Festivals: New York, Washington, London, Paris, La Rochelle, Nantes, Berlin, Helsinki, Munich, Pesaro, Ljubljana, Fribourg,) Valladolid, Adelaide and Tunis among others
Awards: National Awards for the best Actor, Best Malayalam film.
Kerala State awards for the Best film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Art Direction
A streaming pennon going up the burnished flag pillar marks the beginning of the annual festival of the village temple.
This is Kodiyettam. Sankarankutty is an easy-going, casual drifter. He is everywhere, whether welcome or not. He is taken for granted as he never exerts himself. He lives a life that is shorn of the excitement, anxieties and expectations that colour the lives of people around him. He has the time to play with the children of the village and to wander from one temple-festival to another. Sarojini, the only sister of Sankarankutty, lives in Trivandrum, earning her livelihood as a servant-maid. Being affectionate by nature, she sends a sizable portion of her earnings to Sankarankutty. This, along with occasional odd jobs, helps Sankarankutty make both ends meet.
Kamalamma, a young widow in the neighbourhood, is very different from others. She is a considerate and understanding person. For Sankarankutty, Kamalamma’s image is enshrouded in his admiration for her. How could a simpleton like him suspect the indefinable relationship between the respectable Sukumara Pillai and the noble Kamalamma? There is, of course, mystery surrounding the two and each meeting of theirs he witnesses proves a puzzle to Sankarankutty.
On one of her visits home, Sarojini manages to persuade Sankarankutty to get married.
Sankarankutty marries Santhamma. Little realising he has assumed new responsibilities, he goes about his usual ‘adventurous’ trips. Naturally, life with, and more often, without Sankarankutty is difficult for Santhamma. Although not the proverbial ‘good Samaritan’, Sankarankutty helps people even without being asked, not out of humanity, but from sheer habit. In the process, unwittingly he neglects his wife.
It is a long time since Sankarankutty left home. Santhamma has been waiting for him for days on end. She can no longer suffer this gross neglect, especially when she is pregnant.
There is no news from him. He may be wandering from temple to temple for it is the season of temple festivals in Kerala. Bhavani Amma, Santhamma’s mother, is particular about taking her home for the baby’s birth. Sankarankutty, true to character, does not even realise it is his duty to enquire how his wife and the new-born baby are keeping. Prodded by insinuating comments, one day he goes to Santhamma’s house to take her and the child home. There he encounters an irate mother-in-law and an estranged wife. Sankarankutty returns, hurt and humiliated.
Though he makes a sincere attempt to work for an old, lecherous mahout, the effort is foiled at the very start.
The job of a truck-cleaner which he takes up eventually proves to be hard on him with a task-master who lays down strict conditions of duty. When he returns home, he encounters changed circumstances. His sister has returned with a man whom she says she has married. Her attitude to him has altered and he finds it strange that she did not consult him on her marriage.
Kamalamma’s suicide proves to be the heaviest and the most unexpected blow for Sankarankutty. For the first time he feels lonely; one who has always been in the midst of the crowd suddenly feels solitary.
Now there is hardly anything that binds him to the village. He returns to the drudgery and strain of the truck’-plying routine.
The experience of life on and off the road shapes Sankarankutty into something of an ‘individual’ gaining character and an entity.
The film is given an episodic structure. It has been designed to give the viewer the feeling that no one has interfered with Sankarankutty’s – the lead character’s – slow and uneventful progression from a simpleton and a flotsam who doesn’t count himself as one to be taken seriously to someone who mends his ways and becomes aware of his responsibilities deserving of his estranged wife’s love and affection.
On close examination, it can be discerned that the film is structured like a temple festival in a village in Kerala. The film starts with three cannon shots being fired marking the symbolic beginning of the annual temple festival. The festival attracts practically everyone from and around the village and it becomes a conglomeration of humanity. Their being together is the crux of the festival.
Shankarankutty is always present there as a participant and a spectator. The temple festival has its climax in the fireworks that follows Kathakali and other cultural programs.
It is after a long spell of separation that Sankarankutty and Santhamma find their love for each other
with a child born to them. Matching with their union, the fireworks from the nearby temple explode in the sky. Santhamma’s cry of happiness merges with the thunderous sounds of the festival’s climax. The attributes of one has grown on the other.
Filmmakers and Critics Say
‘The most important talent to emerge was Adoor Gopalakrishnan whose Kodiyettam (Ascent) is marked by an authentic, individual voice, and a disciplined, demanding style. Without romanticizing or patronizing, Gopalakrishnan portrays the inner journey of a village man from a state of passive, inchoate, child-like wonder at the world toward a coalescing of self, towards individuation and maturity——
The stamp of his genius cannot be missed in the subtle suggestiveness of emotional levels in the scenes in which Sankarankutty has the company of different women. The violence in the ironic words uttered by his mother-in-law is greater than on the physical level.
The last scene is a glorious conception of man’s triumph and defeat, both coming together. Gopalakrishnan’s success lies also in the use of sound in a way not matched by any Indian director.
(Mira Binford in Film Comment)
(The Economic Times)
(Gene Moskowitz in Variety)
- Story, Script, Dialogue & Direction Adoor Gopalakrishnan
- Production Company Chitralekha Film Co-operative
- Image Ravi Varma
- Sound Ramachandran & Adoor Gopalakrishnan
- Editing M. Mani
- Art Direction Sivan
- Production Controller Kulathoor Bhaskaran Nair
- Chief Assistant Meera Sahib
- Format 35 mm
- Language Malayalam
- Colour B&W
- Sub-titles English
- Duration 128 Minutes
- Year of Production1977
Cast & Characters:
- Gopi as Shankarankutty
- Lalita as Santhamma
- Azeez as truck driver
- Kaviyoor Ponnamma as Kamalamma the widow
- Vilasini as Sankarankutty’s sister
- Adoor Bhavani as Santhamma’s mother
- B.K.Nair as the match-maker
- Thikkurissy as Sukumaran Pillai
- P.K.Venukuttan Nair as Police Constable
- Vempayam Thampi as the mahout
- Raman kutty Nair as the mahout’s understudy
- P.C. Soman as the tea-shop owner
- K.P.S.Kurup as a customer at the tea-shop
- Aranmula Ponnamma as a neighbour
- Radhamani as the truck-driver’s sweet-heart
- Suseela as the driver’s wife
- Kavalam Narayana Panikkar as the Vareed Mappila the political tout
- Varadarajan Nair as the drunkard friend of Sankarankutty