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January 11, 2002
Adoor tells a Hangman's tale
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, celebrated filmmaker, aka spiritual heir of Satyajit Ray, is at work again. India's renowned director is filming a rare story set in the 1940s.
Thirty years after his first feature film Swayamvaram [One’s Own Choice] in 1972 won the President's Gold Medal for the best film, best director, best cameraman and best actress, Adoor experiments with a unique subject. The film -- Nizhal Kuthu [Shadow Kill] -- Adoor's ninth cinematic venture, deals with the mental turmoil of an executioner.
It has taken six long years of research to write the script and many a backbreaking journey to the remotest villages of India to find the perfect locale. That's how involved Adoor is with Nizhal Kuthu.
But then again, as Adoor's subjects always break away from traditional concepts, such research and meditation is called for.
Adoor zeroed in on Pottakulam village in Tamil Nadu's Kanyakumari district to base his story. He located the place where his central character, the executioner (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) would live.
The film is set in the 40s. In those days of royal rein, the Maharaja of the princely state of Travancore had the power to hang those found guilty of crime. The executioners of Travancore lived in far-off villages to ensure that they did not have much contact with the townsfolk.
Adoor’s chief protagonist, Nizhal Kuthu is one such ageing executioner. He's retired, but tragedy never seems to leave his family. The old executioner believes the root cause of his sad plight is the 'curse' of the people he has put to death.
Out of the blue, the Maharaja puts him into service again and orders him to carry out a new execution. The executioner now grapples with remorse, his horrifying past and justice.
Adoor says, though set in the 1940s, Nizhal Kuthu is not a period film. "It is the story of the tragic plight of the last surviving executioner of Tranvacore. It is the story of how his life is haunted by guilt and suffering," says the filmmaker.
In fact, the story idea popped into Adoor's mind in 1989, while making his critically acclaimed film Mathilukkal [Walls]. During the making of Mathilukkal, a film that depicted life in prison, Adoor visited a number of jails and conducted indepth research on jail systems. When the system of crime and punishment touched him, Adoor thought of a film on the executioner—the deliverer of justice. And when Adoor read an article about the poignant story of the last executioner of Travancore, he decided to depict the powerful theme on reel.
The last year has seen Adoor write and rewrite the script. He says that he could identify with the period and the subject too."I have childhood memories of living in the princely state of Travancore in the 40s. But this is no historical film. It is a powerful theme told in a vivid manner," he says.
When Adoor told Joel Farges, his filmmaker friend from France, about the film, the latter readily agreed to produce Nizhal Kuthu. Produced with a modest budget, the film will be released later this year in India and in France, with French sub-titles.
Veteran actor Oduvil Unnikrishnan, who won a best supporting actor award for Adoor’s last film Kathapurushan in 1995 is the protagonist in Nizhal Kuthu. Others in the film include well-known Malayalam actors -- Nedumudi Venu, Murali, Jagathi Sreekumar and new comers Rajiv Menon and Reeja Venugopal.
With Kodiyettam in 1977, Adoor depicted the decline of the prominent Nair community in Kerala; with Elipathayam in 1981 he portrayed feudalism. But he dislikes drawing comparisons from his other works. "For me, each film is unique. I cannot judge as to which is a better," he says.
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