Adoor Gopalakrishnan was born in 1941 into a family of patrons of the classical dance, Kathakali, in Adoor, Kerala. From the age of 8, when he made his theatre debut, he has been actively involved in theatre. He graduated from Gandhigram Rural Institute, Madurai, with a degree in Political Science and produced over 20 plays during this time. After graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in 1965, he founded the Chitralekha Film Co-operative along with other graduates of the FTII to help in the production and ditribution of non-commercial films.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan was influenced by the works of Satyajit Ray and his films borrowed Ray’s technique of emphasizing the psychology of the characters through gestures. His first feature film, Swayamvaram (“One’s Own Choice”, 1974), won the President’s Gold Medal for best film, best director, best cameraman and best actress. It tells the story of two young rebels fighting the despair and realities of small town life. The film also tackled a sensitive topic by letting a woman play one of the rebels – thus the title, which is also an allusion to the ancient practice whereby women of royal birth selected a husband of their own choosing.

During this time, a lot of what would have appeared to ordinary Indians as titillating films were being made under the garb of realism. In fact, “art films” to the public became associated with a liberal depiction of sex, considering the strict codes of censorship, from which some art films were able to escape by virtue of their international release, imposed on commercial cinema. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kodiyettam (“Ascent”, 1977) came as a breath of fresh air with its simple and sincere approach to the crumbling Nair community who were once the lords of Kerala. He returned to the theme of feudalism with his critically acclaimed Elipathayam (“The Mouse Trap”) in 1981. Kerala, like West Bengal, had always remained a hotbed of communism. Gopalakrishnan examined this movement and its conflict with the feudal sysytem in Mukha Mukham (“Face to Face”) in 1987.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan has also produced a number of documentaries and his movie Mathilukkal (“Walls”, 1993), made for television, was widely viewed by the public besides being critically acclaimed. His work has motivated a new generation of film-makers to use their medium in bold new ways and to explore traditionally forbidden topics.


Swayamvaram (72)

Kodiyettam (79)

Elipathayam (81)

Mukha Mukham (84)

Mathilukkal (93)

Further Reading:

DaCunha, Uma. The New Generation 1960-80. New Dehi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Directorate of Film Festivals, 1981.