15 March 1991: Govindan Aravindan, film director, died

Govindan Aravindan, a cartoonist-turned-filmmaker known for his deeply personal films and unconventional style of filmmaking, was born on 21 January 1935 at Kottayam in Kerala. He died on 15 March 1991 in Thiruvananthapuram.

His father, M.N. Govindan Nair, was a writer. In the 1960s, Aravindan worked as a cartoonist for various magazines and journals such as Mathrubhumi. His popular cartoon series included Cheriya Manushyarum Valiya Lokavum, Ramuvinte Sahasika Yathrakal and Guruji. 

Many years later he said in an interview about his cartooning days: “Most of the time one draws and gives in the work at the last moment (when working on deadlines). I had simplified the whole thing to, two characters in a frame with a visual dimension. Earlier I used to place the characters against a very clear backdrop. Later it became just two characters with a few lines here and there. I don’t think I have drawn much from this kind of work for directing films.”

He also dabbled in music and theatre. He partnered with the renowned theatre personality K.N. Panicker. Their collaboration led to plays like Avanavan Kadamba and Kaali. Aravindan worked with other artistes too, such as Devan, and writers such as P. Karunakaran and Thikkodiyan.

Aravindan’s first film, Uttarayanam (1974) was based on a story by Thikkodiyan, with Karunakaran pitching in as producer. The film, which bagged several state and national awards, was a reflection on the decline of values in the society within three decades of independence.

In an article on Malyalam cinema, Rajesh N. Naidu wrote in The Times of India: “[Uttarayanam] established G. Aravindan as the foremost director in Malayalee new wave cinema movement. It shows the glimpses of his oeuvre where visuals especially the use of ‘colour’ would be a leitmotif that would suggest a mood. Rooted completely in Malayalee culture, it is a story of an unemployed youth who in his search of a job has a series of encounters that talk about the sorry state of affairs in post-independent India. Eventually, the man leaves the city in search of something concrete and meaningful.”

Released in 1977, Kanchana Sita, Aravindan’s second film, was his unique interpretation of the Hindu epic Ramayana. In an article on the filmmaker, C.S. Venkiteswaran wrote in The Hindu in January 2011: “Kanchana Sita is a contemplative film that strips the timeless story of Ramayana to its bare essentials. Based on C.N. Sreekantan Nair’s play, it sets the epic narrative amidst the Rama Chenchu tribe of Andhra Pradesh, who consider themselves to be descendants of Lord Rama.”

His next films included Thampu, regarded as one of his most important works.

In a tribute to Aravindan, Vidyarthy Chatterjee wrote in The Economic Times in November 2008: “From Kanchana Sita to Thampu, it is a great departure in subject, style, mood and treatment. In terms of both theme and metaphor, the film’s improvised screenplay is a text good enough to be taught at the best of film schools. Commonly regarded as Aravindan’s most distinguished work, Thampu uses haunting black and white images in a freewheeling style to flesh out a series of episodes that make for a statement of sorts on individual/group fun and failure….Thampu does not have a storyline as such; instead, it attracts the viewer with a succession of true-to-life images strung together by Aravindan’s unique poetics and his cinematographer Shaji Karun’s extraordinary visual flair.”  

In the 1980s, Aravindan made feature films like Esthappan, Pokkuveyil, Chidambaram and Oridathu, and documentaries such as Viti and The Seer Who Walks Alone.

The journalist and media personality Sashi Kumar wrote in the Frontline magazine in June 1989: “If Esthappan and Pokkuveyil are, in a sense, about the indefinability of the human mind, Chidambaram is about its indestructibility, its amorphous nature. In the subsequent work, Oridathu, it is a bolder, if uncharacteristic, Aravindan who actually steps into a social milieu. Almost as if to confess that he is here himself seeking out his characters, he conjures up the situation of a village just being electrified. That simple act of technology itself literally sheds new light on the villagers and their mundane concerns.”

Aravindan, whose last film was Vasthuhara, died on 15 March 1991.

Speaking about his idea of cinema, Aravindan had once said: “[G]ood cinema is like any other work of art, like painting, dance, theatre, literature, etc. No work of art directly or indirectly change society or human beings. However cinema has the power to influence the human mind.”  

Also on this day:

1934 — Kanshi Ram, politician and founder of Bahujan Samaj Party, was born  

1963 — Tarun Tejpal, novelist and founder of Tehelka magazine, was born

1976 — Abhay Deol, Hindi film actor, was born

2006 — G. Devarajan, Malayalam music composer, passed away 

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