K.G. George: The master storyteller on celluloid

George, despite winning nine state awards and a national award, is not well-known outside Kerala, which has given India some of its finest film makers

K.G. George. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
K.G. George. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bengaluru: The Kerala government has conferred the J.C. Daniel award on veteran film maker K.G. George but critics say the recipient of the state’s highest film award has hardly been studied—just like Daniel himself.

Daniel is the first film maker from Kerala and is considered the father of Malayalam cinema. George, despite winning nine state awards and a national award, is not well-known outside Kerala, which has given India some of its finest film makers.

Who is George?

Kulakkatil Geevarghese George is thought to have made game-changing contributions to Malayalam cinema. A graduate in political science and a gold medal winner in film direction from the Film and Television Institute of India, he made some of the biggest classics in Malayalam cinema that won both critical and popular acclaim.

According to Kalavoor Ravikumar, a writer and movie director, George is the best scriptwriter in Malayalam cinema.

“George is, above all, a master scriptwriter. He wrote the script of all his movies. At his time, art house and commercial were two watertight compartments in regional cinemas like Malayalam. George brought those audiences together, without compromising an inch in detailing, both on the storyboard and on the frame,” says Ravikumar.

Earlier this year, in May, 10 critics selected George’s script for his 1986 psychological thriller Irakal as the best-ever original screenplay in Malayalam cinema. “Never in the history of Malayalam cinema has there been another screenplay that is so taut in its structure and so stark in appeal. It offers a gripping visual tale of an entire culture that could not have been told any better. The script is brilliant in carving out a grim reality, while capturing the sparse poetry, poignancy and complexity of human life,” wrote one of the critics, Meena T. Pillai, director of Kerala University’s Centre for Cultural Studies.

Since his first movie, Swapnadanam in 1975, George has made 18 other movies in a career spanning 23 years including Adaminte Vaariyellu, Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback, Panchavadi Paalam, Mattoral and Yavanika.

Out of them, many like Yavanika were not only a blockbuster, but also won many state awards—a relative rarity in regional cinema.

Before him, many directors in Kerala would hire well-known authors such as M.T. Vasudevan Nair to write their scripts.

But George wrote or co-wrote all his scripts—something he credited to Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa and Italian director Federico Fellini, his two inspirations who are known for doing the same thing.

His movies fall in a wide range of genres, with a slant on psychology and violence in all. Some of them have acquired a cult status for the power of the illusion they create. He has also mentored actors, writers, and directors, including some who have gone on to become some of the Kerala film industry’s best-known. They include actor-producers Bharat Gopi and Mammootty and actor Thilakan.

“Any movie director or writer you ask, George will be the first name they will cite as their inspiration, although he is not recognized enough by the government and the movie industry like some other celebrated film makers,” says S.R. Praveen, journalist and film critic at The Hindu newspaper.

George’s movies were path-breaking not only because they were brilliantly told but also because they had bold stories and characters that mainstream filmmakers would usually hesitate to put on cinema. In that sense, he unleashed a new wave in Malayalam cinema, says Shahina Rafeeq, writer, film critic and short story writer.

“Look at his characters. The hero in one of them is a dwarf (Mela), the heroine in another is a married woman who elopes with another man (Mattoral). Looks at his stories, he introduced psychoanalysis as a plot element for the first time in Malayalam (Swapnadanam), another one is an invocation of Sanjay Gandhi’s Emergency era violence by showing a family (Irakal), another one ends with hundreds of women running out of a rescue home kicking out George and his crew on the way,” says Shahina, who is currently working on a documentary about George’s work currently.

George, who is 70 now, slowly receded to a private life saying move stars were increasingly meddling with scripts and also because of deteriorating health. He wrote a series of autobiographical articles in 2011 in regional magazine Deshabhimani, where he spoke about his initial struggle to get into a theatre to watch a film. Born and brought up in Thiruvalla in central Kerala’s Kottayam district, the nearest theater to his house was 10km away. It meant a train journey, to pay for which he worked as a painter.

“A great film begins with a good script. Almost all of my works have been adjudged as good scripts. But I still don’t know how to explain what makes a great movie. It isn’t enough to shape up good stories, a filmmaker should have the ability to portray and tell them in a different manner,” George wrote.

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