The recent J.C. Daniel Award for lifetime achievement is the latest in your long list of accomplishments? How do you look back at your journey?
It was unexpected because every award is unexpected as you never make films for winning an award. For me, it is good that people are acknowledging those films which received minor recognition in India though they were internationally known. In my career, I took every film as a challenge and I only make films when I feel that I have something new to say, something different from what I did before. I always advise my audience to not watch my film with the same eye with which they had seen my earlier work. Repeating myself can be so boring, so I kept away from it. There is no film which can be termed ‘Adoor type’ because, with each film, I try something new. Unlike commercial cinema, I do not treat my audience as idiots and in my whole career, I have never compromised and never worked for box office returns and this is I am happy with, rest is just life.
Do you think the viewing pattern of the audience has undergone a change in the past couple of decades?
Their concept of cinema is shaped by the masala films which have been produced, seen and distributed at a fast pace. The audience have a preconceived notion of what a film should look like and are conditioned to not go to the theatre with an open mind. Apart from audiences, sometimes you feel disappointed by the reviewers who have an expertise of watching films but they need to be told by someone that the film has something to say beyond what they are watching. The learning process among reviewers is absolutely absent and they are terribly lacking in appreciating films which do not fit a narrative which they are aware of. Reviewing is not coming out of the cinema with an opinion about the film but it is something deeper than just opinion which comes with learning.
Being an alumnus, how do you see the events that happened at the Film and Television Institute of India?
As an ex-student of the institution, I had to support the students against whatever undemocratic was happening there but that was seen as an anti-government stand. This attitude is very wrong. The government is democratically elected then why would anyone go against what they have chosen at the first place? In a democracy, a government should listen to each and every opinion particularly expert opinion as we are not giving opinion on how roads or buildings should be made in the country. If you appoint an actor of a television serial as the chairman of the institute, what can you expect and what kind of outlook will he have? I do not blame him but you have to blame those people who appointed him. How can they be so casual and uncaring? The institute has contributed so much to the Indian film industry in last 65 years and every award function is filled with their accomplishments and I fear with these politically motivated moves, the country might lose many talented voices.
The recent National Awards were also criticised on similar lines…
The National Awards are now becoming anti-good cinema as in a way it discourages younger people to make good films. You can tell about the result just by knowing who is chairing the jury (laughs). The idea behind its institution was to set a standard which films in the industry should achieve. Cinema is so sophisticated today and a well-made film is a work of art which cannot be understood with a blank mind and immature attitude.
How do you see the present trend in Bollywood films, which still form the larger idea of ‘Indian films’?
That is the cinema which is being seen largely. It compels the viewer not to think. All singing, dancing, romancing is a kind of tamasha which you enjoy for a period and forget easily as you do not have to carry it home. A good cinema should leave you changed and you should not be the same person as you come out of a theatre. It should impact you in terms of life, should ask you moral questions about yourself and the society you are living. It need not be an issue-based film but any aesthetically rich film can provide this.
You once said Parallel cinema is a misnomer, so how do you categorise such films?
There are no parallel production arrangements nor are special cinema halls to watch it and there is no help from the government to make such cinema. So, there is no parallel cinema nor it was at any point in time but that was only a journalistic term used in the ‘80s. There are only two types — films which make money and films which fail to earn money. Even the term Art house which came from countries like France and Italy, does not fit in India as there is no art house here. I do not make a parallel film or art house film but people stupidly associate my films with these terms. You can call me an auteur because I am responsible for my work though I make use of services of other people, the super will is mine. It is more like an architect’s work, you do not actually apply cement and mortar in the building, but the creation is yours.
That brings us to your relationship with actors, as you have presented superstars in character roles, the latest being Dileep in Pinneyum…
I do not ask my actors to read the entire script. I explain the situation elaborately and actors adapt easily with my way of working. Working with stars is different because others are writing stories around them but in my films, they are just a character in the script and I usually do not follow the image associated with them. The actor is not acting out to the viewers but to the director because it is director’s vision which will come on screen. So, I am the judge on sets and the actor has to make me believe that he is the character, then only people will believe him.
What about women in your films, be it Pinneyum or Swayamvaram, they hold a very important position?
I start writing my films with a man as a central character but the female character takes over it; I think it true for life as well. The man is a transient creature (laughs). The very idea of life naturally surrounds around woman who gives birth, takes care, faces problems and I follow the nature. In my life, my mother has always remained an inspiration, as after my parents got separated, she played the roles of both mother and father. Like my mother, the female characters in my films are quiet but strong from within and I am happy that I worked with female actors who have made my belief much stronger.
What is your take on problems that regional cinema is facing?
One good example is Maharashtra where the government has taken an important step by giving space in multiplexes and providing financial aid to Marathi filmmakers. Earlier it used to suffer under the Bombay cinema which would not let other cinemas come up. All regional cinema should take an example from the move there. In Kerala, if someone makes a film without a compromise, even the cinema houses refuse to show it which results in a suicidal situation as you get nothing back from the amount of work you have done. And same is the case with every other regional cinema which is lacking a sustained policy of promotion of their own cinema. Digital platforms have given accessibility to filmmakers to reach out the audiences but monetary returns is still a problem. Policies can bring in changes which can benefit the
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