The International Film Festival of India, now on here, has an interesting section titled Masterstrokes, where some of the country’s best regarded directors have been featured. One of them is Adoor Gopalakrishnan, whose digitally restored Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice), with improved subtitles in English, was screened to a packed auditorium the other afternoon. Despite the show being unimaginatively scheduled during lunch, the cinema was almost full. The print was extremely good, thanks to the National Film Archives of India.
Swayamvaram, Adoor’s debut feature made in 1972, stormed Kerala’s conservative citadels of celluloid. Its story was radical, certainly so in the early 1970s, and so was the technology adopted. 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. Indeed, much more. Besides being entirely shot on real locations and with live sound, the movie was part of the Indian New Wave, which began with Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome in 1969.
During a master class that Adoor conducted after the screening, he said that the University of Wisconsin in the U.S. was acquiring all of Adoor’s eleven features to restore and preserve them. These will also be available in DVDs or even Blue-Ray. In fact, three of his films are now on DVD: Shadow Kill, Rat-Trap and Man of the Story. The last two have been released by the London-based Second Run DVD, which is also planning to get some of Adoor’s other movies on disc.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the International Film Festival of India)