Come May 11, the legendary director Adoor Gopalakrishnan will step behind the camera to freeze his 12th film in a long career which began with his 1972 Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice). In fact, he was one of the earliest pioneers of the Indian New Wave, which began in 1969 with movies like Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome (Mr Shome), Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti (Daily Bread) and Basu Chatterjee’s Sara Akash (The Whole Sky).
An ardent admired of Satyajit Ray, Gopalakrishnan’s upcoming work in Malayalam will be titled Pinneyum (Once Again) with Kavya Madhavan and Dileep playing the lead pair. And how apt is the title, given the auteur’s eight-year hiatus. His last film was Oru Pennum Randaanum (A Climate for Crime) -- opened in 2008, a year after his Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) came.
His fans had been wondering - and even worrying - that he might not wield the megaphone any more, the loss of his wife some months ago adding to what some perceived as his professional disinterest.
In the history of cinema, we know a Shammi Kapoor, who refused to come out of his bedroom for three months after his young wife, Geeta Bali, died of smallpox. Kapoor was then in the midst of shooting for Vijay Ananda’s Teesri Manzil, and producer Nasir Hussain understood the star’s pain and waited. When Kapoor re-emerged and completed Teesri Manzil, it turned out to be one of his best-ever performances as Rocky, a star singer in a Mussoorie hotel who gets entangled in a murder.
Personal losses sometimes help bring out the best in us, and Pinneyum may well turn out be yet another masterpiece of the man who gave us gems like Swayamvaram, Elippathayam, Kodiyettam, Vidheyan, Mukhamukham, Anantaram and so on. But the intervals between these movies have been never as long as eight years; they have usually been four or five years or less.
Gopalakrishnan told this writer that he liked to reflect for a long time after completing a film before getting down to the next. “I take my own time to write a story or pick one and then to pen the screenplay,” he said, despite men like Ray urging Adoor to make at least one movie a year.
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One does know much about Pinneyum except that it will have Kavya Madhavan (who was seen in Gopalakrishnan’s earlier Naalu Pennungal) and Dileep, with whom he has wanted to work for a long time. Normally, Gopalakrishnan does not work with stars. There have been exceptions though like Madhu (Swayamvaram) , Mammootty (Vidheyan, Mathilukal) and Sarada (Swayamvaram). Now, Dileep is a star all right.
The plot of Pinneyum is being kept under wraps, but all that Gopalakrishnan would reveal now is that it “will be an intense love story”. Knowing him, his latest outing is not going to be hot stuff (on the lines of explicit French cinema, which he is quite fond of). But it may be subtle and subdued, but provocative, as far as the content goes. Adoor is known for this.
Take Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice). It stormed Kerala’s conservative citadels of celluloid. Its story was radical, certainly so in the early 1970s. Synchronised sound and outdoor locales were unheard of, or almost, then in Kerala. Gopalakrishnan used his Nagra recorder, carried his camera beyond the studio walls to film the story of Viswanathan and Sita, who, defying their parental wish, run away to a city to live together. A man and a woman living together outside wedlock was enough to spark sensation. Gopalakrishnan’s first work that opened in 1972 did that and more.
Adoor’s Mathilukal in 1989 (with Mammootty playing Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) is also a uniquely strange love story, which is set in prison during the British Raj. When the political prisoners leave - Basheer’s name is strangely missing from the list - he is lonely and even hatches a plot to escape. But suddenly the voice of a woman prisoner that wafts across the high wall separating the men’s wing from the women’s lifts his sagging spirit.
She is Narayani, the youngest there, the most beautiful, as she claims in the beginning. She has committed murder. Gopalakrishnan uses sheer eroticism to describe their meetings. There is tenderness, there is love and there is also the comic, but all kept at more than an arm’s length by cold concrete. When Narayani throws a dead branch in the air to tell Basheer that she is there next to the wall, he gently caresses it, his yearning for affectionate touch perhaps shared by her as well. We are never taken to the other side. We never meet Narayani.
Pinneyum has been written by Gopalakrishnan. Of the 11 works of his, there have been only four occasions when he has adapted someone else’s story: Mathilukal (The Walls) by Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, Vidheyan (The Servile) by Paul Zacharia, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Oru Pennum Randaanum (A Climate for Crime) also by Pillai.
Pinneyum will be shot in Thiruvananthapuram and Quilon in about 40 days, and hopefully one would get to watch it soon after. Will it premiere at Venice at the end of August?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has written a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan.)