OTTs will ultimately destroy cinema, fears Adoor

He may have made just 12 movies but his oeuvre matches that of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. Adoor Gopalakrishnan has cemented his position as an extraordinary storyteller in the world of cinema worldwide. The maestro is currently in the city for a three-day retrospective of his movies. Deccan Chronicle caught up with the nonpareil filmmaker for an exclusive tete-a-tete on several issues ranging from how he planned the opening scene in his first movie or the controversy related to the Kerala film institute. Excerpts:

Your movie ‘Swayamwaram’ is being screened even 50 years of its release. How does it feel?

I had formal training in filmmaking. I studied in Pune. It took seven years for me to make this film. I came out of the institute with all the enthusiasm to make the film. But the situation that existed in the so-called industry did not allow any newcomer to come in like that. Those who were producing films did not even believe that it has to be formally taught and academically studied. I had learnt my grammar and aesthetics very well. I had my own ideas of how to make a film.

The five minutes long opening shot in ‘Swayamwaram’ is considered path breaking as you see the lead couple traveling in a bus and no one is talking. How did you conceive it?

My intention was to tell the audience that this is all the story. You do not have to explain anything. You have to watch the film carefully. This habit has not been there. Even today, you see commercial cinema, it is more audio than visual.

People listen to the dialogues. That habit had to be broken. So I kept this whole sequence. It's a trip from illusions to reality. I had to show it in a bus which itself is like a society. You see different people getting out, no one is getting in. It gives a whole feel about the film. Mrinalda liked it immensely. He had an eye for these things.

You are the pioneer of New Wave cinema in Malayalam. How has the industry shaped today?

It is shaping up well. I find at least half a dozen of them (filmmakers) who have the right attitude to make films. They may not be making classics, but anything off-beat, anything other than rotten, is welcome. So, I encourage them. It is important to make original work. And to make original work, you have to study a lot with real patience. Cinema is evolving so fast. Technology is changing. Along with technology, treatment is changing. You have to be fully aware of what is happening.

What are your thoughts on remakes?

When you are making a remake, it means your idea is purely commercial. You make a remake of something that has succeeded at the Box Office. You are a business person, not an artist. The artist has to be constantly searching.

What is your take on OTTs? Do you think it is a liberating medium for filmmakers?

I can tell you, the restrictions will soon come, depending upon the people at the top of the government. Anytime when they find that it is not very convenient for them, they will put restrictions. We cannot anymore feel that we can be that free.

Secondly, what is OTT doing? You see movies on your laptop or mobile. But that is not cinema. Cinema is a communal experience. Deciding to go to watch a cinema is like going on a pilgrimage, in a very brief way. You are a devotee sitting inside, not any casual viewer. The experience is shared with so many others.
When you watch a film on your laptop or mobile, it is a very minuscule experience of the real. You do not see the visuals properly. You do not even hear the sounds properly. On a medium like that, there is no scope for high sounds or low sounds. Those two are cut. What you get is a middle-range thing and that too at a very subdued level. You have too many distractions while watching that. So, it is a side activity. It is not a totally devoted activity.

How you cater to this audience is very important. So, you have to aim at an audience that is not necessarily very devoted to you, and is not necessarily very keen on you. They are a totally distracted audience. I think ultimately it will destroy cinema. That is my fear. You may think I am old-fashioned but that is what is going to happen.

It’s a real challenge to cinema proper. It is not an improvement on anything that has been existing.

The legendary filmmaker analyses changes in technology….

Even technology has not changed for artistic reasons. It was changed for purely commercial reasons. You do not have to make 100 copies. You can just take it from the satellite and it goes to your projector. So, suddenly it has become convenient. It has become an advantage in that sense. But you have to look at that very advantage very carefully.

When OTTs started, the Cannes film festival said that a film made for OTTs will not be shown at the festival. But they had to change it subsequently and give an award to one of those films.

They have been compelled. Already, these OTT people, Netflix, and others are putting in so much money, they are producing their own films. Netflix started as a DVD rental service. But suddenly they owned the whole thing. They determine the whole trend of cinema. That can be very dangerous. So, cinema will necessarily transform to those requirements. That will be very sad.

In a way, cinema has almost reached a point where there is no more development possible technologically or art-wise, aesthetically, etc. Maybe, you have to talk about cinema in the past tense.

‘RRR’ has earned an Oscar nomination. Do you think India is obsessed with Oscars?

The jury is composed of U.S members of the Academy of Motion Picture (Arts and Sciences). People who vote for these films are those who practice that profession. It is not an international award. Oscar basically is an award for American films decided by American professionals. There is nothing international about it. But American films are shown all over the world. So, it is assumed, publicity-wise, and interest-wise, a kind of image has been created. Very properly done. So, we all think that is the ultimate. (Smiles). There are big festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice…. What there is more international than this.

Oscars too have one section for foreign language films. A lot of people send their movies for that. But it is very difficult to get that award. Because members of the Academy have not seen these films. So, you have to arrange several screenings for them which will cost them (the makers) as much as the production of the film.
“Boycott Bollywood” has been prevalent of late, but not in the South.

It’s a very wrong trend. In arts, there is no religion, no caste, nothing. Art is above all that. It is very spiritual in that sense. To limit it to small, little divisions and attack is very wrong.

The government recently banned a BBC documentary on Modi

I do not want to comment on that because it becomes very political. I do not want to say anything political. Because it does not serve any purpose.

You have stepped down as chairman of the film institute in Kerala. What had happened?

There was a conspiracy against the director, Shankar Mohan. We slowly started building it (K.R. Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts) as an institution. But for an institution to function properly you need discipline. So, when we started enforcing discipline in the institute, every section of the institute, the staff, the students, and the teachers had problems. They could not anymore come late to the institute, be lax about teaching, any more could not be indifferent to their work in the office, etc. So, it affected all sections. It made life difficult for those who did not want to do any work, those who did not want to be on time, those who did not want to study properly, etc. So, there were small, little disgruntled elements. They created a whole story about caste, which is absolutely stupid. Shankar Mohan was totally taken aback by the type of accusations made against him. Lots of lies were spread through social media.

Along with him, all the professors resigned. In total 12 people left. Now, they are without any proper teaching. It will take at least six months to find second-rate or third-rate people to fill those posts. First-rate will never come. They have already left. So, that is the tragedy.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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