India makes the largest number of films and its National Film Archive (NFAI) is one of the biggest in the world. As it is a cultural museum through sight and sound, the government should have gone all out to preserve it. To merge NFAI with National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and thereby, leave it to the whims and fancies of a corporate entity is most impractical. A corporation is not answerable to the people of India but the government is.
That was noted film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan venting his displeasure at the Centre’s recent decision to merge National Film Archive of India, Directorate of Film Festivals, Films Division and Children’s Film Society with NFDC, a loss-incurring public sector unit. Adoor was speaking at an adda session in the city organised by the Satyajit Ray Centenary Celebration Committee.
Elaborating, the creator of landmark films like ‘Kodiyettam’ (The Ascent), ‘Elippathayam’ (The Rat Trap), ‘Mukhamukham’ (Face to Face) and ‘Mathilukal’ (The Walls), said: “Whether a film is great or ordinary, it portrays reality in some way or the other. When we see a film of the 40s or 50s era, we realise how much our country has changed. That way, these films also act as good reference points.”
Adoor cited the example of the Royal Film Archive of Belgium, which, after acquiring a print of one of his films, first screened it before an audience in its own auditorium and then sent it to the vaults for preservation for the “next 400 years”.
Looking back on his association with Satyajit Ray, whose centenary is being observed nationwide, Adoor said, “Ray was the most original filmmaker India has ever seen. Before becoming a filmmaker, Ray would study the works of Hollywood masters and then write screenplays of those films, if he were to direct them again.” Adoor still nurtures memories of watching ‘Pather Panchali’ without subtitles at Gandhi Sevagram in Madurai in the late 50s. “We were simply told it’s a film by a Santiniketan student which has won some award.” Later, as a student at FTII, Pune, he was pleasantly surprised to find ‘Pather Panchali’ in the syllabus. The film haunts Adoor even today. As a result, whenever the venerable ‘Sight & Sound’ magazine asks him to rate his most favourite film for its decadal surveys, he always sticks to ‘Pather Panchali.’
If Adoor remains an unabashed admirer of Ray, the master, when he was alive, also reciprocated in equal measure. The first Adoor film he saw was ‘Kodiyettam’ in 1977. Though the master enjoyed it, he questioned Adoor on his minimalistic use of music. Again, in 1990, Ray, though not in the pink of health, climbed up the stairs of Gorky Sadan to watch the first public screening of ‘Mathilukal.’ Before leaving, Ray simply said: “Marvellous, Adoor, marvellous.” It is not a coincidence that Ray and Adoor are the only Indian recipients of the prestigious Sutherland Award given by the British Film Institute.
When the discussion veered towards film-watching on the OTT platform, the filmmaker reminded us, though it emerged as a desperate remedy in the midst of the pandemic when movie theatres were shut, it can never be a permanent solution. Adoor said, “The pre-condition for movie-watching is the community feeling, a sense of mystery, where you get larger-than-life experiences along with others in a big, dark hall. Only at the movie theatre can you listen to the lowest and highest levels of sound. But on TV, mobile or laptop, you get only the middle-range sound and miss out on the bigger picture. I think OTTs will serve the needs of the dialogue-heavy sitcoms.”
Busting another OTT myth, the director said, films exclusive to OTT are not always a paying proposition. In many cases, payments are made only after the final viewers tally is ready.
Regretting the OTT craze, the director said, “It’s a sad situation. A director makes a film with a lot of care so that you enjoy his work. A good film’s objective is to both encourage and provoke. I sincerely hope that OTTs are a passing phase. It might have given a wider reach to some regional actors but it has killed the cinematic experience.”
The winner of numerous national and state awards is happy that films from south India are creating waves all over India. According to him, though ‘RRR’, ‘KGF 2’, ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ are not great films, their success bodes well for the industry. On the other hand, the success of ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ has only boosted Adoor’s belief in Kerala’s vibrant film society movement. He said, “Besides, Kerala has always got systematic exposure to foreign films through festivals.” In this context, he also recalled Ray’s contribution to the film society movement, which highlighted the role of films beyond Hollywood.
On the recent spate of ‘nationalistic’ films like ‘The Kashmir Files’, ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, ‘The Ghazi Attack’, Adoor felt, though their message is handy for the government in power, a filmmaker with integrity will not make them. He said, “They make such films tax-free while denying the Censor certificate to many genuine ones.”
The legendary director pays little heed to the brouhaha over the Rs 100-crore or Rs 500-crore box office collections of the present crop of movies. He said, “The public is easily swayed by the publicity blitz. They feel, if a film has made Rs 200 crore, it must be good. My first film ‘Swayamvaram’ (1972) cost only a few lakhs, won four national awards and did pretty well at the theatres.”
He signed off by quoting renowned Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura, “Filmmaking has become easier but making a good film is difficult.”
Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray Centenary Celebration Committee