jan 29th, 2008
'bharat' gopi was one of the best actors in the world. very few actors in bollywood come anywhere near him, i am sorry to say. perhaps sanjeev kumar did.
just two incandescent, scintillating performances made gopi one of the best actors around.
one, as shobha warrier describes below, as the carefree, thoughtless, child-man in Kodiyettam (The Ascent), a gem of a film by adoor gopalakrishnan; but shobha, alas, doesn't talk about how he grows into a responsible person over time as he observes his boss, a truck driver, deals with his family and his er... wives (he had several, one in each town :-)
and that is the kodiyettam, the ascent, or literally, the flag-hoisting -- in the end, he returns, a mature, full man, ready to take care of his long-suffering wife and to start a family of his own. in the backdrop is a great temple festival, with its fireworks.
there is a remarkable scene in which he goes to 'see' his bride-to-be; but all he's interested in is stuffing his face with relish, not in the woman. and indeed, there is a lot of eating in this film. at the time adoor defended it by saying how eating and loving were perhaps the most elemental and universal of human acts. i also liked the film a lot because of the regional accents and the location of the film -- near my ancestral village in central travancore.
and then there is Chidambaram; a masterpiece by g aravindan, in which the guilt-stricken gopi flees from his high-ranges cattle station, at matuppetti on the kerala-tamil nadu border. there he had become involved with the wife of one of his employees -- they are played by smita patil and srinivasan. the enraged srinivasan hacks smita to death; the guilt-wracked gopi flees, mortifying his flesh, in a death-wish induced state of unconcern for himself. he drags his carcass from whorehouse to tavern and finally ends up at the great temple at chidambaram. where he finds, scarred as though by a sickle, smita patil as the woman who minds the footwear. but is it really her, or is he hallucinating? is it a sign from god that he has suffered enough?
i don't think there has been a better exploration of crime and punishment in indian cinema. and it was based on a brilliant short story by C V Sreeraman, who passed away about two months ago. it was gloriously shot by master cinematographer shaji n karun, and there is one particularly magnificent tracking shot of the fleeing gopi that i still remember vividly after 20 years.
just these two performances (one with each of the best-ever film-makers in malayalam, aravindan and adoor), were enough to raise gopi to the stature of a world-class actor. of course, he did much more. i didn't know about his stroke and his book on cinema.
there is one more under-rated, world-class actor in malayalam -- tilakan. he reminds me of gene hackman -- the consummate character actor, physically nothing to look at, but a wizard once he puts on the grease-paint.
godspeed, bharat gopi!