12 April


Festivals: Cannes, Paris, La Rochelle, Nantes, Pesaro, Munich, Ljubljana, London, Valladolid, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, New York, Havana, Alexandria, Sao Paulo, Sydney and Melbourne among others.

Awards: British Film Institute Award for the ‘Most Original and Imaginative film’ of 1982.
National Awards for the Best Regional Film and Best Audiography.
Kerala State Awards for Best Film, Best Cinemateography and Best Audiography.

Brief Synopsis:

Unni, head of a decaying joint family, with his Vestigial feudal attitude, is unable to cope with or reconcile to the realities of a new society. He withdraws like a rat into a dark hole. Haunted by a sense of guilt and isola­tion he slowly slips into paranoia.
Unni, the middle-aged greying man represents a disintegrating social order which held sway in Kerala (South India) for long. He remains unaffected by the socio­economic changes that have altered life even in remote villages. His vestigial feudal attitude makes him a misfit in a changing society.


The head of a decaying joint family, Unni lives with his two younger sisters in his village ancestral home. Janamma, his asser­tive elder sister,is away,married and a mother of grown up children. She fights for her share of crops and property. Rajamma, the second sister, is docile and self-effacing and is vir­tually enslaved by her brother’s childlike de­pendence on her. In her late thirties, she remains unmarried, mute, a victim of her brother’s insensitiveness and outdated values. She toils and is expected to have no personal urges. But the youngest, Sridevi, is defiant and practical. Exposed to the world outside, she is neither relenting nor submissive.
Unni is, in fact, the last link in the line of a feudal joint family which has for long lived on the fruit of others’ labour. The langour and leisure thus afforded has rendered them lethargic and insensitive. The land-holdings are today divided and the deeply entrenched martrilineal joint family has crumbled. Yet some of the jaded values of the old order have survived.
As an inheritor of this legacy, Unni is caught between the two — the decadent past and the inhospitable present. He cannot face any inconvenient situation — even when confronted with everyday problems, he evades them and withdraws like a rat into a dark hole.
Haunted by a sense of guilt and isolation, he slowly slips into paranoia.
Primarily it is the story of Unni who repre­sents some of the worst traits of a parasitic privileged class. He is extremely egocentric and at the same time nurses a sense of guilt. As is often the case with such self-centred creatures who are weak willed,with genera­tions of ease and plenty behind them, Unni suffers from a schizophrenic nervousness and indecision. He is incapable of dealing with the demands of a Changing world.

Director’s Statement

The film is about change, change that is painful but inevitable. The resistance to change is desperate when the victim is weak. Here, Unni senses dimly that to fight is futile and he seeks shelter under self-love.
In this film I have tried to take a look at the interior of an attitude, a state of mind.
The story is so structured as to unfold in a series of departures — from a condition of entrapment to liberation. The first three are of the rats and the other three, different from one another, are of the human inmates of the old house.
I have given the film a very simple exterior for I want the audience to enter, without hesitation, into it.
I always work from my own idea and script. This allows me a lot of freedom but takes up a lot of time.

Of the three films I have made to date ‘Elippathayam’ is the one closest to me. It is not only because the film, set in a remote village in Kerala, reflects faithfully my own economic and social background but also the characters portrayed here are modeled after those I have known intimately.

Filmmakers and Critics Say

‘The third feature film by writer –director Adoor Gopalakrishnan is a rarity in Indian cinema in that its formal methods and visual styling become the primary tools in treating this study of paranoia’
(John Gillet, International Film Guide)

‘The treatment is extra-ordinary: using rats as his governing metaphor, Gopalakrishnan Constructs the film like a cinematic rondo, making every composition and every camera movement count’
(Tony Rayns in TIME OUT)

‘Perhaps the major discovery has been Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Rat-trap, a stylish and claustrophobic study of a petty land lord unable to face a changing future, which converted several notable waverers to the Asisan cause’
(Derek Malcolm in The Guardian)

‘A masterpiece’, Louis Marcorelle in Le Monde

‘Elippathayam is a work of art by a filmmaker of talent and vision’
( Richard Greenbaum in Films in Review)

‘Rat-trap is a powerful piece of filmmaking by a master of directing’
(Peter Noble in Screen International)


  • Story, Script & Direction : Adoor Gopalakrishnan
  • Production Company: General Pictures
  • Producer: Ravi
  • Executive Producer: T. C. Shankar
  • Camera: Ravi Varma
  • Sound: Devadas
  • Music: M. B. Srinivasan
  • Editing: M. Mani
  • Art: Sivan
  • Chief Assistant: Meera Sahib
  •  Year of Production: 1981
  • Format: 35mm colour
  • Duration: 121 Minutes

Cast and Characters

  • Karamana as Unni
  • Sarada as Rajamma, Unni’s younger sister
  • Jalaja as Sridevi, the youngest sister
  • Rajam K. Nair as Janamma, the elder sister
  • Prakash as Janamma’s son
  • Somasekharan Nair as Estate manager
  • John Samuel as Estate manager’s son
  • B. K. Nair as The match-maker
  • Joycee as The low-caste woman
  • Thampi as A neighbour
  • B. Nair as The Court notice server


More stills


Working stills