Adoor Gopalakrishnan's female characters varied from the melodramatic to the revolutionary and the surreal.

Adoor Gopalakrishnans women Some of Malayalam cinemas most interesting female characters
Features Cinema Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 16:29

By Prahlad Gopakumar

Malayalam cinema’s Adoor Gopalakrishnan is considered to be one of India’s finest filmmakers. He’s won the National Film Award sixteen times.

Adoor always kept his viewfinder aimed at the pervasive patriarchy in society. That’s also probably why the women in his films always seem like they are struggling to retain their sense of identity. He sketched them with detail and complexity, making their characterisation always seem ahead of the times. There are three types of women - the victims, the survivors and the liberated ones - in his films.

As Dr Suranjan Ganguly, Professor of Film Studies observes in his book on the filmmaker, “The Films of Adoor Gopalakrishnan”: "There are two dominant tropes associated with women in Adoor’s films. One is linked to nurturing i.e. food, feeding and the role of a provider.  The other is the doorway against which women are often framed."

We take you through eight of those characters who vacillate between the melodramatic and the revolutionary. Sometimes, they were surreal, too.

Sita (Swayamvaram, 1972)

“Swayamvaram” pioneered the moment of new-wave cinema in Malayalam. Sita (Sharada) comes across as a mature, multi-dimensional character, who evolves in the course of her interaction with other characters and ends up as someone capable of independent decision-making.

She marries a man of her choice, against the norms of society. After her husband’s death, when she opts to stay alone with her child, despite the probing and lecherous eyes of the men in her neighbourhood, it is clear that Adoor is making a strong social statement. In the last scene, she hears a loud knock at the door. The final, imposing image of her staring at the door, and at us, the audience, with determined eyes is her questioning society on the scope of survival for a single woman. It’s a powerful scene and it is relevant even today.

Rajamma, Sreedevi, Janamma (Elippathayam, 1982)

“Elippathayam” vividly captures the descent into paranoia of a man trapped within his feudal universe. The women prescribe to three different hues in nature - Rajamma (Sharada) with the blue – gentle and willing -  bends and submits to patriarchy, Sreedevi (Jalaja) with the red of revolution and youth, runs away with her lover, and Janamma (Rajam K Nair) with the green - self-centered, practical and greedy - manages to stay afloat in this feudal patriarchy.

We are also inclined to believe that each actor has performed exactly in the way the director visualized. Their controlled laughter, smile and body language are still a matter of discussion in film schools across the world. To know why, take a look at the scene where Sreedevi dressed in a red sari, playfully enacts the rat trapping scene, which can be seen as a condensed version of the film.

Sumangali & Nalini (Anantaram,1987)

“Anantaram”, like “Mathilukal” and “Kathapurushan”, displays an anxiety with the self and reflexivity, foregrounding time, memory, consciousness, and the nature of storytelling itself. It speaks of his genius—the ability to create visually complex films that operate on multiple levels; films that are culture-specific and yet universal in meaning. My personal favourite among his films, it blurs the line between reality and imagination. That surrealism is effectively placed before the audience by employing the same actor (Shobhana) in two characters - Ajayan’s (Ashokan) lover and his brother’s wife.

Both are often indistinguishable and it can be argued that that’s what Adoor desired out of this dual complexity. Nalini mysteriously keeps appearing and disappearing, leaving the audience in a quandary. At no point does Adoor give a clue about the character’s ambiguity. Shobhana adds to the confusion with her unwavering gaze and her arrival and departure in the state transport buses. At the end, both Sumangali and Nalini loom over our minds like two complex, psychological questions that help us read more into Ajayan’s psyche.

 Narayani (Mathilukal, 1990)

One fine day, young Basheer (Mammooty) - in jail on sedition charges - is thrilled to hear a clear, loud female voice emanate from the other side of the prison wall. He is instantly drawn towards the warmth of the woman’s voice. What follows is an unusual love story between him and the unseen woman on the other side of the wall. And they do have an intense romance, filled with the anticipation, uncertainties and the passion one sees in any love story. You never see Narayani, yet you can feel the intensity of her emotions — her voice (a brilliant KPAC Lalitha) brims with all the emotions of a lover. Adoor leaves it to the discretion of the audience to figure out whether Narayani is real or just a figment of Basheer’s imagination. One of the lasting visuals remains that of the rose plant which rises and falls behind the wall.

Pankiyamma (Oru Pennum Randaanum, 2008)

Pankiyamma (Praveena) is decidedly one of the most liberated of his female characters. She oozes confidence, is unapologetic about her affairs and flaunts her sensuality. She refused to be stuck in society’s conventional rut and prefers to live life on her own terms and conditions. She is someone who gives hope to every woman who comes across her. Look out for that scene where she defiantly shoos away her ex-boyfriends by maintaining that post marriage, she needs them no more.

(This article first appeared in You can read the original article here. The News Minute has syndicated the content.)


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