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Adoor Gopalakrishnan: It's only rubbish that sells

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The veteran filmmaker said that today even television does not want worthwhile films while award juries are populated by film illiterates.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan at the Habitat Film Festival

Adoor Gopalakrishnan ended an eight-year hiatus from filmmaking with Pinneyum/Once Again (2016), but the reception his film received on its release has left him rather dispirited. "Somehow, the kind of films I make do not attract full houses for many weeks," he said at the Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi.

Pinneyum follows the travails of Purushothaman Nair (Dileep) as he tries unsuccessfully to secure a job while surviving on the salary of wife Devi (Kavya Madhavan). Purushothaman then tries to find work in the Gulf. When the job finally comes through, the fortunes of the family change and Purushothaman finds himself gaining importance in the town.

Inspired by the Agatha Christie novels he reads, Purushothaman hatches a plan to secure the family’s future for good. He decides to fake his own death to claim the insurance money and enlists the help of family members to murder an innocent man to pass the corpse off as his own. The film looks at the stranglehold of money that leads ordinary people to commit heinous crimes. The reprehensible act wrecks the family, leaving its members, especially Devi, in a shambles.

The story is inspired by an incident which took place in 1984, when Sukumara Kurup, a man working in the Gulf, faked his own death to claim the insurance. Pinneyum deploys this incident to explore the extent to which the middle class is willing to be governed by its greed for money.

In the interaction that followed the screening, Gopalakrishnan explained that the film addresses the way in which the middles class chases the idea of a good life as defined by capitalism, where the desire for a big house, car and material comforts becomes a seminal preoccupation. "We are ready to sacrifice any values we hold sacred for the sake of a good life," he said, adding that he felt the film is one of his best till date as it is "addressed to a certain degree of sensitivity and the audience contributes to this and travels along with the film".

Pinneyum was the first Adoor film to be released nationally. The filmmaker said it had been a cherished dream of his to release his film outside Kerala, but admitted that the effort did not pay off.

Addressing a question about alternative streams of revenue, he bemoaned the lack of such avenues for alternative cinema, saying, "Today, films have to be blockbusters, only then can they sell satellite rights. Even television does not want films that are worthwhile. It’s only rubbish that sells. People go to see rubbish. Despite this, we continue to make films. It’s suicidal."

The auteur attributed the stark divide between commercial and festival films to a lacuna in education about cinema, the arts and culture amongst people which resulted in "worthwhile films" not finding audiences.

Pinneyum was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 but was not chosen for the Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India and did not find any mention at the National awards either. This rejection did not go down well with Gopalakrishnan who attributed it to the lack of film knowledge and insufficient exposure of jury members to meaningful cinema.

"Nowadays anyone can become a jury member," he quipped. "It isn’t necessary to have any knowledge of the arts, let alone knowledge of contemporary culture. People who have never seen good cinema or different cinema in their lives sit on juries."

Gopalakrishnan, however, said the exclusion did not bother him. "My kind of cinema cannot please everybody," he said.

Asked about his crossover to digital technology with this film, the director said the decision was not artistic but commercial because, with the closing of labs, the old ways of shooting a film were not possible anymore. He admitted that while he did have some fears about using this new medium and had to study it thoroughly, he nonetheless found it very convenient.

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Habitat Film Festival 2017