Interview Malayalam

IFFI 2017: It was like he was living in a Fellini world, says Lijin Jose of KG George

Lijin Jose’s documentary, 8½ Intercuts: Life And Films Of KG George, takes an incisive look at the Malayalee filmmaker and his legacy.

A working still of 8½ Intercuts: Life And Films Of KG George. Courtesy: Lijin Jose

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Lijin Jose’s documentary, 8½ Intercuts: Life And Films Of KG George, is an attempt to discuss the contribution and relevance of KG George’s films while tracing the journey of the filmmaker and the development of his thought process.

The documentary contains interviews with some of the stalwarts of the Malayalam film industry who recall working with George and analyse the content of his films.

Known for ushering in bold new themes and exploring the psychological depths of characters and their motivations, George’s films engaged with changes in the political and cultural landscape of Kerala and the country as a whole. However, like countless other artistes, the filmmaker did not find the recognition he unequivocally deserved.

In an exclusive interview on the sidelines of last month's International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, Jose spoke about George’s legacy and his film, which is a heartfelt homage to the unpretentious filmmaker who called it like he saw it. Excerpts:

Your film looks at the legacy of KG George which, in part, is about a fight against the system. Through his themes and characters, the filmmaker explored injustice and power. What inspired you to make a film on him?

As a college student, when I started watching films seriously, I watched the films of all serious filmmakers like G Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji N Karun, but KG George’s films had some more life in them. There was nothing pretentious about his films. The characters were deeply rooted. Their feelings were so clear and the ways in which they articulated them as well... it was like [watching] life on screen. He represented cross-sections of society. Starting from a rural village to the tinsel world, everything comes in his films. That’s when I started watching KG George seriously.

I made my first film, Friday. George sir happened to like it and shared his comments with me. That's when I got to know him better. So I was curious how a filmmaker could come up with such varied topics and how one can be so daring about family life, religion, the system, never conforming to the stereotypical things we were watching otherwise. I don’t think that in any other film you would have a husband and wife talking about the wife’s periods. He did that back in the 1980s! It was so unconventional at the time and it was treated normally, like a day-to-day activity. And yet he makes his statement. Like in the film Irakal (1985), he has a protagonist, but at the end of the film you realize that everyone is a victim.

In general terms, people call him the psychologist of Malayalam cinema, as he is very analytical about the psychological state of his characters. Still, they are very bold and there is nothing mysterious or vague about the characters and they communicate with the common man. These are the aspects I liked about him and wanted to know how a person can become such a daring filmmaker, so that is what I was trying to find out. That is how he lives and thinks, as you can see in the documentary. There is nothing to be pretentious about in his life, in his films, that is what he is.

There are lots of themes that intersect between the life of KG George and your film on him. For example, talking about his first film, he says he wanted to go into the mindscape of his characters. You in your film explore the psychological depths of the filmmaker.

Exactly, that was how it was structured.

One of the other strong points that you make in your film is that he did not get his due as a filmmaker. Did that also propel you to make this film to bring his work and contribution to cinema to light?

That was also another question, that why did a filmmaker like KG George stop midway. He wanted to make more films, he had ideas, but he couldn’t. His last film, Ilavankodu Desam (1998), was actually a victim of the star system which had come in by that time. The star he made, Mammootty, becomes a big star there but he [George] couldn’t work within that star system and after that he didn’t make another film.

So, I had this question in my mind and asked him and asked other people and we got different answers. Like [film editor] Bina Paul says he was a misfit and with liberalization people were more into entertainment than serious cinema. Also, television and soap operas were coming in and the kind of films KG George was making did not have an audience and the producers were also not keen to make his films. That’s what he also says in the documentary.

Filmmaker Lijin Jose

As a young filmmaker making films in the Malayalam industry, do you feel overpowered by the star system as well, as there is a certain stronghold of the older stars in the industry even now?

Of course that is there, with both older stars and younger stars. Until they are successful they experiment, but once they become successful they want to be in the same zone, working with superhit directors, superhit banners, formula stories… so it is very disheartening to see that even people who were willing to experiment, doing such films.... For the senior artistes, it is a time in their career when they can experiment with lots of other things because they have proved their mettle. So now they can do different kind of cinema and characters and forms, but unfortunately that is not happening.

Like Amitabh Bachchan is doing in the Hindi film industry?

Exactly. You don’t like Bachchan for all the films he did in the past. You love him for the roles like Cheeni Kum (2007), Piku (2015), Pink (2016), they are all great characters, and it’s really sad to see these stars [in Malayalam cinema] wasting their talent.

To ask you a technical question, you have created a 3D effect with the black & white photographs, which creates motion and the sense that you are taking us into the photograph and that moment. How did you achieve that effect?

We have these young kids who can do magic with different software! The film has too many interviews and one of the concerns I had was whether a non- Malayalam-speaking person would be able to follow all that talking as they would be just reading subtitles.

One sad thing is that there isn’t any footage available of these people. We have what we have shown in the film because George sir personally had a huge collection of most of his films — handwritten scripts, notices, everything. Much of that was lost while [he was] shifting house, but some of it was still there.

I found some interesting photographs and dailies and I did not want to use them as still photographs. I asked my friend Sanjai Suresh and the creative consultant on the film, Razi, what we could do with them, and also asked my editor Ajith. So Razi came up with this idea and said we could render movement into still photographs. They make them into separate layers and using Adobe [image-manipulation software], one can render motion into different layers. I couldn’t think of using flat images and between Razi and Sanjai, they worked on this which ended up working well!

Talking about footage and surviving images, I was curious where you got the film clips from. Were they available in the archives?

There are seven films of his available at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), of which we have used six in the documentary. We took the scan of the films from them. The Chalachithra Academy in Kerala really helped us in coordinating this, otherwise it would have been very difficult. But because it was KG George, the current chairman Kamal and Bina Paul were also very excited as they are also KG George fans and they stepped in at the last minute.

It took four years to make this film as there were certain things I did not want to compromise on, such as this footage, and the process was very complicated. But since it was between two government bodies, it was facilitated and I am really grateful to the Kerala Chalachithra Academy for all its support, otherwise we would have had to make do with bad footage.

There are several parallels that you draw between Federico Fellini and KG George and the title itself is a homage to Fellini’s film 8½ (1963). When did you think of these parallels? Are you also a Fellini fan like George?

(Laughs.) I am not a hard-core fan like George, but I do love Fellini. When you start talking to him [George] about films, after every two minutes he will come up with a Fellini reference, so he is that hard core a fan.

While editing the film, I started re-watching Fellini and realized that so many things in George’s life can be connected to Fellini’s films. Like 8½ is about a filmmaker thinking about his next film. And La Dolce Vita (1960) is about the marital conflict and I just found too many connections! There were so many parallels. It was like he was living in a Fellini world! So that came together at the editing stage and also allowed us to structure the film.

Thank you very much. Wish you all the best for your next project.

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