Documenting the magic weaved by K G George on screen

K G George
K G George. Photo: Manorama Online

“Film-making is like the pain of the unfulfilled love,” K G George

A small incident that happened a duo-decennium back is gradually coming into view in the celluloid of my memory. It may appear trivial to others, but from my perspective, it has much importance. The spot of happening was a vegetable market near Kozhikode. The shooting of the Padma Kumar film ‘Parunthu’, with Mammootty in the lead, was progressing. I had gone to the sets with a nearly-finished script, and accompanied by the director, to meet the megastar.

But Mammootty gave a clear hint that the work was yet to reach a stage where he could go through it. My high hopes vanished into the thin air and I stood there half-frozen. It was then that the actor’s gaze fell on the file containing the script that I was carrying. He held out his hand and I automatically handed over the file like a robot. Noted screenwriter T A Razak and a few actors were around. Mammookka took out a page from the middle and began to read out loudly;-

“Mohan: by the way Pranchi… what actually happened to that lady?
Pranchi: she had gone to Madras earlier.
Mohan: for what?
Pranchi: to become an actress.
Mohan: and then?
Pranchi: Her efforts failed miserably. ‘Adi’, ‘Pidi’, ‘Vedi’… these are all that we call cinema. She went there like a calf eating grass and returned as a cow churning milk”

We were embarrassed since there was a mini audience around there. We even feared he would put the entire thing into flames. But then, Mammootty looked at both the director and the scriptwriter and began to laugh his heart out.

“Good, you’ve done a fine job.”

With that compliment, the dream of the film turned into a reality.

In fact, there was a reference to the dialogue that made Mammootty shriek with laughter. It was the dialogue by a character ‘Mariam’ in the K G George film ‘Kolangal’, the same dialogue that George Sir adapted as such from P J Antony’s novel ‘Oru Gramatinte Aathmavu’.

“You whore! You need to mind only your daughter’s business. She hopped on a train to Madras to act in a film but came back after all the Tamilians there used and threw her away.  Who knows who all had impregnated her?...”

It was this scene from ‘Kolangal’ that opened the floodgate of all these memories. The other day I again watched the above scene, not in the cinema but in Lijin Jose’s documentary ‘8 ½ Intercuts’, reflecting on the life of George Sir. Each and every member of the Malayalam filmdom, may it be those associated with the field or the art lovers, are indebted to the great filmmaker in one way or another. Lijin embarked on a mission that none of them had tried a hand at. And the attempt was an apt honour to the film-making penance of one the best master craftsman that Malayalis have ever witnessed.

When it comes to documentaries, most people have this wide perception that they are utterly boring. I too had the same mentality and thought would watch the one hour, 49 minutes, and seven seconds long ‘8 ½ Intercuts’ in chucks spreading across days, part by part. But I ended up watching it in one sitting, without even taking a break to drink water or relieve myself. It was so engrossing and touching that I sat in my chair for five more minutes in its effect, before finally coming back to my senses.

The documentary succeeded in its attempt to capture the essence of the magic weaved by a great artist like K G George on the screen. It can be truly described as a detailed one reflecting his successes in the art world of films. My personal opinion is that if one does research about documentaries in Malayalam, then they would be forced to make two distinctions, from M A Rahman’s ‘Basheer The Man’ to Lijin’s ‘8 ½ Intercuts’.

What makes this documentary so catchy is that it contains certain memories, experiences, and cinemas that we can relate to in person. ‘Yavanika’ was the first film I watched in my life. A person like that would certainly be in a special mentality while resorting to watching a documentary that delves deep into the art life of the film’s director. Certain scenes depicted at the start of the documentary itself made my mind travel back in time. Especially, the details of certain morning show cinema notices that K G George saw while coming out of the Changanassery New Theatre.

The New Theatre, where George Sir saw Madame Bowery and Psycho in 1963, had become a theatre where films changed so fast and displayed only "A" certificate films for noon shows by the time I studied at SB College. At first, I wondered, oh! this theatre that saved college students and certain ‘Kunjachans’ who came with their heads covered with towels from sexual explosions like a safety valve of the pressure cooker, was once a place where classic movies were screened.

Today, there is no New Theatre. In place of the ‘kottaka’, which was demolished without a stone left, new buildings were built. Changes gave way to new times. Black and white gave way to color. George who frequented movie halls, left the place and went to Pune to study cinema. Then he came back as a filmmaker. The tea-seller's son became a filmmaker who changed history. Then he stopped making films totally. And sat back at home.

On the filmistic silence of the mastercraftsman who drew curtains on his works in the last decade of the 20th century, a new century dawned. Even as new springs bloomed on the screen, attempts to imitate him failed. Youngsters searched for him and found him out even during the modern era of film viewing on mobiles. They were amazed at his depth and breadth and the astonishing layers of his hand. While gasping for breath unable to scale the peaks that he had conquered, many were left to sing the line of the old nursery song, " How I wonder what you are? "

Lijin's artistic journey also underscores the same lines. In this film, many people are talking about K G George's film journey. The meaning of what they all said is condensed to the sentence M T Vasudevan Nair said about “Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback’ movie. If you modify it a little bit, it will become a definition of George Sir. K G George is a film that tells beyond what it says.

Yes. It would be more appropriate to call him Malayalam cinema than to call him a filmmaker. If someone asks me to say only one name from Malayalam cinema, my answer will be K.G. George. I will be one of the thousands of film lovers who will give the same answer. At least these film lovers would be those accepting in heart what Lijin has presented. There is no doubt that the historical value of Lijin's record goes far beyond that emotional feeling.

Let me also use this occasion to salute the director and editor for their ingenuity in putting scenes from the films of the world-class filmmaker Federico Fellini in the right places in the documentary. Shibu G Susheelan, who supported Lijin in this venture, performed a historic duty. Another unexpected joy came when I saw the end titles. The reason was the name Shahina.K. Rafeeq. When I watched the credit lines in the end, I could identify that the hand that etched one of the best political stories I have ever read, Ek Paltoo Janwar, was also behind it. Hopefully, she will also sympathetically consider the readers who are waiting for her thesis on Mani Ratnam's films to take the form of a book.

Lijin's film, which accurately depicts the life of a filmmaker who portrayed the realities of life that seemed contradictory and confrontational, is most notable because of the presence and dialogues of a person. That’s none other than Selma George. She candidly spoke, making viewers doubt whether they were viewing a scene in a K G George movie.

"I wonder how I've lived with him all these years. He has no sincerity to life, no sentiment, nothing. We are for sex... we need sex... What? For that matter, we will eat food. We should eat good food. Then I felt, how could he make these films encouraging women so much? And let me tell you something else... When watching a movie, if he finds some sentiments in it, he will remove the specs, wipe his eyes, cry, blow his nose, and feel terrible, but why doesn't he show the same feelings to his wife? Even if we sit worried at home. Hmm. He is least affected."

"The most important thing in his life... women and movies. These are the only two things he's interested in. Such people shouldn't get married. Because you can live freely with women or cinema or with whatever you want."

There, we can see a man named George sitting helpless, unable to deal with the lava of life's truth unleashed by Selma.

The man could only say in a weak voice, "I was like that, Selma.” Am I the only spectator who was stupefied by the impact of that life scene? No, not, for sure.

At the same time, in an authoritative way, he rejects in unequivocal language an observation made by Selma about the future of his artistic career. "Whenever I believed I had the ability and talent, I made films. It's not possible. It's not possible, for me... When it becomes very obvious...I can’t do it anymore”

While maintaining disagreements about his personal life, Selma makes an accurate assessment of the filmmaker George.

"Then I told you... If you search for good directors, all the directors... If you look at Malayalam cinema today. My vote is for K G George. Because... I don't say that because he is my husband. Each of his films is different. There is no imitation in any movie. It was K.G. George who brought new artists to the scene. In every such aspect, K.G. George is the top among all the directors existing today. I can't help but say that."

On hearing this, K G George laughs like a child and asks, "Isn't that enough, Selma?"

Was that enough? Who would we all have been if we had the right answers to all the complex questions that life throws up to us? If all had such answers, the K G George films wouldn’t have emerged. They wouldn't have dominated the beautiful horizon of our film consciousness without ever setting. Remembering Gopinathan's dialogue in Swapnaadanam, let me put a temporary halt to the conversation about the man depicted in '8 ½ Intercuts'.

“Why should I hide anything? I have nothing to hide. Nothing.”

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