Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Moment of The Auteur

Why Phalke award deserves Adoor Gopalakrishnan

The Times of India
Saturday, September 10, 2005

The camera is a scalpel for Adoor Gopala-krishnan. He dissects the society and the individual with it. His aesthetic locates movies in a space that is currently missing in our discourse on cinema. The commitment is to the art form and nothing else; cinema is an end in itself. Adoor's films mirror on Kerala's political, social and cultural history.

In his essay on Tolstoy, Isiah Berlin argues that artistes can broadly be divided into two animal types, the fox and the hedgehog. The hedgehog knows one big thing, while the fox knows many. Dostoevsky is a hedgehog. His work flows out of a central, single vision. Tolstoy is a fox. He knows many things. In Berlin's words, he "entertains ideas that are centrifugal and centripetal, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into or exclude them from, any one unchang-ing, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision".

Adoor is a fox. Swayamvaram to Nizhalkuthu, his films, are reflections on the relationship between the individual and the society. Elippathayam (The Rat Trap) is "a social document of society and change, the emergence of Malayali society into modern times... It is also about sharing. It is about sharing property. It is also about sharing anxiety, love and feeling". Unni, the protagonist, is a vestige of feudalism. The decline of a social order is etched in detail with all the social and cultural minutiae in the right frame and dose. Adoor seeks the angst and ambivalence of individuals when they encounter the larger historical forces. His critical eye spots the contradictions in the interaction. There is no nostalgia in the gaze. This world abounds in ambiguities. Ambiguities indicate the working of a moral compass in the vision.

Take Mukhamukham (Face to Face). A man appears in an unnamed village, organises a trade union and the communist party, and goes underground after the murder of a factory owner. He reappears a decade later in the same mysterious fashion. The party has been in power and split. Decadence has set in and hopes are fading. Idealists in the movement want him to set things right. But he is a pale shadow of his former self, a man in stupor. Admirers accuse him of betraying his own past and the people. One night he is killed. Who killed him? Why did they choose to kill him? Who/what was responsible for his decline and the politics he built? Adoor leaves the film open-ended.

Mukhamukham challenged the politics of nostalgia and myths built around the communist hero. It is the critique of a people who wait for the revolutionary to arrive and arouse them from their inertia. "There lives a revolutionary — not necessarily political — in every individual. But in the course of time, as a matter of common experience, this spirit either dies out or becomes dormant. The idea of this film was born out of my desire to search for this spirit. Not knowing the final answers myself, I decided to give it a structure which is basically investigative in character".

In Anantharam (Monologue), he probes the idea of perception. What constitutes a story? And is the story the same for all? Can the experienced and the imagined worlds overlap? What happens if the order of the episodes in life change? How much is the order shaped by the social context? These questions, universal in nature, are raised in a cinematic language that is rooted in the social and cultural environment of Kerala. The crow and the calf, the temple and the party office, colours and gestures, they are localised and specific to the context of the story.