grown up man but he’s an innocent and immature child at heart. He don’t understand the language of maturity and being practical. He’s passing his days loafing around the village, playing with available kids, and helping people in whatever ways he can. His daily routine is drinking tea at local kiosk and country liquor at night with occasionally went to immerse in festivals at various temples. Back at home he eats his rice and sleep peacefully. He has a younger sister working in Trivendram who visits him once in a while. On her insistence he gets married to a local girl but the responsibility and maturity attached with marriage is absolutely absent from the man. Playing responsible husband or father is not a part of his spirit and nature. He’s free and available for local boys to get their tangled kite from tree top or helping his villagers but he has no time to look after his home or his pregnant wife. Soon he joins an assistant job with a truck driver and the journey encounters him towards few experiences that unintentionally or indirectly led him towards the right track of life. He turns out as a mature, responsible and concerning individual out of carefree and worthless one is the gist of the whole film.

One can easily emotionally connect with the character of Sankaran Kutty and it bonds a special connection when its performed with natural finesse of wonderful Malayalam actor Bharath Gopi. Adoor discovered the man to screen in his earlier ‘Swayamvaram’ for just a side role but explored the man in full fledge with his very next film. Anybody would love his childish, funny and likeable characterization naturally enacted by Gopi.  The man earned National Award for it the same year. There’s something so natural and innocence in his smile in the entire film.

Adoor’s camera has more to match with cinema of Ozu and Bresson. Like those two celebrated Masters of world cinema he too used camera movement very sparingly, infact steady shots seems like Adoor’s forte. Even the whole minimalist natural approach, atleast in his initial three films I managed to watch till day. Particularly in this film the absence of film score enables the audience to concentrate more to visuals and sound natural to its available environment. The film represent Kerala is all its vivid authenticity through visuals and sound. The portrayal of everyday rural life of Keralian town with temple and festivities in almost natural and unadorned attempt with languid pace that flows freely with monotony and without much outside interventions. One can see the whole fulcrum of the temple festivities that runs during the entire film and parallel to that runs the character development of the main lead. The final frame captures the crackers in the sky celebrating life fulfilled.

Monday, June 3, 2013

ELIPPATHAYAM (Malayalam) (1982)

A feudal lord is like a rat trapped in a granary. The rat does not have to worry about the outer world as long as granary (read –Wealth) is full. But when slowly granary turned towards emptiness, it turns out to be a fix. The Perfect Rat Trap. The film documents the fall of feudal system in Kerala and how this new crisis faced by otherwise relaxing, lazy and self pre-occupied feudal lords have to face imminent tragedy.

The chief protagonist of ‘Elippathayam’ (also known as ‘Rat-Trap’) is feudal lord named Unni. He has three sisters. The eldest one is already married and comes once in a while to meet his brother to demand her monthly share in the property. The youngest sister, Sridevi studies in college and living in youthful world of carefree fancy for a young new teacher. The responsible, concerning and most mature character of the film is the middle sister, Rajamma, who passed her marriageable age (as per Indian customs) and handles all the chores and affairs of home. She’s the most available character in the film and she’s the one on whom the feeble and inactive feudal brother rely so heavily. Throughout the film Unni is found  restless, over protected, inactive and often preoccupying with self. All we see in the film is his idleness, sleeping and routine roaming. He is unconcerned about anything serious or one that demands attention. He’s avoiding all the issues that need immediate attention whether its concern for his marriageable sister, look after his own property, share the property with his elder sister, facing thieves stealing coconuts at night or trying to search for his runaway sister. It seems that he is surviving on some sort of horribly inactive and non-reactive limbo towards reality of life. His futile existence is trapped in by his own routine inhibition and monotony of life and so he was absolutely unable to comprehend the circumstances and life around him.

Metaphorically to this central story, Adoor set the physical act of rat trap. And it was repeated three times where rat was caught and the youngest sister carried it to the nearby pond. And towards the end we see that all three sisters one by one left the house in different situations. And finally we see the personal doom vehement and claustrophobic bringing a personal tragedy under its own set trap. Though regional, this is a film which is so universal in its theme and commendable in its artistic achievement. The film is experimental in both form and content and yet not it becomes too heavy or complicated to its common viewers. The pensive and restless mood runs throughout the film where the whole house serves the metaphor of one big rat trap.

In an interview the writer-director Adoor Gopalkrishnan said, ‘The idea (to make the film) came from thought- Why it is that, we do not react naturally to things around us?’ He didn’t mind confessing in the same interview that much of the plot and characters of the film are inspired from his own family as in his childhood he witnessed many of things that became direct or indirect source that became seed of the film.

‘Elipatthayam’ is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding film, and the contribution of Adoor Gopalkrishnan is surely radical and grounded here. It is Adoor’s first color film and one can see the brilliant use of the colors, background and sound in the entire film. They all contribute a new dimension to the plot, characters and bleak atmosphere of feudal collapse and doomed personal tragedy. Apart of technical and aesthetically richness, he managed to get the fine performances from all cast. For me the most noticeable act was one who played the character of middle sister, Rajamma. It was performed so naturally by one of the finest South Indian actress named Sharada. One can see her sincerity in almost all frames in the entire film. Though she didn’t get any award for this film, she won three National Awards in her span of career ranging in various south Indian cinema till day. Many critics considered as one of the most accomplished film of Adoor Gopalkrishnan, the film won the prestigious British Film Institute Award in 1982 for the most original and imaginative film of the year.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Urbanization becomes the catchphrase of almost all state governments from last five years. Roads are the way of development and so are Highways, SEZ, bridge, fly over and innumerable toll booths are cornerstones of government’s shining signs of development aided by private construction lobbies. Here, this quite under noticed mainstream but socially concerning Kannada film critiques and deconstructs that very nature of development with land acquisition theme at central to its plot. It explores the lives of small villagers inhabited in the fertile lap of Mother Nature and how the new construction of highway brought displacement and struggle of survival to their lives. The film points the roles played by Government, politicians and corporate bodies in taking advantages of illiterate and helpless downtrodden people.

Narrated in flashback and present, the film in its central projects the life of its protagonist, Puttaka, a widow with a small child, who’s otherwise happy and content with whatever small farming earn her living in the village, just like other villagers. But fate has contrived insistently to disturb her life. The new private constructed highway snatches her land. Losing her livelihood, she starts struggling to protect her land. Guided by another wise and concerning villager, who has his influence in local government bodies, she ran from pillar to post, burning her money to prevent the inevitable. The film points speculations about the true nature of development.
Though the film is not barred from emotional melodrama and used multiple ingredients common to routine mainstream film, what makes it different is it finely manages to raise many pertinent questions and speculations about Government’s ‘development propaganda’. Though the area of villagers is regarded as green belt with fully fertile land but the powerful nexus of Government-Private partnership rounded it off to push their plan ahead. The ugly land acquisition nexus between state government and corporate tycoon is absolutely debatable issue. The film finely cqaptures the contrast in many of its frames- the struggling Puttaka walking on the road witnesses, the young yuppie couple happy in their AC car praising the state of art smooth highway as shining progress of their state.  Urbanization and development at who’s cost and what for are the points to the film explored in many of it frames. The camera captures the eye candy natural landscape of Karnataka, unlike other mainstream cinema the purpose of it here is not attracting song-dance drama of lovesick hero-heroine but to project it as significant motif of Mother Nature slowly transformed into urban concrete unstoppable giant. The film mocks the role of media too. From the beginning of the film one can see the constant debate aired on private news channel about the role of development, questioning the protest to the chief minister and construction corporate CEO. And yet, we see its real face towards the end when we come to know that all they need is just extra bytes to record the emotional drama without any concern or seriousness to the issue.

The film stars Kannada cinema’s two mature actors. natural and finely poised Shruti as simple and rustic Puttaka ia aided by Prakash Raj with his trademark blending combination of humor and drama. He also produced the film, directed by B. Suresha. It won the National Award for Best Regional Film for the year-2011-12.