SM Rana on Kodiyettam (1977)

Originally published by SM Rana at his blog Onlyne, from November 7, 2009.

One of the best films I have seen, apply any yardstick – certainly one of the very best among Indian films. Adoor is a discovery for me. And I have to thank fellow blogger Vivek for this.

It seems this film to be like Ray a pinnacle among movies. With leashed power he conveys an inner vision of nature and humanity.

The ears as much as the eyes are the gateways to our soul. Sound is as important as the lens. Here is no musical score but of the chirruping of birds, dogs barking, roosters crowing in derision, a squirrel running along a branch, the breeze-whispers, rustling of grass beneath bare feet walking ( bare-footedness is customary in that environment!); the music of drums, conch shells and cymbals emanating from the festivities at the temple, and the final muffled fireworks marking an inner transformation in a human being. Not least the music of the Malayalam tongue (which I don’t know) that is utterly apiece with the greenery and riverine splendour of this part of the planet.

The film moves in a slow rhythm of rural life lingering and dwelling on little things: a man absorbed in eating, a woman washing clothes, a man chopping wood ( splinters stick to his body as he wipes the perspiration) or a bullock cart driver singing a philosophical song about the vanities of the world. Adoor is never in a hurry. There is understanding and compassion for the suffering of women in the Indian set up. And the festival in the temple moves with the languorous dignity of an elephant (there is a great sequence of an elephant being bathed as Sankaran watches in goggle eyed wonderment) in paralell with the festival of life in the hamlet .

Sankarankutty, the hero, is a man in his thirties, an overgrown good natured child, whiling away the hours in an aimless existence. Life is all play for him and he is able to find absorption and thrill in the events of this uneventful rural setting, the festivals and elephants and the games of village urchins. He is supported by a doting sister who works as a maid-servant. Also benign to him is the widow Kamalamma who gives him food , odd jobs and motherly affection.

And then life catches up with him, finding him unprepared. He marries Lalitha but cannot give up his wayward life or assume his responsibilities. The sister starts living with a man in their parental house. A turning point occurs with Kamalamma’s suicide, and we see Sankaran sobbing uncontrollably. And we see his goodness surfacing in a very natural way, as a modicum happiness blossoms before us at the end, celebrated in a fireworks display marking the conclusion of the ongoing festival.

Adoor never dramatises. He is said to have conveyed his “interpretation”: the main point of the film is that nothing happens – a woman dies, a man grows up, the river flows, the cock crows, the conches blow in the temple, the fireworks explode but with muffled sounds in an indifferent salute to an invisible change within a man. Such are the wonders of life.

Adoor is a gentle poet in the tradition of Tagore and Satyajit Ray and his vision is of oriental, Indian and Keralite vintage. In the movements of the environment most intimately known to him he hears and captures the pulsation of universal life. He is sensitive, compassionate, humane, artistic. Adoor’s film holds a mirror to nature. And his homeland.

From Kodiyettam (1977)

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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