indian cinema heritage foundation

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

  • Real Name: Moutathu Gopalakrishnan Unnithan
  • Born: 03/07/1941 (Mannadi, Travancore, British India)
  • Primary Cinema: Malayalam
  • Parents: Madhavan Unnithan, Mouttathu Gauri Kunjamma
  • Spouse: Sunanda
  • Children: Aswathi Dorje

One of the most striking visionaries to emerge from India, Adoor Gopalakrishnan is the most decorated Indian filmmaker presently active. Fearlessly opposed to both religious and political conservatism, his cinema speaks with a distinctly original idiom.  

Adoor Gopalakrishnan was born in the Mannadi village in Adoor, Kerala. His family were patrons of Kathakali and other performing arts. His early predilection towards the performing arts was apparent, and he started working in theatre at the age of eight.

He studied Economics, Political Science and Public Administration in Gandhigram Rural University. He remained active in theatre throughout, producing over 20 plays, including an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot called Godothe Katha. He worked for a while as a statistical investigator for the government before his love for cinema took him to the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. Disillusioned with the commercial cinema of Kerala, he formed the Chitralekha Co-operative in Trivandrum for the independent distribution of cinema. 

Adoor Gopalakrishnan was a prolific maker of documentaries and short films before making his feature film debut with Swayamvaram (1972). The film went on to win four National Awards. Known to work on his scripts for a long time, he has made only twelve feature films despite being active for five decades. His films often concern themselves with the paradox between ‘progressive’ Kerala and its reliance on religious and feudal structures. He is known for his ethically complex explorations of people grappling with difficult power structures, usually chronicling the history of Travancore. He has also questioned the orthodoxy of the Communist movement in films like Mukhamukham (1984) and Kathapurushan (1995). His second feature Kodiyettam (1977) yet again fetched him widespread recognition. Elippathayam (1981) concerned itself with oppressive feudal structures and their dying remains. It won the British Film Institute Award for ‘most original and imaginative film’. His other notable films include Anantaram (1987), Mathilukal (1989), Vidheyan (1993) and Nizhalkuthu (2002).

Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been lauded with multiple National Awards (winning the award for Best Director six times) and Kerala State Film Awards. His audacious creativity has earned him a place in the pantheon of the greatest Indian filmmakers of all time.