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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

- The Achani of ‘Art’ Cinema

K Ravindran Nair


K Ravindran Nair, fondly called ‘Achani Ravi’ or ‘General Pictures Ravi’ could be described as a single-man army who sustained the ‘art film’ movement in Malayalam. From the late 70-s to the mid-90’s, he produced some of the most significant films that won national and international acclaim and put Malayalam cinema on the world map. The most important films of the two great auteurs of that period – Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan – came out under the banner of General Pictures.

What brought Ravindran Nair, a cashew producer and exporter, into cinema was his lifelong passion for literature and arts. A successful businessman, he was able to hit the right combinations from the beginning. His first film ‘Anveshichu Kandethiyilla’ (1967) based on a novel by Parapurathu and directed by P Bhaskaran was an instant hit. It told the story of a woman fighting against all odds to make a life of her own. It was a passionate story that raised troubling questions about the role of women in our society. He followed it up with two more films by P Bhaskaran in 1968 (Lakshaprabhu and Kattukurangu) which were also successful. His next film Achani (The Axle) directed by A Vincent was a big box office hit and` eventually became his first name. From then on he was known as “Achani Ravi”. Achani was about a self-sacrificing elder brother who toiled all his life for others in the family. The theme definitely touched some raw nerve in the Malayalee psyche and had several ‘remakes’ in Malayalam cinema in the coming decades. And it marked a turning point in the career of Ravi also.

From the beginning Ravi was committed to the quality of films that he produced, which was evident in his choice of themes and directors. He never considered cinema as a means for money-making alone. In cinema, he sought expression for his ‘non-commercial’ dreams. And he entered cinema when well established producers and production houses dominated the scene. So, from the beginning his aim was to carve a niche for himself, not just through instant and local commercial successes, but through quality and experimentation, and in creating brand equity of his own.

During the next one and a half decades, he produced films that broke all norms and transformed the very idea of cinema in Malayalam. Before him, no other producer would have given such free rein to his directors, and that too, with absolutely no pressures to conform with any norms – commercial, aesthetic or formal. And his was not an intervention that was half-hearted or half-baked. He consistently produced films, year after year. Aravindan’s most memorable films like Kanchanaseetha (1977), Thampu (1978) Kummatti (1979) Esthapan (1979) and Pokkuveyil (1981) were produced by General Pictures. Kanchanaseetha, one of the most poetic films in Malayalam, was a freakishly free adaptation of a CN Sreekantan Nair play; it had no stars; nor did it even have a ‘proper’ storyline or follow any narrative conventions. Likewise, Pokkuveyil was a film that used a young poet and his poetry to weave a tragic narrative of the creative and political hallucinations of the time. It still remains one of the most haunting films of the period. Interestingly, for this film, music was recorded first (Hariprasad Chaurasia in flute and Rajeev Tharanath in Sarod, both elaborating upon Rag Shubha Pantuvarali), and then visuals were rendered to suit those musical scores

In the following years, Ravi went on to produce a series of films with Adoor Gopalakrishnan: Elipathayam (1981) Mukhamukham (1984), Anantharam (1987) and Vidheyan (1993). These films, like Aravindan’s, are some of the best cinematic works of Indian cinema. The first two films look at men caught within the traps that systems raise around them. While Elipathayam excavated the claustrophobic world of a man caught within a decadent feudal system, Mukhamukham is one of the most introspective of films on the degeneration of communist movement in Keralam. Anantharam, most enigmatic of love stories on celluloid, dwelt upon the splintering inner world of a man yearning for love. Vidheyan, the last film produced by Ravi, is an adaptation of a Zachariah novelette, an intense portrayal of a sado-masochist relationship between a ruthless master and his ‘self-less’ slave. In 1982, Ravi also produced Manju (1982) directed by MT Vasudevan Nair based upon his own novel.

It was because of visionaries like Ravi that the tradition of ‘parallel’ cinema still survives in Malayalam cinema. It did not die out like it did in other languages with the retreat of state agencies. What makes Ravi different is his vision and commitment. According to him, “I did not make ‘experimental’ cinema. I only made good cinema.” He was a producer that any filmmaker would dream of. He dared to make films that he believed in and would outlive their times. And for that, he put full faith on his directors, and they made works that gave a sense of pride and identity to Malayalam cinema. Those films are sure to inspire generations of cineastes. This year’s J C Daniel Award is a fitting recognition of his contributions to the spirit of good cinema.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Sujit Sivanand - സുജീത് ശിവാനന്ദ്‌ said...

Mr. Ravi is undoubtedly the one man who wholeheartedly promoted a new genre of expressionist movies in Malayalam, giving a free hand to film makers like Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Their historical movies would have never come about without Ravi's generosity and commitment to art. My generation of then youngsters (1970s-80s) from Quilon also greatly benefited from his gift to us, the Quilon Public Library, which was built from the proceeds of the film Achani. I am greatly indebted to Ravi for the books and facility he made available to satisfy our inquisitiveness for knowledge and thirst for literary works. My humble tributes to this unforgettable and noble man that positively influenced our lives. Please convey this message to him, if possible.

Sujit
Canada

7:41 PM  

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