K.B. Venu: You are being adored even by the new generation film-makers in Malayalam. Your films are noted for the variety of subjects you chose for them. And most of them happened in the 1980s. All of them were swimming against the tide. Especially movies like Mela in which a dwarf, a circus clown, was in the lead role…
K.G. George: I was very particular that each of my film must be different from the other. I was always after strange subjects. I agreed without a second thought to do the movie Mela after listening to the storyline because it was a fresh subject. It was after agreeing to do the film that I thought of how to deal with such a subject. But once I accept a subject I will definitely transform it as my own—any subject for that matter. Even if I don’t like a plot at the first hearing or reading, I will consciously make an effort to like it and own it. That is my way of film-making.
K.B.: What was your style of work during the 1980s?
K.G.: I used to watch lot of foreign-language movies during that period. Some of them have influenced me too. But I never tried to imitate any of them because I am very particular that my films should bear the stamp of my creative identity.
K.B.: Cinema is undergoing very fast technological changes.The technology has become cheaper and more accessible too. Has this in anyway affected the quality of Malayalam cinema?
K.G.: The changes in technology have never influenced or affected my way of filmmaking. They were all alien to me. What matters to me is the language and technique of cinema. Not state-of-the-art equipment. Anyway, I have a feeling that the new generation movie-makers in Malayalam do not dare to attempt subjects with gravity and depth.
K.B.: The social media is very active and influential these days. People have the opportunity to interfere in any issue and express their opinion about almost everything through these media. There is a widespread complaint from the film world that depthless film reviews appearing in the new media are detrimental to cinema in general. What is your view on these citizen film reviews?
K.G.: Reviews being written for the sake of writing can’t ultimately be considered great writing. Filmmakers will definitely gain a lot from reviews by learned critics. Depthless reviews are futile. Nobody is going to benefit from such writings.
K.B.: A group of youngsters in your generation came up with a revolutionary cinematic culture in the 1970s. What was the response of established filmmakers at that time to the advent of Young Turks?
K.G.: I don’t think the senior filmmakers at that time had realized the novelty of our films. There were a number of talented directors and technicians among our preceding generation of filmmakers. I think they themselves had a feeling that something was lacking in their films. Our goal was to effectively intervene and improve the quality of Malayalam cinema. I believe that our generation could change the sensibility of Malayalam cinema to some extent.
K.B.: Stalwarts such as K.S. Sethumadhavan and A. Vincent were part of the preceding generation … Did they ever criticize you in anyway?
K.G.: No…they didn’t criticize us…But…as I told you, they had a feeling that there was something lacking in the movies they made.
K.B.: Was there any kind of interaction between your generation and the one that preceded you?
K.G.: Yes, of course. We used to have friendly talks and debates. Sadly, such interactions do not happen these days.
K.B.: Did your elders have some feeling of insecurity?
K.G.: To an extent maybe… Cinematic technology was not utilized properly during the initial years of our cinema. But our generation could make use of the available cinematographic and sound technology effectively. Stalwarts like P.N. Menon had told me that he was impressed by the way dialogues were delivered in my debut film Swapnadanam. Rani Chandra who played the female lead in Swapnadanam was fully appreciative of the dialogue delivery in that film. It was different from the mainstream movies she was doing at that time.
K.B.: Who wrote dialogues for Swapnadanam?
K.G.: I myself wrote the dialogues and rewrote them whenever required. I had also dubbed for Dr Mohandas who played the protagonist’s role in the movie.
K.B.: You have daringly introduced a number of new faces right from your first movie. Was it because you were very confident as a director?
K.G.: It is not only a matter of confidence. Very often I had felt that there should be some kind of a change in the very concept of a hero or heroine. That is why I did such experiments with fresh faces. Venu Nagavally who played the lead role in my commercially successful movie Ulkkadal was a fresher and his features were diametrically opposite to the popular concept of a hero at that time. But I could deliberately establish him as a hero.
K.B.: The makeover of Bharat Gopi from the meek Sankaran Kutty in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kodiyettam to the violent and villainous Ayyappan in your Yavanika was amazing…
K.G.: I was quite confident about Gopi. He too was confident about himself. It is very important to believe in the creative capacity of actors. I have exploited the creative output of actors who were great performers. Gopi, through the character of Ayyappan, proved that he could handle any type of role. Take for example Dussasana Kurup in my film Panchavadippalam. It is a cartoonish character. See how easily Gopi transformed himself to become that character..
K.B.: Did you ever train these new actors? I mean, like trying to acquaint them with the acting pattern of some other actors…putting an example in front of them...
K.G.: No. Never. I accept both the excellent aspects and the limitations of my actors. I extract good performance from them by making use of their limitations too. Venu Nagavally was such an actor. The director’s mission is to help his artistes celebrate their best moments of performance.
K.B.: What about seasoned actors like Thilakan?
K.G.: Thilakan was an actor who could imbibe the characters very well. That is why we feel that his performance has a double effect. That is why he is described as a great actor. Stylization, an inimitable kind of stylization, has always been an inseparable part of Thilakan’s performance.
K.B.: You seem to have had a special liking for Mammootty... He has played important roles in many of your films since Mela...
K.G.: Mammootty is an actor gifted with a unique masculine figure and handsomeness. He has adorable voice modulation too. Besides, he has a great star value in the industry. He could portray the majority of his characters brilliantly on the screen. Mammootty too is confident of essaying any type of characters.
K.B.: Many of the artistes who were part of Yavanika continued to cooperate with you regularly in your later ventures…
K.G.: When I was an active film-maker, there were a number of talented artistes in Malayalam cinema. I had a clear vision of how to make use of their talents in different films. That is why I continued to include some of those actors regularly in my projects.
K.B.: But Mohan Lal was never part of any of your projects…
K.G.: That wasn’t a deliberate decision, either by me or by Mohan Lal. It just so happened, that’s all (laughs). I like Mohan Lal both as an actor and a person.
K.B.: The majority of your screenplays were joint ventures. In many of them only the dialogues were written by other writers. Screenplays were your own. Yavanika is an example. You wrote the screenplay for which noted playwright S.L. Puram Sadanandan penned dialogues. Can you enlighten me on the process of co-authoring a screenplay and later internalizing it as your own?
K.G.: I don’t know how to explain that technique. It happens quite naturally. I have never completely accepted any screenplay written by another writer. I used to go through those scripts thoroughly and rewrite them. All the major screenplays bear my signature. I could say they have been rewritten in my own handwriting.
K.B.: Some screen writers, after evaluating movies written by them and directed by someone else, have expressed the feeling that those films would have been better had they themselves directed them. That may be because they feel bad when the movie deviates so much from what they had written in the screenplay. Well…is there any meaning in such feelings?
K.G.: I won’t belittle the feelings of a screenwriter. But as far as film-making is concerned, that feeling cannot be taken very seriously. Neither the writer nor his screenplay is the last word in cinema, however great he is. And I still don’t know what are the elements that are essential for a good script. That still remains a mystery, unknown even to me (laughing). At the same time it is a known secret. Those who have penned screenplays for good filmmakers know that secret very well.
K.B.: Your first independent screenplay was Irakal. I mean, you wrote both the script and dialogues.
K.G.: Irakal is completely my creation. Actor Sukumaran was the producer of that movie. I wrote that script within a span of two weeks or so staying at Sukumaran’s house at Ootty. The script of Irakal was in fact a great revelation to me.
K.B.: Revelation in what sense?
K.G.: Through Irakal, I realized that I could effectively express even the minutest and most dormant human feelings, both in writing and cinema. That was a revelation. I wrote the script quite effortlessly. Sukumaran was of great help at that time.
K.B.: In what way?
K.G.: Sukumaran as a producer was there throughout, listening to me. He read the screenplay paying attention even to the minutest detail. He liked the character, Mathukkutty, played by Thilakan. Thilakan played that character excellently well.
K.B.: But that movie was a failure in box office. Was Sukumaran unhappy as a producer?
K.G.: Maybe he was. But he never expressed any such feeling to me. He was a generous producer and his creative contributions were important too. The house in which all the major events in the movie occur was the choice of the producer. That location is very important in the film. In fact the house had only four rooms. But we could manipulate the actual space, and projected it as a palatial bungalow in the film. Cinematographer Venu’s excellent craftsmanship also helped me in achieving this effect.
K.B.: You have depicted the transformed face of Indian youth in Irakal...
K.G.: Irakal came out in the year 1986. Within the span of a decade from my first movie Swapnadanam to Irakal I had lost all my social and political dreamscapes. The youth of my generation had a lot of innocent expectations about the world in general. Our value system had collapsed by the time a generation akin to what you see in Irakal had evolved. The generation that preceded them, that is, the parents themselves, had caused such a disintegration. Irakal is a symbol of that unfortunate transformation. It was a study in the fast-changing political scenario of the country.
K.B.: Irakal is a violent film with a dark background. Violence has an important place in many of your other films too...
K.G.: Yavanika, the most popular among my films, too is violent. The central character, Ayyappan, is already murdered when the film begins. We see him only through flashbacks. You know about Ayyappan and his activities only through the other characters in the film … through their anecdotes ... as the investigator starts his interrogation. Almost all the characters in Yavanika, especially the drama artistes, are violent in some way or the other. But the ultimate expression of their violence takes shape when they interact with Ayyappan, who is also an accomplished artist, a talented tabalist. There is dormant violence even in the most exquisite of emotions. A lover can turn violent while he makes love with his beloved. That depends on his character. He will turn violent if there is a sadist in him. This violence may manifest itself in a romantic way too. My motive is to state that there is violence in everyone of us. My films reflect this motive in different ways. In my movie Mattoral, a seemingly meek and obedient housewife walks away from wedlock. It is a violent act, though she does it in a calm manner. There is slow and masochist violence in Swapnadanam. I could depict that violence in marital life though I was a bachelor when I made that movie. It is both physical and mental. In Adaminte Variyellu, there are two types of violence. Venu Nagavally’s character, a useless drunkard, pours out his frustration on his wife. Bharat Gopi’s character, Mamachan, a ruthless planter, violates and literally sells his wife’s modesty to amass wealth. He also sexually exploits his Dalit maid to appease his libido. Even the climax sequence of that movie is violent.
K.B.: Yes… a unique climax it was….A group of women who are inmates of a rescue home rush towards the street, breaking the barriers of their confinement, pushing aside the camera, crew and the director himself… Did you have a well-orchestrated plan about that particular sequence?
K.G.: I had the complete script with me. But had no idea as to how I would conclude the film. I had envisaged the whole movie in a realistic manner. At the same time, I had a feeling that it should not have a realistic conclusion. So, the climax became surrealistic, instead of becoming realistic.
K.B.: There are a number of women in your movies who strive to attain freedom, but fail miserably..
K.G.: That is a lesson I learned from western movies. I have seen a lot of movies made against the backdrop of the two world wars. Women command a lot of respect and are dominant in those societies. The western woman who wants to free herself emerges victorious to a very great extent. In our country, the majority of such women ultimately fail. You can find such women in many of my films. The wife in Mattoral, the actress in Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback, the three women in Adaminte Variyellu… Almost all of them meet with tragic ends. This is a social reality in our country. Women try to escape when the pressure mounted on them by the society become intolerable. But they fail. But western women, in all spheres of life—even on a war front—have their say.
K.B.: Your outlook on art and culture is slightly westernized…
K.G.: That is very important. I have always looked towards the Western world for novel ideas. I used to watch a lot of foreign movies even before joining the FTII. The first western movie that mesmerized me was The Great Locomotive Chase. The movie was about a train robbery. The train and its movement were more prominent than the actors. I understood that cinema is much more than dialogues and action. Cinema can be much more visual. The Great Locomotive Chase took me to the wild natural beauty of American landscapes. In short, that movie revamped my concept of cinema.
K.B.: How was your entry into the FTII?
K.G.: As a college student, I used to watch foreign movies every week at a nearby town. Those were Hollywood classics of the 1950s and '60s. I could get details of those movies and crew the bit notices issued along with the tickets. I still have a collection of those bit notices. I was attracted by the variety of themes in Hollywood movies and the perfection they had achieved in production. There were movies with Biblical and mythological themes, especially ancient Greek stories. The Second World War and its impact on society was a major theme in many of those films. Since foreign movies of those days usually were of short duration, some cartoon movies too were screened along with them. Soon, I considered cinema as a big career possibility in my life. I began to write articles on foreign films in some local tabloids. Those days, such articles were rare in Malayalam journals.
K.B.: Did you have some connection with the film society movement?
K.G.: Yes, of course. Adoor Gopalakrishnan had founded Chithralekha film society in Trivandrum at that time. I met Adoor and did the preliminary work to start a film society in my home town, Thiruvalla. By that time I got an opportunity to participate in a film appreciation course conducted jointly by FTII and the National Film Archives. The course was conducted on the FTII campus at Pune during the summer vacation. That was the first time I travelled outside Kerala. I saw Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in that camp. That was a marvellous experience. After attending the camp I decided to join the Institute. The next year, I appeared for the entrance test and attended the interview. The interview board was chaired by Raj Kapoor. Since my English was not so fluent at that time, I showed some of my articles on cinema. They asked me to explain the content of one of my articles, 'Shakespeare in Cinema'. It was Ramesh Paul, an assistant professor in the direction course at FTII, who after realizing my passion for cinema, recommended my name to Raj Kapoor. That year, I got enrolled as a student in the FTII.
K.B.: You entered the Malayalam film industry with a fresh vision. But you started your career as an associate of legendary director Ramu Kariat who was part of Kodambakkam, the centre of the south Indian commercial film industry. How could you compromise with such a system?
K.G.: I never felt that I was an outsider in the Malayalam film industry. From the very beginning I had a feeling that I am part of Malayalam cinema.
K.B.: I have heard from your colleagues that you are a great organizer of talents. Actor Nedumudi Venu once described you as a person who is quite capable of coordinating and leading large groups of egocentric artistes and technicians. How do you evaluate yourself as an organizer?
K.G.: That is because…See I have some idea about the psychological traits of those who associate with me. My observations about them were mostly correct. I am tolerant and can cooperate with almost all types of people. You know something? I am so happy and satisfied about the fact that I have never quarrelled and cut off relationships with any of my colleagues. I have openly appreciated their talents at the right occasions. Whenever I was at work, each of them felt that he or she is the most important person to me. That is how I behaved with them. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I could organize them successfully as a director. I have always done my best to recuperate and re-establish broken relationships. I have never thought of anyone as a worthless person.
K.B.: Looking back, which is the movie that you toiled most hard for, as a director?
K.G.: I think it is Adaminte Variyellu. I really worked hard to make that movie a reality. And that is a movie very close to my ways and vision as a filmmaker. I had enjoyed the pleasure of hard work at all stages of its making with utmost satisfaction.
K.B.: In many of your important works including Adaminte Variyellu there are elaborate portrayals of broken marital relationships, I mean, man-woman relationships in general. The central plot of your very first movie Swapnadanam itself is such a tragic relationship. And later, in the movie Mattoral too, you essayed another disturbing marital relationship... Why such an affinity?
K.G.: I believe that marital discord will ultimately destroy the personal life of the couple. Take the case of Sumithra in Swapnadanam. She is an unsatisfied wife. She cannot tolerate her husband Gopi. I have tried to establish the gradual collapse of their marital life through the frustrated wife. Editing is very important in Swapnadanam. For example, the husband and wife, after a gap of so many days, engage in passionate lovemaking. It is just after this scene of copulation that the conflict between them gets intensified. And these scenes are included towards the end of the film because the entire movie is told in several flashback sequences. Swapnadanam became a different kind of film because I craved for perfection at each and every juncture of its making. I found it hard to please myself as a creator. Being my first film, I reworked on it, a number of times…
K.B.: You have stressed on the importance of editing in your movies. But you never employed any established editor in your works.
K.G.: I don’t want a very famous or great editor for my movies. My choice of an editor is a technician who is willing to go by my interests and carry out my instructions. At the same time, there shouldn’t be any kind of dispute between us on creative matters. M N Appu was the editor of all my important films. I have never had any difference of opinion with him.
K.B.: You mean to say that your editors always carried out your instructions?
K.G.: I have given instructions to them at some junctures. Anyway, at the end of the day, we both—me and the editor—should be happy and satisfied. It had always been like that. Maybe it’s because of the peculiarity of my choice.
K.B.: You were very particular about the choice of cinematographers too. Ramachandra Babu wielded camera for most of your films.
K.G.: Ramachandra Babu is a great technician with whom I can communicate very well. He can clearly understand my cinematic language. Eminent cinematographers such as Balu Mahendra, Shaji N. Karun and Venu have also worked in my movies. I could communicate smoothly with them too. But Ramachandra Babu had always been my first choice as cameraman. He was my batchmate in FTII. He knows me very well and understands my likes and dislikes. In cinema, a director and a cameraman is almost like man and wife. Ramachandra Babu himself used to say jokingly that he is like my wife. Babu is not only my professional colleague but also a close friend. We met for the first time at Chennai when we were there to write the FTII entrance examination. I consider Babu as my brother. This feeling is very important in professional life. I never felt that he is my cameraman. For me, he means much more than that.
K.B.: You had the same kind of a warm relationship with P.A. Latheef, your production manager.
K.G.: The roles of a cameraman and a production manager are different. The cameraman is a technician. But the production manager is everything as far as cinema is concerned. I have quarreled with Latheef during the shooting of Swapnadanam. We actually had a physical tussle. But it was part of our friendship. Latheef was with me from the very beginning of my career. We experienced all the hardships of filmmaking together. He was not only a production manager. He was partly myself. Latheef was instrumental in the artistic success of many of my films. Our relationship was more than professional. I even used to clear my professional doubts with Latheef because he was such an experienced person. He was a good actor and has played some important characters in my films. In Lekhayude Maranam: Oru Flashback, which has cinema as its backdrop, Latheef enacted the role of a production controller. He has also dubbed for some actors in my movies.
K.B.: How do you take control of dramatic moments in cinema?
K.G.: It is very important for a film-maker to identify the drama within a play and the drama that happens outside it. There is a difference between a dramatic deed and a dramatic talk. A director must be able to realize this difference. For example, there are a number of dramatic moments in Swapnadanam. But those moments are manifest through the deeds of characters. The drama is never visible on their faces or in their dialogues. This is how I could control dramatic moments in my films. Irakal too have so many of such controlled dramatic moments.
K.B.: There are a number of dream sequences in your films—Swapnadanam, Adaminte Variyellu, Irakal, etc.
K.G.: Psychology has always been a favourite subject of mine. I have made a lot of studies on psychology at various stages in my life, though not academically. My debut movie, Swapnadanam, is in fact a series of dreams. My last film, Ilavangode Desam, also have dream sequences. I believe that those dreams are real.
K.B.: How do you picturize these dream sequences?
K.G.: I believe that dreams are an inseparable part of realism. And dreams are real too. Reality is very important in realism. But even when you consider the greatest possible reality into consideration, in your heart of hearts, it will actually remain a dream. I wanted to make my spectators believe that what they see on screen is real, even when a dream is being presented to them. Now I strongly believe that the dream sequences I shot for my movies are part of life itself. There is nothing wrong in thinking so. You know, when I am all prepared for shooting a movie, my mind is full of dreams. I just need to shoot those dreams. To me, shooting a film is a process of realizing my dreams.