INTERVIEW | I am anti-right wing...but I will flay mainstream left: Murali Gopy

In an engaging interaction with TNIE, Gopy reflects on his cinematic inspirations, writing and processes, contemporary politics, and more.
Actor-writer Murali Gopy. (Photo | Express)
Actor-writer Murali Gopy. (Photo | Express)

Originality is one word that encapsulates the creative journey of actor-writer Murali Gopy. While all his films may not be everyone’s cup of tea, none can deny that they are all compelling cinematic expressions. He brings loads of raw energy onto the screen, delivering memorable performances like ‘Che Guevara’ Roy in Left Right Left, which he also penned.

A former journalist, Murali is known for measured responses to socio-political issues, making his voice stand out amid the din. In an engaging interaction with TNIE, he reflects on his cinematic inspirations, writing and processes, contemporary politics, and more.

Edited excerpts:

You have been an actor and a scriptwriter. What is your process? 

I am someone who enjoys moments. If I am acting, I enjoy that. If I am writing I enjoy that. I don’t multitask. As a creative person, I am not someone who goes after trends. But that does not mean I don’t value entertainment. In fact, entertainment is paramount. I identify myself as a mainstream writer.

Many say your films are ahead of their times… some of your films which failed at the box office would have been super hits had they been released at a later period.

There is no recipe for a blockbuster. Nobody can predict whether a film will be a hit or a flop at the time of its writing. All you can do is be sincere in your thoughts and see to it that those thoughts get translated onto the screen with as much sincerity.

How important is the relationship between scriptwriter and director? 

I do projects with those who approach me. Naturally, they have to be close to what I write. My kind of films get translated effectively only when the bridge between the director and me is strong. It is important for the director to understand the layering of the script. Once the director gets it, that bridge is fine (smiles).

How was working with Prithviraj in Lucifer?
I am someone who brings in a lot of details in my script. Raju’s speciality is that he learns the script by heart; he has that skill. He does his shooting scripts. He asks lots of questions and ensures he has complete clarity before the shoot. He is a very studious filmmaker.

Have there been any conflicts between you and directors?

Definitely… proximity squabbles are quite common in a creative space. But there will be union, too, and that is behind the success of a film.

Your latest film, Theerpu, was more on ideas and less on emotions… Are you becoming more didactic?

Theerpu is an allegory. There is a burning issue behind that film. That was the reason it got made in the first place. When you select allegory as a device, there will be a distance automatically. That film was created during the Covid times and was meant to be released on OTT. But it had to be released in theatres due to some change in dynamics. 

So, you believe OTT is a better platform for experimental films?

Yes. OTT is apt for experimental films. Theatres are no longer meant for that. We see huge successes and huge failures at the marquee; there is no middle path at the box office now.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about political correctness. What is your take?

Well, art itself is politically incorrect. If a character in a film delivers a politically incorrect dialogue, many judge it as if it was the writer’s own thoughts. There are many stumbling blocks now. Political backlashes, call for a ban on silliest possible reasons… This hyperventilation is a huge problem in the sociopolitical creative sphere. They are symptomatic of our times.

So, you believe intolerance is on the rise these days?

Intolerance has always been there. Only that it has come to the fore now. There are more avenues for intolerance in the form of social media. 

Does it mean a creative person has to think twice or thrice before writing something?

I don’t do that. If I start thinking like that, I won’t be able to write, my pen won’t move….  There may be many benefits in doing that, but it will not be truthful to one’s creativity. If you try to tone down your writing or abstain from writing what you feel for the sake of the approval of the system, that is wrong, I feel.

Anybody can be a reviewer these days…. How does it play out? Have things become more toxic?

Yes... but we are a democratic state. It is wrong to take a position against reviewers. But, as mediators between the film and the viewer, they have the responsibility to have a good understanding of the origins, content and evolution of that particular film. Viewers can say anything, but reviewers have to be responsible for their words. When a viewer says he doesn’t like my film, I respect that opinion. But when a reviewer says the same, I will have to ask him why. And if s/he doesn’t have a well-studied answer to that, then there is a problem.

You’ve been a media person. Any plans to do a film on media?

I attempt only those themes that inspire me at a given moment. Also, if you have to explore the whole gamut of media, the format of a feature film will not be enough.

You spoke about the political backlash against films. Your film Left Right Left had faced such a reaction…

Yes. It was pulled out from the theatres in north Kerala two days after its release. There was an unofficial ban from certain quarters. The mainstream Leftists here were very hostile towards the film. They still seem hostile towards me. It was not an anti-Left film. It was against the deviations in the Left.

You were branded as a right-winger after that film…

Actually, I am totally against the Right-wing. But, that does not mean I will not criticise the mainstream Left. Actually, LRL was a Leftist movie; it observes Leftism. However, some have the wrong impression that criticising the mainstream Left is criticising the Left.

But many, including you, seem to be concerned about the ‘purity’ of the Left alone. Other political parties are not being judged through the same lens…

That should not be a concern for the real Leftists. The Left is not supposed to be like others. We do not romanticise others, but we place the Left on a higher pedestal. Sadly, the Left-wing here shows strong Right-wing tendencies these days. What we have here is a namesake Left wing. There is no real Left here.

Left Right Left had a character that resembled Pinarayi Vijayan. Was it modelled on him?

There will be contemporary reflections, definitely. But it is not right to say it was based entirely on any particular person. There are elements of Lenin and Stalin in that character. It shows how personality cult evolves in the mainstream Left even when Leftism is a movement against personality cults. The moment a personality cult invades a Leftist space, Leftism becomes Right wing. So when a film discusses personality cults in the current scenario, it is natural to have some reflections. 

How do you rate Pinarayi as a politician?

I pass that question.

Have you ever met or spoken to him?

No.

There is a view that your film criticises only the Left and no other fascist forces...

My films criticise fascist forces, too. For example, Tiyaan was an anti-Right-wing film. Also, fascism is not the monopoly of the Right-wing.  There are fascist elements in the mainstream Left, too. 

It was your film Ee Adutha Kalathu that showed RSS for the first time in a Malayalam film…

I have seen RSS shakhas in many places. But I had never seen one in any Malayalam film till then. Why? Was it because RSS was not present here?  I have seen shakhas, and I will show that in my films. Fascists get stronger when you laugh at them, ignore them or demonise them. If you want to fight them, address them first as human beings. When you sub-humanise them, they will become only more and more powerful. History testifies to it. 

You worked with Dileep in Kammarasambhavam at a time when he was in the midst of a controversy involving an actor’s molestation case…

This issue came up when the film was half-shot. I will not judge anyone. I have no proof that Dileep did it. In fact, nobody has. The accusation doesn’t amount to a verdict. I will never support mob verdicts. Who are we to judge people?

But isn’t there something called political correctness?

There is no political correctness involved there. Is it reasonable to judge someone who has not been proven guilty? I am asking about the logic behind it. Let the verdict come, then I will give you a clear answer. Till then, I will not judge anyone.

When Oppenheimer was released, many said you are one filmmaker capable of making such a movie in Malayalam…

Kerala did not receive a Kammarasambhavam’ well, let alone me trying an Oppenheimer’ (laughs out). Experimental films are not happening in Malayalam not because of the dearth of stories, but due to the lack of mass receptivity for such topics.

How do you handle films’ failures?

It is quite a shattering experience. Filmmaking is a very painstaking process. So when a film is not received well, it does affect one. 

How do you generally deal with setbacks?

My father had a paralytic stroke when he was one of the most sought-after actors of that time. I was just 14 then. I used to get only glimpses of him till then. Once he fell ill, our phone, which used to ring throughout the day, fell silent totally. So, I have seen two sides of fame in my formative years. That experience has helped me treat both acclaim and brickbats with the same temperament, I guess.

How was your relationship with him? Has his unparalleled fame impacted you in any way?

He has always been my greatest inspiration — to live and to create — but never an influence. I never compare. Our paths are different.

You took a break after your first film, Rasikan. Was it because it did not get the kind of response you expected?

I felt that it was not the right time for me to write film scripts. I never even thought I would return to films. But now, here I am. 
 
Some lament that today’s scriptwriters don’t have the requisite reading or life experiences...

I don’t agree. We cannot insist that only reading aids writing. We should not be judgmental about someone, only because they lack reading. The cliché that only old films are good reflects an extremely narrow view. Each era tells its own story.

Recently, there was a ban on some actors. Do you feel such bans would impact creativity in artists?

It was an issue between the producers and the actors. Artists in the film industry need a certain kind of discipline. But, personally, if I would want a particular artist to play a character in one of my films, no ban would stand in my way from asking him/her to enact that character.

Is there a lack of discipline among the new-gen actors?

I’m of the view that criticising everything by terming it ‘new-gen’ is absolutely wrong. There are so many disciplined actors among them. There will always be people in both spectrums – disciplined and undisciplined.

You seem to be quite selective about your performances. 

Yes, I am. I get high while enacting a variety of characters (smiles).

Do you improvise on the spot? You tend to incorporate the signature mannerisms of the characters that you portray. Is that deliberate?

If one has read the script and imbibed the character well, one can glean these from the character itself. One doesn’t have to plan anything.

Who do you assess as the best actor in Malayalam cinema ever?

My father! (Smiles) 

When the film Vedivazhipadu was made, were there any concerns about hostile reactions?

Yes. Right-wingers did come up with threats. There was criticism on moral aspects, too, from certain extremist quarters.

Censorship is touching new levels, even in the OTT space… 

When the Right wing is in power, such things are routine. Our response, too, is tame. That’s why I say the Right wing can be blocked, only if the Left-wing becomes the true Left. Once it takes on demonic proportions, nothing can be done. What we see in India is a battle between overt and covert Right wings. Both are Right-wing at the end of the day.

Are you worried about the future?

See, if we talk about India, it does not have a one-dimensional culture. We are being taught that it was the British who introduced the ‘divide and rule’ policy. But, were we one country before the British came? Rather, it was the British who united us as a political entity. Trying to unify a nation with such a diverse culture as India on the basis of religion would only tear society apart. Socio-political fault lines are getting clearer day by day. If we try to enforce a uniform identity, the nation may go into civil unrest. There is a strong possibility, I fear.

Do you think a movie like Nirmalyam can be made now?

When Nirmalyam was made, such concerns did exist. But then, they remained only as concerns at the time. Now, it would lead to cataclysmic reactions, triggering a Semitic response in the name of Hinduism, which, in its essence, is an embracing concept. That is quite tragic.

Many independent filmmakers are coming up in Malayalam these days. Do you take note?

Every era will witness the rise of newcomers. Krishant is one filmmaker whom I have noticed. Don Palathara is another one.

Who is your favourite scriptwriter?

Padmarajan Sir. I love his short stories and scripts. 

The Malayalam film industry has been revolving around Mammootty and Mohanlal for a long time. What are your views?

Not anymore. There is no such dependency now. There are many other saleable lead actors in the Malayalam industry now. Those two are, of course, icons. 

How do you assess Prithviraj and Indrajith? How different are they?

Indrajith is a studious actor and is highly mouldable. Prithviraj has his own style.  

Among international filmmakers, who are your favourites?

David Lean, Christopher Nolan, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Manmohan Desai and Satyajit Ray. It’s a long list… I am a fan of all genres (smiles).

What are your new projects?

After Empuran, I am writing Tyson.

When are you going to direct a film?

I will... (smiles) I have three-four writing and acting assignments right now. After that, I will. 

Most of your films tend to have a socio-political backdrop…

I have always been studious about politics and its undercurrents. I believe that all films should reflect a socio-political angle, especially in India. 

Your father had joined BJP. Do you have any political plans?

That was his personal choice. I respect his choice, but I don’t subscribe to it. 

Where do you place yourself in the political spectrum? 

I am an anti-Right wing man.

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