Woman Power: Adoor Wins National Award for his 'Four Women'!
by Elizabeth Menon

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Adoor Gopalakrishnan wins his ninth National Award, Sworna Kamalam, as the Best Director for his film ‘Naalu Pennungal’(Four Women) This is the fifth time he is chosen as the Nation’s Best Director. He had received the President’s Sworna Kamalam for his first film, ‘Swayamvaram’ in 1972 -- ‘Mukhamukham’ in 1984, ‘Anantharam’ in 1987 and ‘Mathilukal’ in 1990, followed! 'Four Women' is quite different from his earlier films in many ways. Adoor has based this film on four stories by the Njanapeeth winner Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. This is Adoor's journey through the lives of four women who have different standing in the society who are distanced in time, spanning two decades from 1946 -- The Prostitute (Oru Niyamalamghanathinte Katha), The Virgin (Kanyaka), The Housewife (Chinnuamma) and The Spinster (Nithya Kanyaka). This is the first time in Malayalam Cinema that a film was made with four separate stories with no continuity except for the common thematic thread. This film was screened at The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival to a full house in front of an enthusiastic audience.

‘Adoor Goplakrishnan’ is synonymous with Malayalam cinema -- he took Malayalam Cinema to the centre of the world and the name of a small village in Pathanamthitta District in Kerala was on everyone's lips. He graduated in direction from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Poone in 1965, following which his life has been part of Malayalam cinema's history. If his first film 'Swayamvaram' won National award for the best film, best director, best cinematography and best actress in 1972, his first film in colour, 'Elippathayam', received the most coveted award from the British Film Institute for the 'Most original and imaginative film' in 1982 -- but that was only the beginning! All his films were screened at most of the major International Film Festivals, and National and International awards followed – the world audience waited for the Master Director’s films! He has made eleven feature films during the past 37 years: Swayamvaram in 1972, Kodiyettam in 77, Elipathayam in 81, Mukhamukham in 84, Anantharam in 87, Mathilukal in 89, Vidheyan in 93, Kathapurushan in 95, Nizhalkkuthu in 2002, 'Four Women’ in 2007 and ‘Oru Pennum Rantaanum in 2008. He is the recipient of the highest Cinema Honour by the Government of India, Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2004 and the second highest Civilian Honour, Padmvibhusan in 2006 and many other awards in India and abroad. France honoured him with the highest award, Commander of the Order of Arts and Literature, in 2003.

'Four Women', tells the story of four women in four different stories with no continuity, except for the theme. They are caught up in their own battle of survival, submissive and passive in the beginning, but ultimately each one makes a choice, irrespective of the wishes of the society or rest of the family. Though these stories take place more than 60 years ago, the thematic conflict is still relevant especially in small villages; it shows how women were beginning to change their attitude all those years ago! Adoor's films have always focused on many things and he told me that films should serve as faithful documents of the history of a particular time, the time in which they are set.

'Oru Niyama-lamghanathinte Katha' (The Prostitute) tells the story of Kunjupennu (Padmapriya) who changes her profession for Pappunni (Sreejith) who loves her – she, then decides to live with him in an informal marriage. They slept on the pavement as they were very poor and the police arrest them for immoral behaviour because they were not officially married. Their defiance in telling the judge repeatedly that they are husband and wife was quite poignant and the attitude of the legal team, pitiful; Adoor clearly shows the atrocities of the legal system here. Padmapriya is very relaxed and in tune with the character, Sreejith shows promise, and Manoj K Jayan’s 'Ousepachan' is radiant!

'Kanyaka' (The Virgin) is about an aging father (Gopakumar) getting his daughter Kumari (Geethu Mohandas) married to Narayanan (Nandu) without even consulting her. The man has no interest in his bride and it's almost laughable to see his passion in life, 'Food' and thus the audience is assured that his lack of interest in his beautiful wife is perhaps not due to his aberrant sexuality or inability! He takes his wife to her house and what follow is both hilarious and a lesson to all -- the family was shocked to see their new son-in-law's ravenous eating! He leaves his wife there and never returns. Then there is gossip in the village blaming the girl for the break up. She then tells everyone defiantly that there never was a marriage and walks away! Adoor is focusing on the society and showing how gossip and marriage break ups can affect the family life and how a woman is blamed in such circumstances even by her own people. Adoor has brought out the best in Geetu Mohandas, acting at its best and sheer delight to watch!

'Chinnuamma' (The Housewife) is about a housewife, 'Chinnuamma' (Manju Pillai) who looses her babies within days of their birth. She is married to Raman Pillai (Murali) and they both have tried different medicines and been to Ayurvedic doctors, but they are not blessed with a child. Nara pillai (Mukesh), an old classmate turns up who tells her that her husband is to blame for her predicament. He offers himself as the 'Surrogate stud' and she refuses, telling him that her moral principles do not allow her to do that! Strict moral values of the women are upheld here. Murali gives an outstanding performance as Raman Pillai.

'Nithya Kanyaka' (The Spinster) tells the story of a long suffering submissive woman, Kamakshi (Nanditha Das) who is left behind while her brother (Ashokan) and both her younger sisters get married. Kamakshi's life becomes a real torture after the demise of her mother (KPAC Lalitha) and she had to live with her sister (Kavya Madhavan), almost like a servant. Finally she decides to live on her own in her old house, which her mother had left for her. The defiance in her voice was very clear when she told her sister that she does not wish to stay with anyone and would rather stay alone. KPAC Lalitha gives a brilliant performance and Nanditha Das does justice to Kamakshi. There are lessons to be learned here about individual choices while being part of a family structure and making sure that one is not left behind while taking care of the others.

Adoor's previous films portrayed men as the main characters and women were in the background either suffering or retaliating silently, as the society demanded of them at the time. When I spoke to Adoor about this he insisted that women in all his films have been quite powerful, and he is very much on their side, but he cannot go against the true situation, as it exists in our society. He went on to say that he has tried to show the problems women are faced with even today and he is hoping that they would take these issues on board and stand up for their rights. He was quite insistent that in most of his films the weaker and indecisive ones are the males!

The life of four women, distanced in social status and time, 1946-1960, the difficulties they encounter in their homes and society and how they emerge defiant if not victorious at the end, is explored in this film – a beautiful film that can change the attitude of people on various issues in our society! Adoor has raised moral and social issues in this 'Poetry in motion' and succeeded in showing the power of women in the changing society. Perhaps some may argue that there should have been a common link connecting the four stories, apart from their thematic connection – but this is the Master of creation in action and he does it best, always making his audience think, which a true film must do! However, it is disappointing that the film that clinched the ‘Best Director’ was not to be the ‘Best Film of the year’ (No disrespect to the other winners, of course!) and one hopes that this matter would be addressed in future!

© E Menon



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