8888677771 | How K G George bridged the gap between mainstream and parallel Malayalam cinema

“I firmly believe that dreams are inseparable from realism. For me, dreams are real. Even when I deal with the harshest realities of life, in my heart of hearts they remain dreams. When I start thinking of a new movie, my mind will be filled with dreams. I just need to shoot them. Shooting, for me, is the process of fulfilling my dreams,” said K G George, the legendary Malayalam filmmaker who passed away on Sunday, in an interview in 2015 on his 70th birthday.

K G George, revered by Malayali filmgoers as a filmmaker of unique talents, always tried to bridge the gap between mainstream and parallel cinema. None of his works can be branded as pure art house films. He never adhered to the so-called parallel cinema movement in Kerala. Even though George was a trained filmmaker and a great scholar who studied cinema around the world deeply, his works were never burdened with intellectual pomposity. He had a slightly Westernised mindset from his college days, influenced by turbulent political events all around the world, especially in Europe. But he always identified and addressed himself as an ordinary Keralite. It was with roots that ran deep into his own land and language that George conceived his major works.

After graduating from FTII, Pune, George worked with ace filmmaker Ramu Kariat in two films. In 1976, his pathbreaking directorial debut Swapnadanam was released. With Swapnadanam, George established his space in Malayalam cinema. The movie, which told the tragic tale of a broken marriage through several flashbacks, satisfied academic critics and ordinary film buffs alike because of its deft analysis of the psychology of average Keralites in the 1970s. The protagonist of Swapnadanam, a medical practitioner, represented the rebellious, vulnerable youngsters of that volatile era.

The next five movies George directed were inferior compared with his scintillating debut. George himself didn’t speak much about them except Rappadikalude Gatha, penned by legendary writer-director P Padmarajan. The film was an attempt to examine the fragile world of a girl addicted to drugs and the hippie culture.

With Ulkkadal, released in 1978, George made a powerful comeback. A perfect campus romance a sensitive poet in the lead, Ulkkadal caught the imagination of the youth. Other meaningful movies followed. George, who once proclaimed that he was determined to not repeat himself, set all these films in different geographical and emotional terrains.

In Mela (1980), George’s protagonist is a dwarf, a circus clown by profession, who marries a beautiful girl from his village. Unable to face the humiliating gaze of society, he bids farewell to life. Kolangal (1981) delves deep into the darker aspects of rural life, which is commonly believed to be serene and innocent.

Yavanika, George’s most celebrated work, came out in 1982 and shattered all conventional concepts of investigation thrillers. The movie is about the sudden disappearance of an alcoholic, sadistic tabla player associated with a professional drama troupe and the police investigation that follows. The carefully crafted script, with its many emotional and psychological overtones, closely examines the claustrophobia that crushes the lives of theatre performers who travel from place to place, spending most of their time in rehearsal camps and on the stage, with feigned identities that bring up existential questions about their true selves. The hugely influential movie and its meticulously prepared text are invaluable for film students and researchers.

George then gave a rude shock to the entire South Indian film industry with Lekhayude Maranam: Oru Flashback (1983), a movie loosely based on the suicide of Shobha who was one of the most sought-after artistes of the 1970s. The movie was a commercial flop and a section of people in the industry strongly condemned George for “tarnishing” the image of South Indian cinema. But he had no regrets about this lavishly mounted film and always held it close to his heart.

The same year George made one of his truly experimental movies, Adaminte Variyellu (Adam’s Rib). It is among the strongest feminist films in Malayalam. In this film, he examines the tragic fates of three women from different strata of society, brought on by patriarchal men in their lives. Alice, the wife of a ruthless businessman, is forced to sleep with several influential men as part of her husband’s attempts to amass wealth. She leads a solitary life in her palatial house and eventually, realising that no one, including her children and her handsome paramour, considers her as a human being worth loving, kills herself. Vasanthi, a government employee, is tortured both by her alcoholic husband and his mother. Vasanthi finds herself sinking into a deep sea of delirium and ends up in a lunatic asylum. The third character, Ammini, is a resident servant in Alice’s house, who is sexually assaulted almost every night by Alice’s husband, only to be abandoned when she gets pregnant. In the climax of the film, George has Ammini emerge from the rescue home where she is sheltered, along with other inmates, pushing away the camera shooting the sequence, the cameraman and the director himself, as if to reach out to the wider world beyond the screen.

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Panchavadippalam, released in 1984, is a brilliant political satire. An unusually loud film, it mercilessly dissects the hypocrisy of political parties in the country. Irakal (Victims) which came out in 1986, two years after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, analyses the politics of violence rampant in Indian society.

There was a big break in George’s cinematic career after the feature-length television cinema Yaathrayude Anthyam (1991) and Ilavangodu Desam (1998) which was prolonged and continued till his death on Sunday. The reasons for his withdrawal are many. He was an artist keen on rejuvenating himself with the latest trends in cinema and the world in general till he suffered two consecutive strokes a decade back. Immobility was accompanied by loss of memory, which worsened, and gradually, the doors of his inner world closed for good.

George was a great conversationalist with an unmatchable ability to captivate his audience. I was a happy captive of his intellectual discourse for almost two decades. During these conversations, he neither basked in past glory nor spoke ill of anyone. George initiated me into a meaningful world of cinema, introduced me to great masters, presented me with rare books without my asking and encouraged me with a selfless spirit. He was an unmatched filmmaker, who won’t — and should not — rest in peace, as posterity will keep going to him, asking questions.

The writer is a filmmaker and critic

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