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NFAI, India

Film Programmes 


2.1.1 A Dream takes wings: G.Aravindan

2000 | 20' | col | English

Directed by Shaji N.Karun

Fri 3  Feb 2017 at 730 pm

A short introductory documentary on Govindan Aravindan by cinematographer Shaji N. Karun 

2.1.2 Golden Seeta (Kanchana Seeta) 
1977 | 90’ | col | Malayalam w/ English subtitles 

Fri 3  Feb 2017 at 730 pm 

Sun 12 Feb 2017 at 730 pm

Aravindan’s most enigmatic film to date is his version of the Ramayana episode about Rama (Ramdas) and his bride Seeta, represented here only as aspects of nature such as the rustling of the wind in the trees or as rain bringing harmony where discord threatens. Derived from Sreekantan Nair’s play and Valmiki’s epic, the film alludes to the golden image of Seeta which Rama sets by his side for the Ashwamedha Yagya, the ritual sacrifice of a horse to Agni, the god of fire. The poet Valmiki (Panicker) is cast as a witness to the mythical events which move him to compose the story of Rama as an epic. The film’s epilogue shows Rama’s last journey as he walks into the River Saraya and becomes one with Seeta, i.e. nature. Aravindan’s nature mysticism finds expression in Shaji’s pellucid images prefiguring some of the associations of nature in his later Estheppan (1979) and Chidambaram (1985). The director’s most daring gesture is his attempt to renovate the mythological as a genre, partly by his interpretation of Seeta’s presence but also by casting Rama Chenchus, tribals from Andhra Pradesh, India where the film was shot, as the mythological figures.​*

2.2 Stephen (Estheppan) 
1979 | 94’ | col | Malayalam w/ English subtitles
Sat 4 Feb 2017 at 730 pm
Fri 17 Feb 2017 at 730 pm

Estheppan (Kakkanadan) is a strange and mysterious figure, allegedly immortal, in a Christian fishing village in Kerala. Although a more earthly version of Kummatty (1979: the subject of his previous film), all manner of virtues and magical powers are ascribed to the Christ-like worker of miracles (including printing his own money and drinking whisky without getting drunk). The director says it was made as a rejoinder to the criticism levelled against him and his scenarist Panicker for the emphasis on folk ritual in their theatre. An extra dimension is given to the central character, adapted from stories about religious mystics of all stripes, by casting Kakkanadan, a Malayalam tantric-modernist painter, in the role. The final sequence of the miracle play alludes to the Chavittu Natakam, a form derived from Portuguese passion-plays on the west coast. However, contrary to the director’s stated intention sympathetically to explore religious mysticism, the film can be seen as celebrating confusion, jumbling together religious iconography, pop music, tourism and garish calendar-art colours and artistic creativity. This cultural levelling out is further heightened by more than one ‘version’ of Estheppan’s activities, each bidding for plausibility but also undercutting whatever conviction the plot might have. The fragmented narrative helps to convey a critique of the conventions of psychological realism prevalent in ‘quality’ cinema by refusing to present an individual as a complex but ultimately coherent and knowable character. However, by also refusing to show the individual as a historically formed figure, an option chosen e.g. by Ghatak, Shahani and Abraham, Aravindan ends up relativising his characters completely, dissolving them either into creatures of gossip, as in the movie, or into the timeless and eternally unknowable flow of nature. 

2.3. The Bogeyman (Kummatty)
1979 | 90’ | col | Malayalam w/ English subtitles
​Fri 10 Feb 2017 at 730 pm

Made shortly after the quasi-documentary Thampu (1978), this film adapts an age-old Central Kerala folk-tale featuring a partly mythic and partly real magician called Kummatty (played by the famous musician and dancer Ramunni in his screen debut) who comes to entertain a group of village children with dancing, singing and magic tricks. In a game, he changes them into animals. One boy, changed into a dog, is chased away and misses the moment when the magician breaks the spell restoring the children to their human form. The dog-boy has to wait a year until Kummatty returns to the village. Aravindan claimed the film to be his favourite and referred to the international legend of the bogeyman which parents use to frighten their children, except that, in Kerala, the bogeyman is often shown as a compassionate person.

2.4. Twilight (Pokkuveyil)
1981 | 106’|  col | Malayalam w/ English subtitles
​Sat 11 Feb 2017 at 730 pm 

A poignant story of urban life showing a young artist living with his father, a radical friend and a music-loving young woman. The father dies, the radical has to flee and the woman is taken by her family to another city. The boy’s world collapses: he becomes prey to hallucinations and ends up in an asylum where he is visited by his mother. The film, mostly told in flashback, betrays the nature-mystic Aravindan’s distrust of urban living.

2.5. Chidambaram
1985 | 102’|  col | Malayalam w/ English subtitles
​Thu 23 Feb 2017 at 730 pm

 Unfolding in exquisitely photographed poetic rhythms and coloured landscapes, this is the simple but cynical tale of Muniyandi (Srinivas), a labourer on the Indo-Swiss Mooraru farm in Kerala. He brings a wife, Shivagami (Patil), from the temple town of Chidambaram. She befriends Shankaran (Gopi), the estate manager and amateur photographer with a shady past. Their friendship transgresses the hypocritical but deeply felt behavioural codes the local men inherited from previous social formations: i.e. that women are to be denied what men are allowed to enjoy. The tragedy that ensues (Muniyandi’s suicide, Shankaran’s descent into alcoholism and Shivagami’s withering into a worn-out old woman) condenses the tensions between socioeconomic change (as tractors and machinery invade the landscape) and people’s refusal to confront the corresponding need to change their mentality. The tension is, however, most graphically felt in the way Shivagami’s life-force is extended into the naturescape, which is shot around her with garish colour (e.g. purple flower-beds) suggesting that the very nature of Kerala’s beauty and fertility, as she represents it, has been irredeemably corrupted from within. The film then shifts to the equally oppressive cloisters of the Chidambaram temple, as Shankaran and Shivagami meet once more: he is there to purify himself through religious ritual while she is now employed to look after the footwear of devotees and tourists. The nihilist film ends with a rising crane shot as the camera can only avert its gaze and escape, tilting up along a temple wall towards an open sky.

2.6. Masquerade/Faces and Masks (Marattam)
1988 | 90’ | col | Malayalam w/ english subtitles
​Fri 24 Feb 2017 at 730 pm

Panicker’s one-act play deals with the relation of identification between an actor and his or her role. Aravindan put the stress on the relations between the viewer and the actor/role dualities. The action takes place on the eve of the last act of the Kathakali piece Keechakavadham (The Killing of Keechaka). The events surrounding the performance uncannily echo events in the play. One character even claims to have killed the lead actor of the play because he detested the character the man portrayed. However, the three different accounts that are presented of the same plot are never resolved or reconciled with each other. Each version is accompanied by a different style of folk-music: the tune and rhythm of southern Kerala’s thampuran pattu, the pulluvan pattu and the ayappan pattu. The performers were drawn from the theatre and from Kathakali. In southern India, with its plethora of politicians using their film images to acquire inordinate wealth and power, Aravindan’s TV film bears on an eminently sensitive political as well as aesthetic issue. *
Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen

* Film description excerpts by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen in Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema (1994) accessed 17/01/2017 

Close-Up Film Centre, London

Rattis Books and Close-Up Cinema are pleased to present the first European retrospective of the Indian artist-filmmaker Govindan Aravindan (1935-91) in London. This programme offers a rare opportunity to discover six of his most important works known for their 'distinctive look, sparse naturalism, silences and long shots with darker shades of grey in black & white films.*Almost quarter of a century since his demise, he largely remains a little known figure outside India compared to his peers like Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani.

Aravindan was cartoonist, a satirist, a painter, music composer, a thespian theater director apart from being a filmmaker. He worked as caricaturist for the Mathrubhoomi journal (1961-79), drawing the cartoon series Small Man and Big World, chronicling the adventures of Ramu, its corruptible proletarian hero, and Guruji and later did a feature for the Kala Kaumudi journal, called A Bird’s Eye View

He believed and worked for a free cinema which is receptive to influence from other forms of art. He was closely linked to influential literary figures of his time and nourished a keen interest in other art forms such as murals and dancing. Like Oscar Fischinger, he belonged to a select group of artists in the history of Cinema whose practice could boast of such vivid dimensionality. Aravindan's cinema is marked by a religiosity that is free of the moral force that resides at the heart of Robert Bresson's films or of the ethical-spiritual values that inform the cinema of Manoel de Oliveira. Instead Aravindan's religiosity is concerned with the mythical, anthropological and environmental derived from the fabled structure of Hindu and Buddhist philosophical traditions. 

Programmed by Arindam Sen

All the screening prints of this retrospective have been recently restored, preserved and provided by the National Film Archive of India

Supported by

02 Mythical Poetry: The Cinema of Govindan Aravindan

Close-Up Film Centre, London 

February 3 -24 , 2017