Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s creative genius as a filmmaker has been at work for over three decades. The uniqueness of his vision and the consistency of his approach to filmmaking have elevated him to the position of the most outstanding Indian filmmaker after Satyajit Ray. His films are stamped with a realism that is completely free of artifice, suffused with humanism and reflect a complete mastery of his subject matter.
A Door to Adoor is a collection of essays edited by Lalit Mohan Joshi and C.S. Venkiteswaran. Within its covers, critics such as Derek Malcolm, Maithili Rao, Shampa Banerjee, ace filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen and Girish Kasaravalli and archivists and academics P.K. Nair and Suranjan Ganguly open doors towards unravelling Adoor Gopalakrishnan and his films through their own incisive assessments and critical reviews of his cinema.
By Shyam Benegal
I have no doubt in my mind that Adoor Gopalakrishnan is by far the most accomplished filmmaker of India today. His oeuvre is not large. Ten cinema features covering a span of almost thirty five years. He belongs to a generation of filmmakers who emerged in the wake of the dramatic breakthrough made in Indian cinema, primarily by the films of Satyajit Ray and subsequently by films of Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen which in many ways liberated Indian cinema from its formulaic straightjacket.
One of the early graduates of the Film and Television Institute of India, Adoor had the good fortune to have the charismatic Ritwik Ghatak as one of his teachers. Soon after his graduation he started the first and perhaps the only filmmakers’ cooperative in India which began promisingly by producing his first cinema feature ‘Swayamvaram’. It was a seminal film in terms of the ideas and themes that would eventually take centre stage in practically all his later work.
Adoor’s films are meditations on the human condition. He has an extraordinary ability to delve into the complexities of human existence; compulsions forced by history and tradition, and by dynamics of social and political change. His narratives appear simple enough but as the stories unfold, nothing is simple anymore. Moral ambiguities, multiple realities spin their web on the protagonists who are driven by forces that are as much released by individual volition as they are by social, environmental or historical factors.
Adoor’s vision is intensely personal. It is in many ways a tragic vision. The instinct for survival often make the protagonists in his narratives act in ways that reveal life’s many contradictions. In most cases the characters he chooses to depict are not always able to take charge of their lives. They are more fractured, than flawed, constantly attempting to transcend the condition in which they are placed. There are no neatly worked out ends to his stories. Practically all his films end with other beginnings, his protagonists constantly attempting to reconcile themselves to the contradictions that confront them.
Like Satyajit Ray in Bengal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan has risen from being the foremost filmmaker in Kerala to being the pre-eminent filmmaker of India, today.