Padma Vibhushan for Adoor
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Padma Vibhushan for Adoor

Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been given the second highest civilian honour.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2006 00:06 IST

Film Director Adoor Gopalakrishnanhas been conferred with prestigious Padma Vibushan award, the second highest civilian honour.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan expressed happiness for his being honoured with Padma Vibhushan. "I am glad to know that I have been chosen for this national honour," he said. "I consider this as a recognition for Malayalam cinema," said Gopalakrishnan, who won the Dada Saheb Phalke award last year.

Of the post-Satyajit Ray generation of Indian exponents of personal cinema, 62-year-old Adoor Gopalakrishnan probably has the largest and the most influential following among international cinephiles. Although his strength stems primarily from the fact that his films are firmly rooted in the ethos of his native state, Kerala, with all its complexities and historical nuances, Adoor’s work is a perfect example of a synthesis between culture specificity and communicative universality.

Indeed, such is the reach and power of his cinematic language that, in the current scenario obtaining in the domestic set-up, Adoor is better understood abroad than in India, where audiences have been fed on a steady diet of undemanding, predigested fare for too long to be in any position to really care for voices that speak of the real world in a mode that is uncompromisingly individualistic.

Few filmmakers in the world are as inimitable as Adoor. His idiom is his very own, his images clinical, the emotions controlled. A deep understanding of the human mind in general and the recent history of Kerala in particular govern his approach to narrative situations and character traits. In most of his films -- from Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice, 1972), in which a man and a woman break away from their families to begin a new life together without the sanction of marriage, to Nizhalkkutthu (Shadow Kill, 2002), where an old, infirm hangman grapples with pangs of guilt in pre-Independence Travancore -- socio-political realities inescapably impinge upon life and determine the nature of human striving.

His body of work is a stunning demonstration of artistic consistency. Whether it is the linear Kodiyettam (The Ascent), the poetic Elippathayam (The Rat Trap), the trenchant Mukhamukham (Face to Face), the elliptical Anantaram (Monologue) or the emotionally draining Mathilukal (The Walls), his control over the medium never wavers. Adoor is a true auteur. He writes his own scripts and takes his own time in developing them. He never ever plunges into a film like a quick-fix artist; he always ambles into it with the gentility and focus of a consummate craftsman, chiselling away with utmost patience.

His newest film, Nizhalkkuthu, was completed over two years ago. It showed beyond an iota of doubt that that the master filmmaker has lost none of his gifts. Nizhalkkuthu is far and away the most surreal film Adoor has ever made. Yet, it is pure Adoor for the translucence of the vision. It is cinema that explores recesses of the human consciousness that lesser filmmakers can only aspire to grasp.

In Nizhalkkuthu -- a moving moral allegory that addresses the questions of human responsibility and freedom through the tale of a guilt-ridden hangman of the pre-Independence era princely Travancore province -- Adoor cast the net wider than he had ever done before. He employed music (Ilaiyaraja) as a full-fledged narrative element, injected an air redolent with lyricism into the tale and even fell back on the visual sweep of the Cinemascope format. Elippathayam had flashes of poetry; Nizhalkkuthu contains moments of sheer inspiration.

Nizhalkkuthu has raised hopes of the advent new, resurgent Adoor ready to announce to the world that he is all set to push his boundaries even further. For a lover of good cinema, no matter where in the world he lives, nothing could be better than the emergence of an Adoor experimenting with an element of restrained lyricism.

The apparent simplicity of the sequence of Nizhalkkuthu story is broken in the last quarter of the film as the line between dream and reality, the conscious and the subconscious is blurred in the fevered imagination of a drunken Kaliyappan. The characterization itself is replete with contrasts: the hangman’s rope, which kills the condemned, also cures the sick. The rope has curative powers: when burnt before an image of Goddess Kali it yields a magical ash that can drive away human ailments.

As with all of Adoor’s films, the passage of time plays a crucial role in Nizhalkkuthu. Time is indeed a constant presence here. The shortening hangman’s rope, the lengthening furrows on the care-worn face of Kaliyappan and the ethereal quality of the music of the orphan’s flute conjure up a sense of timelessness as much as they indicate the inexorability of the march of Time.

It is just such touches of magic that make Adoor’s cinema such a treat. But they also make demands on the viewer. His cinema is not for the casual tourist; it is meant for the committed pilgrim. Only the uncannily observant and most patient of filmgoers can hope to get access into this world where nature and history, emotions and ideas, style and substance attain a glorious level of confluence.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 23:31 IST