In the era of ‘victims’ a relook at Malayalam film auteur KG George’s Irakal
Some unfounded news of this pesky son of an equally pesky minister dancing on the bonnet of a police jeep made me not watch KG George’s Irakal, when it released in 1985. Not my two rupees (oh, the good days) for Ganesh, the rich spoilt brat. Mistake. At least, I should have had the sense to know that the maker of Yavanika and Ulkadal would not have attempted cinematic hara-kiri by pandering to the Pillai family.
Anyway, Irakal landed on the small-screen, and the first viewing had a guillotine effect — how powerful, how compulsive, how realistic, and how unpretentious! That cord of red electric wire, twirling in the hands of the protagonist Baby (Ganesh Kumar), perhaps, lent more alarming intensity than Hitchcockian staples.
Yet, as was the norm among Generation X of Kerala, the popular cinematic sensibility was flatteringly obsequious to two legends — Padmarajan and Bharathan. KG George might be master filmmaker and all, but come on, where is populism in his movies, the kind of ‘aspire-for’ heroes that Padmarajan so perfected and the aesthetics that was the forte of Bharathan.
George seemed neither there or here: He largely wasn’t perceived on league of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan (what a humbug perception that was) and he never fit in with the commercial crowd anyway. And when he did Kathaykku Pinnil with Mammootty, the actor’s fans were mighty disappointed because they didn’t get what they expected.
George was like the Kakkanadan of literature; he walked his own turf. He stayed true to his own idiom. He was answerable to none, and he wasn’t going to change his tunes for the majority. I presume he must have been bemused seeing the serpentine queues that formed for Vasthuhara (Aravindan with Mohanlal) and Anantaram (Adoor-Mammootty).
He was also not the toast of the global film festival circuit and perhaps with the chairmanship of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation and the mantle of founder-chairman of Malayalam Cine Technicians Association (MACTA) took him away from cinema more than it should have.
Malayalam cannot forget him fast though. His own Swapnadam (1970) — was in its closest parallel that our Gen Y or Gen Z kids might understand — the ‘Salt N’ Pepper’ or ‘Thondimuthalum’ of those days (of course, legions ahead). His Ulkadal continues to stay notches above even the finest Mayanadhi of today and his Adaminte Variyellu will forever be the boldest ‘woman’ movie that shouts louder than the collective voice of the Women in Cinema collective. And his Yavanika would beat any Abrahaminte or Drishyam by miles ahead.
So, revisiting Irakal, after the romanticism for Padmarajan-Bharathan movies have rather walked into the sunset, came as an even bigger stunner. How could one man craft and write such a fantastic slice of life story? How could so many brilliant actors (Thilakan, Sukumaran, Ashokan, Srividya, Innocent, Nedumudi Venu, Bharath Gopi, Venu Nagavalli et al) come and be seen, sometimes in just two scenes, and make such a tremendous impact if not for its fantastic script?
And talk about character-sketching — isn’t Srividya’s Annie perhaps one of the boldest takes on a woman’s physical craving (no, please don’t get into morality here), portrayed much before Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar got the balls to do a Lust Stories (and even then, get only the sneaking Netflix release).
Irakal traverses so many layers of human frailties — perhaps, it only talks about that — so much that the film is a slap in the face on Malayali’s hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies at several levels. Often, in a highly reductionist manner, Irakal has been written off as a psycho-tale of a drug addict.
That Baby goes along and kills people is just about one sub-text of the film. It is the internal friction points, the intense personality traits, and the fantastic character-layering that make Irakal a classic that outsmarts time.
Perhaps, the biggest claps must be reserved for Sukumaran, the actor who had the guts to produce Irakal. Maybe, one could wish, that Prithviraj too steps up that game — of going against the wind in ‘giving back’ to cinema — and not playing it safe all the damn time.
Irakal, it must be said, is also Ganesh Kumar’s triumph; he seemed born for the role — and, one can only think that those bonnet-dancing tales were a smart PR exercise (at a time when PR was unknown) to build the character and make audiences hate him more than he deserves.
They talk of Little Miss Sunshine as a tale on dysfunctional families; George was on the case decades earlier — presenting the inner-ons of Malayali families without the filter of ‘feel-goodness’.
(Irakal lost out to Aravindan’s Chidambaram in 1985, to be contented with the second-best film laurel, though George won the award for best story. But then, there is honour in losing out to that).