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Interview Malayalam

Adoor Gopalakrishnan: KIFF 2017 should not be seen as just protest

The veteran filmmaker speaks about the new Kazhcha Indie Film Festival and its importance for young independent filmmakers.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan inaugurate the Signature Film of KIFF. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Sukhpreet Kahlon

A day before the inauguration of the Kazhcha Indie Film Festival (KIFF), auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of the more influential filmmakers in Malayalam cinema, inaugurated the Signature Film of the KIFF.

The concept of the film has been done by Sanoj and Arundev with art by Firoz Nediyath. Dileep Daz has edited the film.

Motivating the festival organizers with his support, Gopalakrishnan inaugurated the film and spoke to Cinestaan.com about the newest festival and its importance for young independent filmmakers. Excerpts:

We are seeing a highly unusual situation where a well-known, established festival like the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) and a new festival like KIFF will be overlapping at least in part in Thiruvananthapuram. KIFF was sparked off as a protest but the festival has subsequently emerged as a platform for independent filmmakers to come together and assert themselves. What are your thoughts on this festival?

It’s a good idea, but it should not be seen as a protest alone. Protest may have been the beginning, but I feel it has gone beyond that.

In selections, be it at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) or IFFK or even at international festivals, we find that some very outstanding films are not selected for the main competition. So many of the festivals, including Cannes, Venice and Berlin, have started Sidebar screenings. Very often people say that films screened in these parallel sessions are better than the ones selected in the competition. Because festivals want a big show with big budgets, invariably there will be the presence of Hollywood films and the small films, which are austere and meaningful, get sidelined.

But it is different here. We are not Cannes or Berlin. In a way, the festival is a regional festival, although we call it an international festival. The focus is on promoting local film production and to expose our audiences to the best of world cinema.

Some time back, I happened to chair the academy which manages the festival [IFFK]. I felt that there is already provision for two Malayalam films at the festival so I started the section ‘Malayalam cinema today’, thinking 2-3 films which could have been in competition but could not be accommodated would be featured here. Subsequently, this number was increased to seven films, so films which are not of that quality also get included, which is a very wrong way of projecting our cinema.

Very often, the committees selecting films consist of not very knowledgeable people. The best or original films get thrown out and mediocre films are shown, not only at this festival, but everywhere. So, in a way, it is a good idea to have something shown parallely. It need not be in competition with the other festival, but in many ways it supplements it as it covers films made in other languages also. It becomes an important forum and may continue as a private initiative. So that is fine because, in a way, some films which should have made it to the main festival are included here, so we do justice to those films and get to see them. So, it’s a good idea.

We are also seeing that the mainstream is increasingly coming into the festival space. This has been the case with IFFI and has been one of the enduring criticisms of IFFK as well. As a result, independent filmmakers increasingly feel that spaces for them are shrinking.

That was the idea behind the Indian Panorama [at IFFI], but who is selecting the Indian Panorama films? People who have never seen a good film in their lives! They are chairing the jury. The year before last, somebody from Karnataka who had been making rubbish films became chairman of the committee. He chose bad films for the festival and the notable films were ignored!

Earlier the idea behind choosing the jury was to select people known all over the country for their work. But nowadays we have no idea who is part of the jury. At the National awards also, a film like Baahubali won and isn’t that a shame? The film is just like the spectacles we used to see in the olden days. Those days it was in black and white. Now it is in colour with all the technological possibilities. But that is not cinema.

You chose to embrace technology with Pinneyum (2016) and you have also said that it makes filmmaking simpler, but there are many filmmakers who feel that a certain purity in terms of form and aesthetic can only be achieved on celluloid.

That is because of our long association with celluloid. Celluloid has a lot of mystery to it. Because when you shoot a film, a film is taken to the lab and processed there and then the lab report tells us if everything is okay and not damaged. After the shooting, we would get to the lab and see the rushes. In the handling of the camera, if there is some movement or something awkward while shooting, I wouldn’t know till the cameraman tells me and then I cannot do anything. So there is always this suspense.

Here, as soon as you take a shot, you can see it on the monitor. So I am in complete control. I was wary of using the technology, but I had no choice because all the labs have shut down. The new technology became acceptable because of financial facilities, not aesthetic reasons.

Also, the film can be shown simultaneously in so many cinemas, so it has become very convenient in terms of business. But each technology has its own limitations, so one doesn’t get the same image quality as before, but it will be perfected in no time. One great advantage that I have found with this new medium is the quality of sound. It has improved so much.

And sir, you weren’t very keen on using sync sound in your films....

I used it only in my first film and then abandoned it. I want no sound to come in which I do not want.

With technology, we have also seen a proliferation of filmmakers.

Only problem is with the increase in the number of filmmakers, who will see the films?

And where will they be screened especially in the context of the festivals that we are discussing?

Yes, even in festivals, which festival will show it? It also depends on quality. This is only technology, but the problem is what are they showing. Look at the cinematographers, most of them are not academically knowledgeable at all. They are doing it because everybody can handle the equipment, so even if something is shot in bad light, it will be taken as something very innovative! All the mistakes will be seen as something original. Such are the times now. Just because literacy became widespread, everybody did not become a poet (laughs)! That’s the difference.

This is a big harm it [technology] has done to filmmaking. Everybody thinks it is very easy. There is a long process of learning, of meditation, a long process of thinking of the pros and cons. Even before taking a shot, one has to think carefully because film is expensive and one cannot keep shooting. So you plan it in such a way that you save time, money, etc.

We are talking about festivals and films, but the important question is also that of the festival audience. We are in a way seeing the effects of the film society movement that you initiated years ago, as Kerala has perhaps the most cinema-literate audience in the country, along with Bengal....

That is what we all thought, but there is a phrase — If you mix asafoetida in sea water, what will happen? (Laughs.) It won’t have any effect on the sea. So that is what we have been doing. Now we have been overwhelmed by the propaganda of bad films, which is thrust on us with several channels showing terrible films and serials. Films like Baahubali also spent huge amounts on advertising, with ads in every newspaper, so people feel like they will be missing out on something if they do not watch the film. How can we compete with them?

But sir, it seems to be a chicken-and-egg situation as filmmakers often say a certain type of content sells and the audience says, well, what choice do we have? What is the solution? Will we ever be able to revive good content-driven films?

We tried to influence the decision makers to include the idea of watching good films for schoolchildren. Instead, what they did was promote schoolchildren making films! Can you imagine? It was somebody’s stupid idea to do this. What do they [the children] know? The whole attitude is that anybody can do anything.

Schoolchildren should be encouraged to read. That is their age. It is a cumulative experience that one brings to cinema. They have even been asked to write scripts! So this is a total vitiation of an idea. At their age, they can watch cinema meant for them because these children, who have been born in the last 25 years, have only been exposed to bad films since it comes free to their homes.

So whatever we do through cinema is only a trickle, which gets cancelled in the face of the massive onslaught on any taste. That’s what is happening.

Talking about the Kazhcha festival, [Sexy Durga director] Sanal [Kumar Sasidharan] mentioned that you are his guru. What would your advice be to young independent filmmakers who really have so many things pitted against them when it comes to their creative pursuits?

Actually, the government of Kerala put together a committee to look at ways to improve the Malayalam film industry. So I proposed many measures. Any film which is made within a budget of Rs2 crore should be specially promoted and the film packages should be taken abroad. This way, our filmmakers would get good exposure, but in the government they have other priorities.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan with Sanal Kumar Sasidharan at KIFF 2017

Yes, we are yet to see those recommendations being implemented.

They keep assuring us that it is being done, but we don’t know how long it will take. The government of Kerala also has a film corporation, which is working successfully. They already have 10-12 cinemas and plan to expand it, which is a good move. So, my recommendation is that keep the smallest cinema for these films, give them some time, and in case they suffer some loss, the government can bear it.

With Sanal’s film and its treatment at IFFI, we are also talking about a vehement clamping down on independent creative voices. The issue at IFFK was, of course, different….

With IFFK Sanal made a mistake. I told him that. He should not have withdrawn it because any film selected in these sections gets Rs2 lakh for subtitling and why should he lose that money? These are young artists and they get emotional. If he had consulted me, I would have told him not to do this.

But sir, at IFFI it was a completely different case....

At IFFI it was different. It was the most illegal, immoral act on the part of the government. These are films selected by a committee. We do not speak of the quality of the committee, leave that aside, but once the selection has been made by them, the government has no business to interfere. Who are they to decide once the committee has decided? What knowledge do they have? And once the courts decided in favour of the film, they found a way to cancel the certification! So just imagine how insidious it is.

We have a few democratic conventions and you cannot go against those. I have been very open about it so I have become an enemy of the government.

Finally, what would you say to the organizers of KIFF and the festival's interaction with independent cinema in the country?

At the government level, some people think Sanal is doing a parallel festival against them, but I tell them that is not the case. This is an opportunity for films to get exposure and he has done it in a very interesting way. He did a premiere of his film S Durga in a big theatre, where everyone had to pay Rs500, and the theatre was full. He raised money like that to run this festival. This is remarkable!

But I hope he releases his film soon because it is in the news. He is hoping for an all-India release and I hope it happens soon.

Related topics

Kazhcha Indie Film Festival IFFK