But once they are excused from the stillness of the photographic moment, they begin to take on forms that look astonishingly different. The outward sameness disappears, as if by magic.
Tabalist Ayyappan (‘Yavanika’ – 1982) is evil in full blast. His walk, his speech, the way he strikes at the tabla, everything about him is animated by a subterranean scorn. He has a look that would make any woman feel molested. Engine driver Vasu Menon (‘Paalangal’ – 1982) is also a womaniser, but one with devilish cunning. He does not force himself on women the way Ayyappan does. Vasu is a stealthy brute. And his behaviour creates a strange ambiguity, enough to confuse the victim. He could be a villain. But he could also be a nice man with a rough exterior. Perattupadaveettil Ayyappan Nair (‘Appunni’ – 1984) is a slimy fellow. He walks in a measured manner, judiciously, as if shrewdly watching what the imaginary person in front of him is up to. All his actions are informed by greed. He could be regally pompous one moment and disgustingly servile the other. Dushassana Kurup (‘Panchavadippalam’ – 1984) is a good-for-nothing, a blank slate on which anyone can scribble. He has a slight stoop that seems to reflect his spinelessness. His excitable manner suggests an intellectual blankness. And his movements convey a state of perennial confusion. Kurup is a kind of guy who will flee at the sight of someone like Ayyappan, the tabalist.
The corrupt Mamachan Muthalaly (‘Adaminte Variyellu’ – 1984) is a ruthless man with a guillotine-like precision and finality to his actions. But his eyes betray him on rare occasions. During such moments they exhibit a certain unmanliness which exposes an inner self tormented by incurable guilt. Veterinary surgeon Mukundan Menon (‘Aalolam’ – 1982) is an introvert with a shy half-smile; a vague presence. Menon is so unsure of himself that when he stands in a group he makes himself look shorter than even those who are actually many inches shorter than him.
Bawa (‘Eettillam’ – 1983) is a mendicant singer with a tired gait and a voice worn out by age and pain. Sankarankutty (‘Kodiyettam’ – 1977) is a poor innocent soul who is curious about everything, as though he is new to this world. He is a kind of person who would look at the theatrics of someone like Ayyappan and smile with great admiration. He is also sad, like a child who has not known the love of a mother.
There are scores of other same-looking characters, each with their own bewildering variety of psychological complexity – Shakespeare Krishnapillai, a married English professor who falls for a girl less than half his age (‘Kattathe Kilikkoodu’ – 1983); Justice Balagangadhara Menon who loses his mind post-retirement (‘Sandhyamayangum Neram – 1984); Nandu, the deaf and dumb sculptor (‘Ormakkayi – 1984); advocate Rajendran who is excited at the prospect of reading poetry to prostitutes (‘Archana Aradhana’ – 1985).
And even when these individuals are put through near similar situations they respond differently, in synch with their unique natures. There, for instance, comes a moment in the lives of veterinary surgeon Mukundan Menon, engine driver Vasu Menon and contractor Mamachan when they have to face the judgement of their wives.
Aalolam (1982)Mukundan Menon’s sin: Tempted by a friend, he takes a prostitute to a lodge. His wife comes to know of this.
Judgement Day: Morning. Menon enters house after spending the night outside, unable to face his wife. He finds the friend, the very person who tempted him to have a one-night stand with a prostitute, in the drawing room. His wife is in the adjacent room. The friend’s suggestive remarks enrage Menon. He holds him by the collar and pulls him up the chair. He does this in a manner that suggests that he is not used to getting angry. Chastised, the friend leaves. Menon bows his head, stiffens both his hands, and walks slowly towards his wife. It seems as if he is pushed forward by an invisible force. As he stands before his wife, he seems to crumble under the weight of his sin. He then flings himself on the lap of his wife and cries his heart out. His wife embraces him. He looks like a child seeking forgiveness from his mother.
Vasu’s sin: He lusts after his wife’s sister Usha and is spurned. He erupts into a murderous fury, makes life hell for both his object of desire and her lover.
Judgement Day: Morning. The front verandah of Vasu’s cottage. The lover storms in. Vasu is on the easy chair in the corner, reading a paper. The lover calls out to his girl. Usha comes out with Vasu’s wife. He says he wants to take her away. Vasu turns furious, shouts at Usha to go in. She too raises her voice. She has had enough. All that she had hidden from her sister all this while, she blurts out. Vasu is cornered. But he is in no mood to give in. His hands are pressing hard on the newspaper he has held open in front of him. His fury spills over. He kicks hard at the lover. A fight breaks out between the two. Finally, Vasu falls. His wife lifts him up, sits by his side and leans on his shoulders. She can’t bear to see his plight. The man who had always seemed as severe as a rock melts. He takes his wife’s hands, presses it to his face and cries, like a man. He is not seeking forgiveness, he is badly ashamed of himself. He sits with his head down, concedes defeat. For once, he looks dignified.
Adaminte Variyellu (1984)Mamachan’s sin: He had offered his wife to innumerable people to get contracts, to get bills passed, to move up in life.
Judgement Day: Night. Bedroom. Mamachan’s wife Alice is in front of the dressing mirror, removing her jewellery. Mamachan walks in, cigarette in hand, and sits at the foot of the bed. He knows she was with her lover. He, in his usual stern manner, warns her that her activities are causing him embarrassment. She should at least be aware that the children are growing bigger, he tells her. The mention of children provokes a smile of contempt in Alice. She asks him whether he is sure they are his children. He responds like he is slapped, turns offensive. She reminds him that he had taken her to various places and offered her to a number of men to get things done. These children could have been sired by anyone of them, she says. Her voice cracks, wags her finger at him and asks him not to utter a single word any more. Mamachan sits tight, looking straight, away from his wife’s gaze. The face is stiff but the eyes look scared. He has no answers. Then, as though he cannot bear the weight of the torment any longer, his shoulders drop. The spine is still erect; there is some defiance left in him. Soon, that too crumbles. His torso sinks, slowly subtly, like a broken-down vehicle whose tyres suddenly deflate. Mamachan sits hunched at the edge of his bed. He knows there is no redemption.
This superhuman ability to become so many unique others without any superficial add-ons or props can be attributed only to Bharat Gopy’s ‘advaitic’ instinct, his supremely evolved state of spirituality. The instinct is so prominent that his understanding of, and transformation into, the character is absolute. He does not seem to be the other, he is the other. The indisputable ownership of alternative mindscapes could cause problems in ways the actor cannot be held responsible. At times, like the maverick ways of God, the behaviour of some of Bharath Gopy’s characters is hard to comprehend. The inept panchayat president Dushassana Kurup from Panchavadippalam (1984) is a telling example.
Dushassana Kurup’s speech from Panchavadippalam (1984)
At one point in the film, a public meeting is organised to commemorate Kurup’s completion of 10 years as panchayat president. Kurup is now called to speak. He had been earlier told by his lackeys to give a thundering speech. So right from the start, Dushassana Kurup speaks at a pitch that threatens to splinter his vocal chords. He strains so much that he seems to elongate with every word.
The film’s director K G George once said: “There were people who told me that scene was not funny and that it was suffocating to watch Gopy’s performance. But what they did not factor in was Dushassana Kurup’s nature. This man is intellectually-challenged. He was told to deliver a thundering speech and he, in his stupidity, thought it meant he had to sound as ear-splitting as possible. The guy would have ceased to be Dushassana Kurup had Gopy delivered the speech even half-a-pitch lower. Gopy knows better.”
Bharat Gopy creates his own epics within the context of each of his films. Except for some physical similarities, there is nothing that connects one Bharat Gopy character with another. At the most they can be grouped under a single heading, under a single sub-caste.
Like poet Mirza Ghalib and Saddam Hussein are Shias or Ernest Hemmingway and Bollywood actor John Abraham are Catholics, Ayyappan and Sankarankutty can be called Gopys.
Yes, he was all that and more. You never saw ‘Gopy’ when you watched him in a film. You saw ‘Ayyappan Nair’ and ‘Shankaran’; you met ‘Mamachan Muthalali’ and “Dushasana Kurup’; you listened to ‘Sriprasad’ and ‘Mukundan Menon’.
A great tribute to a great actor. Thanks for such an insightful write-up.
This write-up could easily replace the wiki page on Bharath Gopi. Brilliant.
Mahabharat by R Ayyappan sure is a brilliant perspective Arun, but it only sums up one facet of Bharat Gopy – as a film actor. The Wiki page stands for a much more comprehensive and all-encompassing objective, and lets have both 🙂 The more, the merrier ! Thanks.
Great writing about a great man.