Remembering K G George: Alchemist of dream narratives

Inimitable artisanship and powerful command over the medium made him one of the most adorable craftsmen in the industry.
Filmmaker K G George (Express)
Filmmaker K G George (Express)

“I consider myself as an artisan in Malayalam cinema,” said K.G. George years back, addressing a function organized to felicitate him on the occasion of screening a package of his films as part of the International Film Festival of Kerala. A perfect auteur in many aspects, George was of the belief that a filmmaker should be a great organizer too. Inimitable artisanship, powerful command over the medium, keen observation, and patience for depicting details made him one of the most adorable craftsmen in the industry.

Being an unmatched academician and technician George could very well have put on the air of a hardcore intellectual and lobbied for awards and accolades during the heydays of his career. But he decided to be part of mainstream Malayalam cinema and undertook the mission to bridge the gap between commercial and art house movies. A person with unusual adaptability, George never thought that he was an outsider in the notorious cinema corridors of Kodambakkam. Actor Nedumudi Venu who had associated with George in some major films once observed: “A film unit is almost like a forest with all sorts of wild animals roaming around with shady intentions. It is not that easy for a person with such a glorious academic background and modern thoughts to survive in such a hostile jungle. But the way Georgettan dealt with his crew, especially actors, was exemplary.”

Yavanika, George’s most celebrated work, is a perfect example of his untiring spirit. Veteran playwright K.T. Muhammed who started writing script for the film could not do justice to the work owing to his busy schedules in professional theatre. As a result, the shooting had to be postponed. George decided to write the script himself and assigned the job of writing dialogues to S.L. Puram Sadanandan, another stalwart in theatre, and he wrote an enormous script running into some 350 hundred pages! George edited the script patiently and commenced shooting after three months and the film became a huge success, both commercially and artistically.

Editing is a salient feature in the structural aesthetics of Yavanika. Editing a movie with recurring flashbacks is not a Herculean task. George deftly did much of the editing in the script itself, making Yavanika a perfect text for learning the art of cinematic storytelling. Yavanika has several layers of meticulously drafted narratives. It constantly irks the viewers with unexpected twists. The movie is basically a comparative study of two major art forms – cinema and theatre. George was of the opinion that songs were impediments in filmmaking. But there are five melodious songs in the film - all of them incorporated as part of the professional play enacted by the drama troupe in the movie. Yavanika successfully sabotaged all conventional concepts of investigative thrillers, setting a model for many more future films in the genre.  

Almost all the characters in Yavanika are violent in one way or the other. But the ultimate expression of violence is manifested through Ayyappan, the tabla player whose disappearance forms the central theme of the movie. “There is some kind of latent violence in all emotions and relationships, however exquisite they seem to be. Even when someone makes love to his sweetheart, there could be violence. It depends on the demeanor of those involved in the act,” George once told me in an interview. “It is my motive to establish that there is violence in all aspects of life.”

Right from his directorial debut, Swapnadanam, George was constantly endeavoring to portray the hidden layers of violence in man-woman relationships. The sadomasochistic violence in Swapnadanam takes shape at a slow pace. The first act of violence in Swapnadanam is the reaction of the wife who shouts at her husband, a doctor, who rushes to the hospital responding to an urgent phone call in the night, immediately after a session of ardent lovemaking. A few moments before this phone call, embracing him, she says: “Each time after making love to you, I feel that I have overpowered you.. both physically and mentally… When you leave this bed, I feel that you are abandoning me forever..” The ensuing violence is both physical and emotional.

The next two important works – Adaminte Variyellu and Lekhayude Maranam: Oru Flashback – stand proof for Goerge’s excellence in breaking conventional storytelling modes. In Adaminte Variyellu, rightly considered as the first perfect feminist movie in Malayalam, George sandwiches the lives of three women living in different social layers of society and closely examines the tragedy that engulfs their lives. Alice, the wealthy wife of a wily contractor, and Vasanthy who is suffocated by the hostile atmosphere in the household meet their unavoidable tragic fates. Alice bids goodbye to life by consuming sleeping pills while Vasanthi is drawn to the insane abyss of delirium, ending up in a lunatic asylum. In Irakal , perhaps the most political of all his works, George prophecies a violent dystopian world by essaying the gory acts of a psychopath.

Mattoral, a movie that walked much ahead of its times, torpedoes the conventional value system associated with institutional marital relationships. Susheela, wife of a government officer and mother of two kids, elopes with a motor mechanic without informing anyone in the household. George and screenwriter C.V. Balakrishnan deliberately leave the reasons for her sudden withdrawal from a seemingly serene family life, unexplained. This is perhaps one of the fiercest violent acts ever depicted on screen, though it’s done silently, without bloodshed.

George has depicted violence in many forms in his important films. But he is not an advocate of violence and anarchy. His concept of discipline was quite different. At work, George had always been calm and composed. This is precisely the reason why George didn’t appreciate the working pattern of John Abraham, his senior in FTII, who was famous (or notorious?) for his Bohemian ways in personal and artistic lives. At the same time, he had great respect for  Adoor Gopalakrishnan and his films. He placed Adoor’s Elippathayam as the finest movie in Malayalam.

Let us place K.G. George somewhere between the overtly anarchic John Abraham and the highly disciplined Adoor Gopalakrishnan. No matter where he is placed, George will always have his characteristic smile of hedonist on his face. He never bothered about such placements. Wherever he is, filmmakers and enthusiasts from many generations will keep on reinventing his unique genius.

(K B Venu is a filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and freelance mediaperson)

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