Adoor's 10th film is a perfect 10 at IFFI

Nov 26, 2007 Saibal Chatterjee

Panaji, Nov 26 (IANS) Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 10th feature film, "Naalu Pennungal" (Four Women), coming nearly five years after his last movie "Nizhalkkuthu" (Shadow Kill), is among the most awaited films at the 38th International Film Festival of India here.

Fans of the master filmmaker are in for a treat as "Naalu Pennungal" is a trademark Adoor, and more. The four-part Malayalam film, in which each episode is an ode to a woman trapped in the vortex of a society in flux, draws inspiration from the short stories authored by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, one of the most keenly observant chroniclers Kerala has ever seen.

"Naalu Pennungal", dwells upon the struggle of four women from different strata of society grappling with the pulls and pressures responding to their inner urges while having to live up to the expectations of those they love and those they do not even know.

The quartet of stories spans a period between the 1940s and the years following Independence. "The film looks at women from the bottom up. The stories are titled The Prostitute, The Virgin, The Housewife and The Spinster," said Adoor.

The first episode is about a prostitute who marries her lover but she is forced back into her old life because she is unable to produce a proof of matrimony. The second story is about a farm worker who is married off to a petty shopkeeper but the marriage remains unconsummated. The man abandons his wife and that sets tongues wagging. Another episode has a childless housewife who is visited by an old classmate who is under the impression that she is prone to manipulation simply because she hasn't borne a child. The last episode is of a middle class girl who must come to terms with loneliness as her younger siblings get married before her.

The masterfully chiselled vignettes, in a significant departure from Adoor's signature filmmaking style, alternate between the poignant and the ridiculous, the intense and the humorous. The same theme music runs like a thread through the four stories and a certain degree of visual lyricism, yet another surprise element in the context of Adoor's oeuvre, gives "Naalu Pennungal" a look and feel quite different from the master's previous politically loaded work.

The film owes its life to a Doordarshan proposal for a 100-minute television series based on Thakazhi's stories. "I wasn't interested in doing something solely for TV," revealed Adoor.

"So I suggested that they give me the film rights. A year went by. They eventually agreed. But the budget at DD's disposal wasn't enough for a film project so they increased the length from 100 minutes to 200 minutes. A private producer agreed to provide the rest of the funding and that is how the film got made," he said.

Getting into the soul and spirit of Thakazhi's work wasn't half as difficult as getting the film off the ground. "Thakazhi is one of my favourite writers," said the silver-haired director.

"With a fresh eye, I read and re-read the 400-odd short stories and over 40 novels that the prolific man of letters had written. The process took me four to five months. I decided to pick his short stories because that would allow me to bring in new characters, situations and interpretations," he said, adding quickly that at the core of each episode is what the author wrote, not a violation of his creation.

Adoor grew up in a place not far from the Thakazhi's Kuttanad region of Allapuzha district.

"I understand the lingo and cultural nuances of the place. Thakazhi wrote about what he saw and knew. So I shot on real locations. When you film a story, you also film the writer. So it's essential to understand the mind of the literary creator and the milieu his stories are set in. Thakazhi has been a part of life, so it was easy to internalise the stories," Adoor said.

The good news for Adoor fans is that "Naalu Pennungal" isn't the end of his cinematic engagement with Thakazhi. Up ahead is another quarter of filmed stories. The film has already been shot and is about to go into post-production.

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Naalu Pennungal


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