An Actor’s Statement.

Gopy, who won the National Award for the Best Actor in 1977 for his compelling performance in “Kodiyettam”, is also one of the most prominent theatre actors in Kerala. Film-maker Mani Kaul talks to him in this interview published in the Times of India on January 7, 1979.


Gopy won the National Award for the Best Actor in 1977, for his performance in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kodiyettam. Imparting tremendous simplicity to his role in the film, Gopy managed to make the entire experience compellingly intense.In Trivandrum, he belongs to a progressive theatre group called Thiruvarang and is one of the most prominent theatre actors in Kerala.His refusal to blindly accept films in order to make himself into a filmstar has saved him from the average fate of theatre actors taking up cinema and developing mannerisms, only to reduce themselves to dead types. The following interview, conducted at the University Film Center Trivandrum retains Gopy’s characteristic method of conversation.

MK : What is the extent of freedom from and involvement with the character you allow yourself while working in a play?
BG : It’s a balanced position.Total involvement leads to failure and loss of control over the character being performed. The actor onstage or on any other platform expected to perform is covered with a mask.The weight or rather density of this mask makes the experience experience a thinness or thickness of his own existence. An opaque mask begins to overwhelm the actor. Result: the actor’s strength is lost, along with the particular measurement of the character by him. The measured proportion of this character- actor is reached only by the actor.A certain projection of a dramatic moment, for example, can be entirely reversed by a living knowledge of this proportion.Look, if the ,mask is a transparent sheet of polythene upon the actor, the audience must obviously see the actor and therefore experience the play differently. So neither polythene or tarpaulin.

MK : Is there any norm that you have worked out between a character you play and your own identity as an actor?
BG : Yes. To live fifty percent of the existence of the character and fifty percent that of the actor
In other words, the actor must be, and remain inside the character- consciously. (n Fully balanced but hundred percent acting, do not forget that!) In a play Pujamuri by G Sankara Pillai, I acted out three aspects to a character within minutes : first, a cruel husband : then, from his father’s point of view, a waster ‘devdas’ ; and finally, a real gentleman, a soft-spoken being – not overtly emotional.

Any change in a character is not, for me, merely a change in mannerism, make-up or costume. These are all incidental.What an actor needs in such moments of transformation, is a few seconds to think in fractions, to reach that certain proportions that I spoke about earlier.To persuade himself…and not just remain fixed in an image already worked out by the director or even himself.Of course, a primary image from the script does exist in your mind. But it is not the representation of that image that the actor seeks, rather it is a persistent confrontation with the inertia of that image, to reach a definite and truthful proportion.In short, to project a specific image, without being consumed by it.These few, decisively intuitive moments are preceded by months of reflection upon the text.

MK : How continuous is your involvement with a character in a film or say, with a prolonged filming spell?
BG : The actor is not free once the film stars rolling. He must remain extraordinarily conscious of the graphic continuity and then, of the subtle fragments or moments of that continuity.Various scenes must variously evoke complex responses from the actor.In Kodiyettam I was involved from the very conception of the idea.Equipped with the knowledge of the total script, actors begin to feel the inter-relation between characters, between a character and space, between objects in space and movement.If the actor merely hangs on to his character he will never approach the complete conception and the structure of the film.

MK : What is your working relationship with the film director?
BG : The actor is a tool in the hands of the director – this is how the actor must see himself, and the director must regard the actor, as he would his medium.Personally, I like to provide the director with a platform of my presence to enable him to conduct a dialogue with himself.To let him enter into problems, to let him make the right choice.The actor may know the script but cannot know the ‘ultimate’film to the extent the director does; he must struggle to relate himself to all the new departures from the script the director may make during filming.

MK : Do you continue to relate to the film during editing sessions?
BG : Lucky is the actor for whom this is possible.I enjoyed this rare occasion when I worked with Adoor.I became a man of his production department.No longer an actor. Responsible for the production of the complete film, for its economics plus aesthetics.The actor joins the director in seeing himself on the screen as a third person now, worth criticizing.

MK : Would you like to direct a film?
BG : If I am properly educated about cinema.All the technical aesthetic aspects need to be mastered.It’s not enough to take a cameraman-sound recordist-editor team from the Film Institute.The director must be entirely prepared – educated. Of course there is in me, a certain lack of aspiration.Like my own little son.Returning from his school, he once innocently declared that he stood 28th in class. My wife believes he takes after me.

MK : You speak very freely with me but I know you are quite reticent in any public forum.Any comments?
BG : Speak not in public, only listen.Discussions between like-minded people always interest me.I remain close to them without a trace of ego.Again, not to speak.Not even to remember the debate.The essential stuff enters the actor’s head – directly.Even as certain uncreative pundits break their heads in argument, my attention is open and upon them.Useful ideas naturally synthesise in my system, the useless never enter.I donot speak because I dread making opinions.An opinion clings to someone else’s achievement.It never permits a study of one’s own achievement and also failure.Now it’s all this that makes my attitude, which in turn makes all my work original.No one has ever accused me of any imitation.A film, a film-makera play, a discussion, a poem, an observation, or just about any event must never be allowed to superfluously influence the actor.

MK : It must unblock a vision.
BG : Precisely.Being original is utterly necessary atleast in front of a live theatre audience.

MK : And in cinema? How do you reach the absent audience?
BG : There my mind splits into two distinct creative aspects.A part becomes the audience while the other performs.While shooting, I see myself as an actor from the auditorium chair critically witnessing, say, a gesture that I make infront of the camera – almost a vicious circle, but it can be turned critical.You know, its strange, there are these three words that flash : Look – Correct – Reach – a moment before the shot.Certainly a personal code.To be one’s own audience is to enjoy one’s performance.I do. My projection must be known to me.Instantly.Only by this knowledge the system permits itself to act.

MK : As an actor, do you experience any alienation from yourself ? A certain insecurity of being – being yourself ?
BG : I walk out of the character and return to myself.This inner and outer movement, its consciousness, its control keeps any pathological alienation (neurosis) away. The experience of alienationis momentary in that it is utilized for my work. In any role I perform, I never forget to experience myself, absorbing the tension of a performance.

MK : How do you encounter the cinema-image, for it has formed forever outside of you, open to no change?
BG : That image is of a different person with whom I hold no connection.The actor-character play ends with the shooting. On the screen I see the actor and the character, both, struggling or becoming one.I being outside and watching, cannot be there. Most small-minded actors fall in love with their own image onscreen, their minds are static.They fail to criticize themselves or listen to their criticism.The thing I saw while I shot the scene is what I see on the screen later – no difference. Only now I have nothing to do with that image, whatsoever.A character once performed, must be entirely annihilated.All the mannerisms that developed and now appears associated with that character must be buried.This negation is the first step towards preparing for the new role.It provides you with a new area of insecurity, both aesthetic and economic, becoming inventive, innovative.At any rate you can feel the film in its entire span, your own little performance is first seen as relative and thereafter destroyed.The circus manager in Thambu is a total stranger to Sankarakutty of Kodiyettam.

MK : How do you watch films?
BG : Checking everyone’s defects.Therefore at a time I may be led into seeing only a particular aspect of the total work.Usually am forced to see a good film three or four times.For example in your Uski Roti, I saw an over-expression of the camera ! Unfortunately, the sound system and the bad acoustics of the big hall plus the loud fans – everything drowned the sound track.

MK : There was not much volume in the track anyway.
BG : Certainly, but even then I must see the film again in a real cinema house if I have to think about it more completely.In the first screening as I said I found the camera overtly present everywhere.For example, the younger girl with the lantern at night creating flashes on the wall – too much.

From Mani Kaul's Uski Roti (1970)

From Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti (1970)

MK : The oldman at the liquorshop by the highway, also with a lantern at night, wasn’t treated that sharp.The young girl that you mentioned, was reaching puberty.
BG : I didn’t get the connection.But tell me, wasn’t the camera over-enthusiastic?

MK : I was 26 and wanted to completely destroy the actor in cinema.
BG : And make the camera act? How can a mechanical tool replace a human being?

MK : Certainly not by a mechanical cinema of mere tools, but a humanized cinema.It is the totality of cinematic occurance that transgresses nature, not just the actor.
BG : Precisely. Such is “cinema absolute”. Every component is equally significant. Neither more nor less. Full. In Ashad Ka Ek Din, the experience was total.Most of my friends disagree with me on this question.It was strange witnessing a rather wordy film whose language I do not understand, whose environment is unfamiliar, whose narrative can be barely followed – while camera angles, compositions and cuts do not interest in the first view.The film ‘pundit’ within me was disarmed, in fact, ‘he’ left the hall.I remained seated.And it happened in minutes – stunned, motionless, silent and shivering but fully conscious, I sat there for an eternity.Looking at cinema unfolding.In my mind the disturbance and the enjoyment, simultaneously persisted for days.Even now when I think of Ashad, the tone returns., pushing me into an unimaginable zone.I know people react in a diametrically opposite manner also.People differ.I must continue to trust my experience, my own experience.

That is why I say that cinema should be freed from the grip of its technical tools.And this is the difference between Uski Roti and ahad Ka Ek Din. Any tool is a basis. It must remain unexpressed. Like a platform to an actor.

MK : The technical aspects in forms of technique help alienate the audience as much as they conjure up an escape for them .In order to view the object of a particular cinema, attempting to break into the future, only the presence of continual alienation can spiritually situate the audience in your work.
BG : Alienation must be present.Even the viewer must exercise maximum alienation.If possible, against his own habitual interests. But we do know that for an audience to see the film, with an adequate measure of alienation today, the film must arrive at a form where interest and alienation intersect and proceed into moments of their contrary functions. That is how people should be able to see. Or, if you like, we can make them see.

About Bharat Chronicler

The in-house master of ceremonies, online janitor and chronicler of the life and times of Bharat Gopy - playwright, author, director, producer and actor extraordinaire of Indian Cinema.

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  1. Sudhanshu Tripathi says:

    Amazingly perceptive: both the questions and answers! It can happen only when both the interviewer and the interviewee are masters of their craft.
    I am neither an actor or a passionate film lover, but find that Gopi’s thoughts transcend acting/cinema and are equally (and powerfully) valid for all work: creative or otherwise.

    An ability to be aware of separate existence of the ‘doer’ and his/her work but work out right ‘proportion’, not allowing ‘tools’ to become the ‘work’, observing one’s work as an audience: these are universally applicable in all walks of life.
    Kudos to the cronicler !

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