Twelve years after renowned filmmaker from Kerala Adoor Gopalakrishnan was conferred with the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award for his contribution to Indian cinema; he is back in the limelight with a new film Pinneyum (Once again). Pinneyum is being showcased at the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in the Masters Section. It is the 13th feature film made by the 75-year-old director.
An awesome detail of Gopalakrishnan’s films, often overlooked, is that eight of these 13 films are based on the director’s own story ideas. Pinneyum is yet another laudable example where he has not resorted to piggyback on someone else’s story idea as many other directors tend to do.
Pinneyum’s tale revolves around familiar social and economic forces that prevail among Kerala’s middle-class population—financial debt, the struggle to obtain a work visa in an Arabian Gulf country, and the popular notion that a work visa there would naturally translate into prosperity for the family of the worker. Gopalakrishnan cleverly adds a corpse early in the drama elevating it to a thriller. Canadian festival programmer Cameron Bailey, reviewing the film, described Pinneyum as “contemporary noir”.
Showcasing of Pinneyum at this notable Canadian film festival is important in more ways than one.
Indian films have not made the mark of breaching the select Competition Sections of Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals — the three top festivals in the world — in the past 16 years and 22 years in the case of two of these. Indian cinema could merely win minor awards in the lesser competition categories of these European events. Pinneyum’s inclusion in the Masters Section of TIFF is a consolation for good Indian cinema when TIFF, the fourth most important festival, gives this Indian film some credible global traction.
Arguably the more important milestone established by the inclusion of the film in the Canadian film event is that the director Adoor Gopalakrishnan is back in action in the evening of his career. One recalls that the director had remarked that the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for lifetime achievement in film industry is usually conferred on individuals who had retired from active filmmaking when he was honoured with the award in 2004.
It was perceived the Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who often wrote his own stories for his films, was an image of the past when three subsequent works after the Phalke award were ones built on the literary works of others. The first two, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) (2007) and Oru Pennum Randaanum (A Woman and Two Men/A Climate for a Crime) (2008) were based on the celebrated Malayalam writer Thakazhy Shivshankar Pillai’s works.
Gopalakrishnan‘s third work after the Phalke award was an Indo-French production The Dance of the Enchantress (2008), considerably based on award-winning co-scriptwriter Nicolas Buenaventura’s work. The last one is an odd film—it is an Indo-French production in Bengali by a Malayali director that few have viewed. In view of these lesser recent forays, the return of Adoor Gopalakrishnan to active cinema after eight years with an original story written by him has the whiff of originality associated with his celebrated works Anantaram (Monologues) (1987), which won three national awards and a prize at Karlovy Vary film festival, and Ellipathayam (Rat Trap) (1981), which won two national awards and was screened at the Cannes film festival.
At a time when the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, is prominently in the news for politics, Gopalakrishnan’s unabated success in his profession underscores the importance of the institution as he is its alumnus and represents an early batch of students who graduated after studying direction and scriptwriting. Often viewers and critics alike do not appreciate or differentiate a film director who writes his own stories from a director who adapts an existing, applauded work of literature or a page of history.
Even the giant of Indian cinema, the late Satyajit Ray, mostly adapted existing stories from Bengali literature for the scripts of his celebrated films. In contrast, arguably the truly commendable works of Adoor Gopalakrishnan are based on his own original stories.
With Pinneyum, Gopalakrishnan returns to his own time-tested turf — an original script as the foundation of his creative filmmaking process.
(The author is a renowned film critic)