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January 10, 2001


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'I feel Malayalam cinema is definitely growing'

Shobha Warrier

Adoor Gopalakrishnan Adoor Gopalakrishnan is to Malayalam cinema what Satyajit Ray is to Bangali cinema.

In fact, he has been called the best director that India has produced after Ray.

Ever since he made his first film, Swayamvaram in the year 1972, there arrived a spate of new committed filmmakers and Malayalam films became a regular feature at major international film festivals.

It is another matter that all those directors have since faded away. But Adoor Gopalakrishnan continues to make quality films.

In the last 28 years, he has made only a few but all of them have won several national and international awards.

Who else can talk authoritatively on Malayalam films but Adoor Gopalakrishnan?

How do you describe the present state of Malayalam films? On one hand, we make award-winning films but on the other side, there is a state of soft porno films too.

The present state of Malayalam films has puzzled me. The number of people who frequent to the theatres has come down tremendously. So, even the good films are not doing well in the theatres.

In such a scenario, they have decided to attract people by showing soft porno films.

Is television a reason for holding people back from the theatres?

Yes, it is one of the most important reasons. Most middle class people go with their families to the theatres.

Now that the ticket rates are quite high, it is a costly affair for a middle class family to go often. It is not possible to keep the ticket rates low as the cost of production of films has gone up.

Meanwhile, there came a flood of television channels vying with each other in screening film-based programmes and serials. They sustain actually on these two.

Even the worst films which did not even run for a few days in the theatres get a medium run now. These channels survive by showing crude and vulgar creations which they call films.

And the serials! They are worse than the worst films! And these are the things that the people of Kerala watch these days.

I feel it has made them averse to quality.

It should have been the reverse actually.

Television is a good medium to take people closer to the visual medium. It can elevate the taste of people through good visual programs.

Unfortunately, instead of creating a visual culture, it has deteriorated the culture of the people of this state. All this because television fell into the hands of those who have no idea about the medium.

Even the government-run Doordarshan could not do justice to the medium. I think it was a major fault on their part. If they had kept the standards of their programmes high, the quality of the channels that followed would have been better.

Many film critics lament that the standard of Malayalam films is deteriorating. Do you think so?

No, I feel Malayalam cinema is definitely growing.

Every year, you see talented youngsters entering the scene and they are making good films, too. Their works might not be extraordinary, but the effort is there. These individuals' efforts are praiseworthy. The problem now is there is no outlet for their efforts. We are not providing them with good openings.

At the same time, I also would say that if Malayalam films are winning a lot of awards at the national level, it is not because they are of high quality but because the standard of the other language films are that bad. Even from Bengal, you see pretentious films these days.

But the standard of the commercial Malayalam films has definitely deteriorated.

What do you attribute to the sustained growth of Malayalam films, which is quite different from what is happening in the other parts of India except, of course, Bengal? Is the reason literacy or the film society movement of the Seventies?

Kerala as well as Bengal produce good films. The latter, in fact, has won more National Awards than the former.

Yes, literacy could be a reason. More important is film literacy.

The film movement has also played a major role in spreading film literacy. Bengal has a tradition of Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, and the standards that they have set.

Naturally, young filmmakers would like to follow these greats. There are some like Gowtham Ghosh.

Kerala, too, has quite a few young and talented filmmakers. Of late, some of the regular commercial filmmakers have decided to make good films. That is very heartening.

In both Bengal and Kerala, youngsters look at films with passion and that is the reason we have good filmmakers coming up.

I will say I am known more in Calcutta than in Kerala! And Mrinal Sen is known in all the households in Kerala.

Even those who have not seen Ray's or Sen's films also know them here in Kerala. That is only because of literacy.

Is there any period in the history of Malayalam cinema which you feel is a golden period?

Let us not call it a 'golden' period. Let us say it is the period when we made films based on literature.

They might not have been great films, but they were better than most in terms of content and quality. They were also rooted to the soil.

Many people came to know about the perceptions of some great writers like M T Vasudeavn Nair, Basheer, Thakazhi, Uroob, Pottekad, etc.

Even though those films were crudely made, we could see sparks of greatness here and there.

What those filmmakers did was commercialise great ideas. Because the ideas were by some great writers, the truth that was there underneath came out. All the characters were real and genuine, unlike what we see in other films.

Today, films have become so unreal and artificial. I feel they want to make unreal films; they want to take them as far away from real life as possible.

Do you think superstars are responsible for films becoming unreal and artificial? They are portrayed as supermen in many commercial films.

I don't think stars are responsible for this. Unfortunately, these days, films are sold only on the basis of star value.

The value of a star depends on how saleable he is. The capital for the producer is the star and nothing else. Or else he attracts capital with the help of the star's name. So the star sees to it that his image is intact. He also decides how the film should proceed.

So it is the star who is reponsible for the drop in the standard of Malayalam films?

Yes. He is a very, very important element in this entire muddle.

But the star system is not created by a star. It is created by those filmmakers who do not invest financially or intellectually in a film.

Once the star is given undue importance, he starts calling the shots.

But the so-called superstars of Malayalam films are not just popular stars. They are very good actors, too. Which you may not see in other Indian languages.

They appreciate good films. They associate themselves with good cinema, and are even willing to do them even for no payment. That is because they are aware of the kind of prestige that is associated with good cinema.


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'Cinema is both art and industry'
'We have a long way to go'
'You don't see emotion these days'

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