29 January 2008: Bharat Gopi, Malayalam film actor, died

A national award-winning actor of Malayalam cinema, Gopinathan Velayudhan Nair, better known as Bharat Gopi, was born on November 2, 1937 in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district to Kochuveetil Pillai and Parvathyamma. He died on January 29, 2008.

After securing a B.Sc. degree, Gopi worked as a clerk in the Kerala Electricity Board.

His initiation into acting for the stage was at the Prasadhana Little Theatres. His interest in films was kindled through the Chitralekha Film Society that was started by the legendary filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Gopi made his debut in the 1972 Adoor film ‘Swayamvaram’. His role in the 1977 film ‘Kodiyettam’, also directed by Adoor, won him the National Award for Best Actor.

In a tribute to Gopi after his death the journalist Shobha Warrier wrote in rediff.com: “[In ‘Swayamvaram’ he] was there only for a couple of minutes but the impact of his frustrated face was so strong that he was immediately noticed. The Guardian carried a story on him under the title ‘The face of unemployment’. He was an unemployed youth in the film…[In Kodiyettam he] played [the role of Shankarankutty] who wanders around temples and festivals without caring about his own home, wife or other duties. That was his second film, and he won the National Award — called Bharat award in those days — for best actor. That was when he became Bharat Gopi.”

Many years later Gopi described his role of Shankarankutty as a faithful representation of the innocence and humaneness of childhood that slowly gets replaced by the cynicism and bitterness of adulthood.

Gopi acted in Malayalam films made by directors like G. Aravindan, Padmarajan and K.G. George. He also acted in a couple of Hindi films, one of which was Mani Kaul’s ‘Satah Se Uthata Aadmi’. In Govind Nihalani’s ‘Aghat’ he essayed the role of a trade union leader.  

In an article in The Sunday Indian on June 22, 2012, Sreekumar A.T. wrote: “Gopi went hand in hand with both the new wave and the parallel cinema…The characters he immortalised include Tabalist Ayyappan (film-‘Yavanika’), circus manager (‘Thampu’), deaf and dumb sculptor (‘Ormmakkayi’), Shakespeare Krishna Pillai (‘Kaattathe Kilikkoodu’) and Justice Balagangadhara Menon (‘Sandhya Mayangum Neram’). In most of his roles, he went deep into the psychological peculiarities of the characters and portrayed them in a classic touch....”

Gopi also donned the director’s and producer’s hat in a few films.

Speaking about his approach to acting in an interview conducted by Mani Kaul and published on January 7, 1979 in The Times of India, Gopi said: “Any change in a character is not, for me, merely a change in mannerism, make-up or costume. These are all incidental. What an actor needs in such moments of transformation, is a few seconds to think in fractions, to reach…certain proportions…and not just remain fixed in an image already worked out by the director or even himself. Of course, a primary image from the script does exist in your mind. But it is not the representation of that image that the actor seeks, rather it is a persistent confrontation with the inertia of that image, to reach a definite and truthful proportion.”

In 1985 he got a Special Jury Award at Tokyo’s Asia Pacific International Film Festival.

In the same year a five-film retrospective of Gopi’s films was held inParis.

Tragically, in February 1986 he suffered a stroke on the sets, resulting in his being paralysed on one side. He, however, returned to the film world and directed ‘Ulsavapittennu’ that starred Mohanlal. His partly autobiographical ‘Yamanam’ got him a National Award for best film on social issues. In 1991 he was awarded the Padma Shri. Four years later his book Abhinayam Anubhavam bagged the National Award for the best book on cinema.

Gopi, who continued acting till his last days, was admitted to hospital on January 24, 2008, after he complained of chest pain. He died on January 29 following a cardiac arrest.

The journalist K. Venugopal wrote about Gopi (his name was also spelt Gopy): “In an era of style and mannerism, Gopy had none of it. His style was substance or vice versa. Mimics who live by imitating thespians failed before Gopy. For he did not imitate himself and thus was inimitable. Each of his characters was illumined by a brushstroke, uniquely Gopy’s, but which made them uniquely unlike him.”

Also on this day:

1936 — Veturi, Telugu poet, lyricist and songwriter, was born

1968 — Laxmidas Jai, Indian cricketer, passed away

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