K G George, the master filmmaker who juggled genres

K G George
K G George. Photo: Robert Vinod/Manorama

K G George was a filmmaker of all genres. In a career spanning over two decades, George, who died in Kochi at the age of 77 on Sunday, tried his best not to imitate himself. He was a rare filmmaker who wanted to try his hands at almost all genres without compromising on his convictions about quality art. Thriller, family drama, satire, period film; his filmography has something for everyone. His intense inquisitiveness to get deeper into the minds of his characters, however, remained a common thread in almost all of his experiments with diverse genres. There is no other filmmaker in Malayalam who portrayed anxiety as intensely as he did.

His debut in 1976 with “Swapnadanam” was indeed path-breaking in Malayalam cinema. The black-and-white psychodrama probing the troubled marital life of a doctor offered a totally new experience to movie-goers. It indeed was the result of the courage and conviction of a student out of his film school with a renewed sensibility. His internship with legendary filmmaker Ramu Kariat also helped him.

George did not make another film for the next two years even though his debut work was critically acclaimed and commercially received. As if to compensate for this gap, 1978 witnessed the release of five films made by George, though none of them matched “Swapnadanam” in style or substance. One of them, “Mannu”, however, looks relevant even now for the way it handled the sensitive topic of religion and politics.

The years that followed saw George showing an apparently self-imposed restraint and focusing on making films that would have his signature on them. “Ulkkadal”, also spelt "Oolkatal" (1979), “Mela” (1980) and “Kolangal” (1981) followed and the films established George as a craftsman who could tell ordinary stories in an extraordinary manner. “Ulkkadal” explored the romantic and anxious relationships of a young man while “Mela” had a circus clown as its protagonist. “Kolangal” portrayed the village life of Kerala with all of its vulnerability.

Then came “Yavanika” (1982), his masterpiece crime thriller whose repeat-watch quotient never fades. The film that revolves around the investigation to find out a missing tabla artiste remains one of the finest crime thrillers in Malayalam cinema. The film is noted for its detailed portrayal of its characters and the realistic setting of a drama company.

Next year, George made “Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback”, based on the life and death of a female actor. The film which had an uncanny resemblance to the real life of a famous actor showed George’s courage to expose the flaws of an ecosystem he was also part of.

The year 1984 saw the release of “Adaminte Variyellu” and “Panchavady Palam”, two distinctively different films, that proved George’s penchant to hop between genres. While “Adaminte Variyellu” – with one of the exceptional climax scenes in world cinema in which the female protagonists find their way out of the cinematic frame in a declaration of freedom – offered a daring narrative around gender and women’s life, “Panchavadi Palam” to the date remains a classic satire in Malayalam.

With “Irakal” (1985), George proved his mettle as a filmmaker with a deeper understanding of human psyche once again. The film which portrayed the troubled lives of a rich feudal family is also notable for its allegorical elements. Though set in a central Kerala planter family, it is regarded as a reflection of the moral and emotional ruptures of one of the most politically influential families in the country.

George made four more films in the next four years – “Kathakku Pinnil”, “Mattoral”, “Yathrayude Anthyam” and “Ee Kanni Koodi”. These films could not however evoke the kind of acclaim and acceptance some of his previous works did. “Mattoral”, nevertheless, is never behind any of his works when it comes to its theme and style. George, however, had later expressed regret over the compromise he had to make in its casting.

Then came a break in George’s career from 1990. In 1992, he tried to break it by bankrolling an action thriller “Mahanagaram” starring Mammootty, but the film did not make much move at the box office. Since “Ee Kanni Koodi” in 1990, it took eight years for George to conceive another film. He wanted to make a grand comeback with “Elavamkodu Desam”, a period drama starring Mammootty. The film turned out to be a box office failure, putting an abrupt end to his illustrious career when he was just 52.

He had, however, by then done all that to be called a master filmmaker.  

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