The filmmaker has been defensive about criticism of his own films but generous in doling it out to others.

Adoor Gopalakrishnans disdain for mainstream films reveals the midget within the giant
Voices Cinema Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 18:52

One of Kerala's most celebrated filmmakers, Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been rather scathing about new age cinema. Recently, he said that he has been a part of the film industry for the past 50 years, and cannot "claim that our audiences' tastes have improved."

Adoor's views will not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the director's responses to mainstream films. While many fans of Malayalam cinema have been exulting in the fresh crop of actors and filmmakers who've infused new life into the industry, Adoor has been unimpressed. 

In an interview given to BLink, he said, "What are they doing that is new? Everything moves like this — whoooosh. So, okay, where they once ran around trees they now run around mountains, in helicopters. Is that change? Do they know cinema, study it, understand it?”

For someone who doles out criticism quite generously, Adoor was quick to take offence when his recent film "Pinneyum" opened to near unanimous poor reviews. Adoor had made a film after eight years and not only was it underwhelming, the direction was shockingly amateurish - a fact that quite a few pointed out, earning the director's wrath. Adoor launched a counter-attack, claiming that people were either "jealous" of him or that they just didn't understand cinema. 

His sweeping statement on critics of "Pinneyum" reveals an unwillingness to deal with those who dare to question his craft: “The ones who criticise have failed to appreciate the film in its true perspective. They should make an effort to understand what the filmmaker is trying to say. That’s a quality a film lover should have.”

This is quite a puzzling statement to make. Any work of art, whether it's a novel, a painting, or a film, acquires a life of its own, independent of its creator. However possessive a maker might feel about his/her work, once it has left their hands, it comes under the subjective perceptions of those who view it. The creation must be equipped to speak for itself and communicate with its audience – it does not need the creator to work it like a puppeteer. Truly great works of art appeal to people – "culturally" educated or not – across social divisions and even time periods. Sometimes even age groups. 

Adoor is considered to be the pioneer of parallel cinema in Malayalam. His films are painstakingly crafted and often experiment with narrative structures and the treatment of time. Even though Malayalam cinema, in general, is credited with carrying a certain verisimilitude that the films from other big industries lack, Adoor's films were eager to showcase reality all the more keenly. 

From his first film "Swayamvaram", which is about a newlywed couple struggling to make a life after marrying against the consent of their families, to films like "Elipatthayam" and "Mathilukkal", Adoor has broken away from convention and stood by his conviction. The respect that he has received from his colleagues in the industry and cinephiles is testimony to that. 

However, it is arrogant to assume that there is only one kind of cinema which deserves acclaim or that an audience is stupid if they reject your work. Mainstream films take entertainment value seriously and they have to, given the budgets with which they operate. But you can blow up all that money making a regressive film that sells the same old wine in a sparkling new bottle or you can make the film your vehicle to reach a wide number of people with your ideas. 

Adoor will probably turn apoplectic at the mention of a film like "Kabali", from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, which was shoddily made and yet took the politics of Ambedkar and the struggles of the marginalised to an unimaginable number of people. The recasting of a name usually reserved for the lower castes in the mould of a stylish Rajinikanth overturned an unsaid yet accepted tradition in cinema. The film was made unapologetically to fit in with popular culture because that was the whole point (and yes, the craft could have been better) – to reach more people, touch more lives. Then there are films like "Visaranai" which cannot be called entertaining but garnered critical acclaim and did well at the box-office too. 

The new age mainstream Malayalam films that brashly break stereotypes, experiment with styles of storytelling and promote new actors and fresh ways of thinking about issues, may not do it with the grey authenticity that parallel cinema might demand but they serve their purpose. So, no, an audience is not dumb for loving a "Bangalore Days". It's possible for a film to have songs, good-looking people and happy endings to spark introspection in its audience or just a moment of epiphany. 

Adoor's disparaging views on contemporary cinema coupled with his unwillingness to deal with honest criticism of his own films reveal the midget within a giant. Funnily enough, one could very well be talking about a character out of his own films that often dealt with flaws within seemingly perfect beings. 

Note: Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.