Born Moutathu Gopalakrishnan in 1941, the director renamed himself after his home town, a religious and educational center in the southwestern state of Kerala. He's remained in that region for most of his adult life, entering into the Malalayam film industry in the mid 1960s. (I was surprised to learn that movies have been made in Kerala since the 1920s and that the state houses one of the biggest filmmaking industries in the country.) He started directing feature films in the early 1970s, when India's parallel cinema movement was in full flower. In brief, parallel cinema refers to filmmaking that isn't influenced by Western models or by Bollywood; like contemporaneous figures in Senegal (Ousmane Sembene), Brazil (Glauber Rocha), and the Philippines (Lino Brocka), the filmmakers in this movement aspired to create a native art cinema of their own.
The three-day symposium will consider parallel cinema within the larger context of Indian film history. The speakers include professors from across the United States and from India as well; Ashish Rajadhyaksha, director of Bangalore's Center for the Study of Culture and Society and author of The Encyclopedia of Indian Film, will deliver the keynote address on Saturday morning. These panels and speeches about parallel cinema should be illuminating for most of the attendees, as this crucial area of film history remains a blind spot for many U.S. moviegoers (myself included). It's always nice to have a helping hand when discovering new types of movies—it allows you to see past the exoticism and concentrate on why they matter as art.Nizhalkkuthu (Shadow Kill), from 2002. The jewel of the series may be Elippathayam (The Rat-Trap), from 1981, which is considered one of the director's greatest works. Set in a decaying manor in the final days of feudalism, it tells the story of a middle-aged aristocrat unable to accept that the world is changing. Gopalkrishnan has said that his original screenplay was inspired by aspects of his own family history, though critics have praised Rat-Trap for its expressive mise-en-scene. Every major character is associated with a different color, and the settings feature numerous visual metaphors. In 1982 the British Film Institute named the movie "the Most Original and Imaginative" to screen in England that year. This screening isn't the most convenient of the symposium (it plays on Friday morning at 10 AM), but it sounds like a must-see all the same.