For G. Aravindan and the film culture of Kerala with love and respect. ( A tribute to the late iconic film maker when he turns 75 in January and the Malayalee film goers who encouraged them) By V K CherianOne of the lasting memories of G Aravindan , the acclaimed film maker, who should have turned 75 in January 2011 , for me is a disturbing one. In our gathering at Press Club in New Delhi , Aravindan suddenly burst out almost sobbing. Writer Paul Zaccharia and TN Gopakumar ( Asianet) and myself were shocked and surprised at his sudden outburst. Aravindan bitterly complained about the neglect he and his films suffered from OV Vijayan, who otherwise is a friendly person to him. “ Mash ( OV Vijayan) writes on all the films of Adoor, but not of mine. He has been unfair to me”. All of us had a bad time in assuring him that OV had the best of regard for Aravindan, not just as a fellow cartoonist and his (OVs) not writing on the films was not deliberate. Such was his attachment and commitment to his films and that was appreciated and admired by cineastes across the world.
Despite all the honours and success as a film maker, the sensitive Aravindan had to go through the torture of financial loss of his last film, friends tell me. It is not Aravindan films were all lose making ones financially. A film like “ Chidambaram “ was a huge commercial success with Smita Patil as the leading lady, but as the rights of the film favoured the distributor and Aravidan did not benefit from it.
As I went through a recent discussion on Adoor Gopalakrishnan films in a Face Book, I realized how different our film culture has grown to be. ( Adoor privately informs that it is the IT crowd on FB and they have no understanding of any films). As a State with largest number of film society and support to good films, Kerala and Malayalis were the darling of all serious film makers of yester years. I remember Kumar Shahni , one of the most respected film maker of 70s and 80s feeling happy that his ” Mayadarpan” got the maximum screening in Kerala. He always accepted any invite from Kerala for a seminar or any event with joy and always encouraged Malayali film enthusiasts around him. I remember both Mani Kaul and Kumar being very “ jealous “ of the attention which Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan and John Abraham used to get, from the Malayali film going crowd.” Malayalis have a plastic quality as far as films and arts are concerned“ Mani quipped once to me in a discussion.
Today I can hear a TV Chandran, a film maker, many consider as the worthy successor of Aravindan, complaining about the Malayalam film goers. They do not want anything serious, in films, just time pass stuff with two hero’s and their antics to make them happy, he says. Chandran who used to make one film an year is taking a long break after two of his good films did not do well either in the theatres or the national and State honours. This is a scenario which is totally against what prevailed two decades back. Almost all films of Adoor Gopalakrishnan has not just been a success in the award circuit, and Malayalis across the world flocked to the theatres to see it, treating it as a cultural event. I am told Chitralekha film cooperative, a unique venture of those days was the only production company which paid back their loan from the erstwhile Film Finance Corporation of India (FFCI). Credit squarely goes to the enlightened film going public of Kerala of those days, not just Adoor who strived for developing a strong base of serious film goers with his activist film society work, along with Mr. P K Nair, Curator of National Film Archive of India(NFAI). I am not discounting the huge patronage of an Editor/literary figure like MT Vasudevan Nair and a host of dedicated film society workers of the 70s and 80s. Infact if you look at the production of “ Uttarayanam” the first film of Aravindan, one can understand that it is the very same film society culture which threw up a film maker like Aravindan, who otherwise was a cartoonist and painter.
Adoor was a Film and TV Institute of India, Pune, product and has already pursing for a better film viewing culture with his Chitralekha film society in the State capital . The very same Chitralekha led to formation of a film cooperative which led to his first film “Swyamvaram” which put the Malaylam film to international and national acclaim. Then came Aravindan with his first film. Aravindan was an acclaimed cartoonist and painter. His “ Cheriya manushanum valia lokavum”, in the last page of Mathrubhoomi weekly, was a big hit with the youngsters of those days. The new film culture of Kerala threw up two internationally famous mastero’s from Kerala, along with Satyajit Ray and Mirnal Sen of Bengal and a host of other directors from Hindi films. Both Adoor and Aravindan are respected names across the serious film world, not just for their films, but their wide acceptability in Kerala.
I remember the iconic Cuban film maker Thomas Alea after a visit to Thiruvanathapuram, describing “ Elipathayam “ of Adoor as “ classic”. I also remember the US based FILM quarterly, an academic journal on films reviewing Aravindan’s films in detail. Malayalam films became part of the world good cinema and names of Adoor and Aravindan and their films took a place among the 100 odd film makers as must see for all serious film goers, across the globe. So much so State government stepped in with Kerala State Film Development Corporation and later Chalachitra academy to promote good cinema culture in Kerala. As the film society wave began to fade like the library movement of Kerala, the annual Thiruvanathapuram international film festival remains a reminder of the entrenched serious film culture of Kerala.
However, none of the serious films including that of Adoor is making waves in the cultural scene of Kerala, like the way it used to do. Aravindan is no more. TV Chandran , who is also product of the film society culture of 70s and 80s is struggling to make films. The annual State and national awards have become a stage for intense personal squabbles over the awards and its merits. To top it all serious film makers are not getting producers, like the way used to get. The film culture in Kerala appears to be going the national way, with Bollywood like productions taking the prime stage and the serious films taking a back stage.
Lot of us were privileged in our college days to see the best of world cinema with Chalachitra and Chitralekha and other film societies aided and abetted by Mr. P K Nair the curator of National Film Archive of India, whose immense contribution of good cinema culture in Kerala is yet to be honoured the way it should be. We had the privilege of the roaming ambassador of good cinema, John Abraham, inspiring us with his bohemian style, though his presence in film appreciation workshops, collective film making and film festivals. The film makers and film writers made it a point to constantly educate and remind the cultural icons that Malayalam films are getting into a new phase and taking its rightful place , not just Indian cinema, but also world cinema.
Those “ silent horse” s and tribal “ Ram and Sita “ of “ Kanchana Sita” directed by Aravindan and the decaying nair tharavadu of “Elipathayam” was not just exciting Malayalees, but serious film goers across the world. There was intense competition on merit of films between Aravindan and Adoor, but their competition and their vision put the Malayalam films firmly on the world map. And above all the film goers of that era received their films as cultural events and both the film makers became cultural icons of Kerala. Of cource if one do not mention the huge patronage of MT Vasudevan Nair, the legendary writer with an open mind and promoter of all talents to the film culture of Malayalis, I will be failing in my tasks of reminding the glorious time of serious Malayalm film culture. You can call it art films or cultural films, but they are the ones who will catch the imagination of the world to Malayalam cinema as a unique cultural product, not the usual run of the mill “ fan club” films.
Aravindan is no more when we observe his 75th birth anniversary. Adoor is with us and making films even after the Dadasahib Phalke award, which he jokes is given to retired film makers. May be the film goers are lukewarm to that type of film in our theatres, as the omnipresent television culture has played havoc with the visual vocabulary of Malayalees. From the “Ma” publications Malayalees have graduated to tear jerker’s and funny television serials and “reality shows”. However, thanks to the film culture promoted by the film society movement and the students from Film and TV Institute of India, Malayalam films are technically as sound as any major Hindi or Hollywood productions. May be some of the average Malayalee film goers no longer folk to see an Aravindan or Adoor films like the day did in 70s and 80s, but they must not forget the fact these two film makers are the ones who put the stamp of Malayalam films on world map. And it is up to the film goers of Kerala to decide we need their worthy successors in world cinema, in a globalised universe, to keep the flag of the Malayalee culture flying high.