Films follow curious lives. While some films are remembered for their memorable story, character or acting, certain films stand apart for their radical otherness and refusing to play to the dominant tunes of the time. The latter kind is rediscovered as moments in history. The case of ‘Njatadi,’ debut film by Gopi made in 1979, is one such story.
Literally njatadi means the bed of seedlings in a paddy field; it is the site where fresh seedlings are weeded, sorted and kept for planting. Though njatadi itself does not result in any yield, the tender plants in it provide the future harvest. In that sense, ‘Njatadi’ the film could be seen as a metaphor of sorts. Most of those who were part of this venture went on to make significant contributions in cinema and other fields: Gopi, its director, actors such as Murali, K. R. Mohanan (now Chairman of Kerala Chalachitra Academy) and Aliyar, cinematographer Vipin Mohan, and so on. It featured several other first-time actors like veteran journalist V. R. Korappath, Kalamandalam Girija, M.K. Gopalakrishnan and the likes. It was also entirely shot and processed in Kerala.
Paradoxically, the film was screened only twice and its print is still untraceable. For a film like that, which was seen only by a few, there is every chance of it being relegated to oblivion. But in the case of ‘Njatadi’ it was not so. On September 24, after 30 years, the group of then youngsters who made that film possible got together to refresh their memories.
They paid homage to the stalwarts who departed during this long interregnum: director Gopi, Murali, Korapath, producer-organiser K.N. Sreenivasan and so on. In that sense, ‘Njatadi’ is more than just a film. Though the film in its physical form is irretrievable, the spirit behind it survives.
Marking the occasion.
To mark the occasion, a book and a video documentary on the film were released. The book – ‘Njatadi Smaranakal,’ edited by K. Bhaskaran contains personal memoirs of those who took part in the making of the film. Apart from such reminiscences, the 20-minute video documentary pieces together the narrative of the film through poignant stills from it. The book and the documentary, unique in their mission, are earnest attempts at recapturing a lost film, and in the process, memories, incidents and experiences that such an experiment involved in the late 70’s. What transpires through these personal flashbacks, are the sheer joy of doing something new, the exhilaration of collective, selfless action and also its attendant frustrations.
As one of the main organisers and the scenarist of the film, T.K. Kochunarayanan, recalls:
All over the world, the 1970’s mark radical changes in political thinking. Naturally it had its resonance in India and Kerala too. There were fresh sprouts of an ideology that was committed to providing the villages a new life and vigour. In Kerala, it had the resonances of a rural wake-up song and was the indigenous version of an ideology that inspired the youth and rattled the old. Caught in its tune and rhythm were some young minds, who were ready to take up that arduous journey to achieve lasting peace.
According to him, this was the background that made ‘Njatadi’ possible. Any act of remembering is also an act of defiance against forgetting. By keeping memories alive, we make vital links not only with the past, but also to the future. Such remembrance is sure to inspire the njatadis in the present too.