Close Up

3 - 24 February 2017: Mythical Poetry: The Cinema of Govindan Aravindan


Close-Up and Rattis Books are pleased to present the first European retrospective of the Indian artist-filmmaker Govindan Aravindan. 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 a 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 a cartoonist, satirist, painter, music composer, thespian theatre director apart from being a filmmaker. He worked as caricaturist for the Mathrubhoomi journal, drawing the cartoon series Small Man and Big World, chronicling the adventures of Guruji and Ramu – its corruptible proletarian hero – and later produced a feature for the Kala Kaumudi journal A Bird’s Eye View. He believed and worked for a free cinema that 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, this season brings together six films by Govindan Aravindan – recently restored, preserved and provided by the National Film Archive of India.

Golden Seeta
G. Aravindan
1977 | 90 min | Colour | Digital

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 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 AP where the film was shot, as the mythological figures. read more

G. Aravindan
1979 | 94 min | Colour | Digital

Estheppan (Kakkanadan) is a strange and mysterious figure, allegedly immortal, in a Christian fishing village in Kerala. Although a more earthly version of Kummatty (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. read more

The Bogeyman
G. Aravindan
1979 | 90 min | Colour | Digital

Made shortly after the quasi-documentary Thampu, 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. 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. read more

G. Aravindan
1981 | 106 min | Colour | Digital

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. read more

G. Aravindan
1985 | 102 min | Colour | Digital

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. read more

G. Aravindan
1988 | 90 min | Colour | Digital

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. read more

A Dream Takes Wings: G. Aravindan

Shaji N.Karun
2000 | 20 min | Colour | Digital

An exploration of the multi-faceted personality of the filmmaker of international repute G. Aravidan. read more