12 April


Festivals: Venice, Rotterdam, Goteborg, Vienna, Paris, Manosque, Nantes, Fribourg, Ljubljana, Munich, London, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, Shanghai, Fukuoka and Jerusalem among others.

Awards: International Film Critics’ Prize (FIPRESCI) for the Best Film, Mumbai,
National Award for Best Film in Malayalam.
Kerala State Awards for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound,
Best Costumes and Best Supporting Actor.

Produced with the support of the ‘Fonds Sud’ Ministere Francaise de la Culture de Centre National de la Cinematographie Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres The Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam  The Montecinemaverita Foundation The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Title

There is an episode in the epic of Mahabharata wherein the Kaurava King Duroyodhana engages a tribal sorcerer to perform Nlzhalkkuthu (Creating and Killing the image to do in the original) on his cousins the Pandavas. The Pandavas fall dead one by one as their images are worked upon. The image and the real become one and the same.

The Story

is set in pre-independence India of the 1940-s.ln the southern princely State of Travancore (a constituent of present day Kerala), as elsewhere in the country, death by hanging was a prevailing penal practice. The State had its own professional executioner, traditionally the head of a designated family. Settled way out in a border village, he was not to have any direct links or dealings with the mainstream society. In return for the practice of the dreaded profession, the Hangman used to enjoy a few privileges from the royalty – housing, agricultural lands, a yearly allowance and special monetary benefits and gifts for each job done.

The villagers believed the Hangman possessed divine powers of healing derived from the Goddess Kali Herself, and that the ash made from the hangman’s rope was a miracle-medicine.

All the same, nothing could compensate for the haunting sense of guilt that plagued him for life.

As times began to change, the hangings grew increasingly few and far between.

So it is after a long interval – even as the Hangman believed he had put his ghastly vocation behind him that a royal messenger arrives to order an execution afresh.

Director’s Statement

We experience the world through a method of empathy. Empathy is defined as the projection of one’s own personality into another’s in order to understand him or her better. How does one develop a kindred feeling and concern for another of his fellow beings? How does someone else’s agony and pain become your own? How it haunts you, torments you and makes you feel even guilty and remorseful.
Paired down to the essentials, the starting point seems to be the sensitive and humane attitude one is born with but eventually corrupted by the compulsions of everyday life.

The film also raises relevant questions about the idea of responsibility.  When man -made laws are not capable of arriving at the truth and tracking down the guilty, when an innocent gets the extreme sentence of capital punishment, who should be held responsible? – The judiciary, the law -makers, the very system of governance or the lone executioner at the end of the line?

I explore here the unknown terrains of the conscious and the unconscious; of the individual and the collective, a search that is at once culture specific as well as universal in relevance.


‘This near masterpiece from Indian director Adoor Gopalakrishnan is precise in its storytelling and expansive in its evocation of a culture.

Leagues away from India’s all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood movies, “Shadow Kill” is a delicately philosophical film about a regretful state executioner trying to avoid carrying out one last hanging. Although Western audiences’ brief flirtation with serious Indian cinema began and ended with Satyajit Ray, viewers who enjoy works by, for instance, Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien should find this an emotional and intellectual delight. “Shadow Kill” played in the Hubert Bals Fund section of Rotterdam’s film festival this year (2003).

“Shadow Kill” is an example of New Malayalam cinema, a regional-language movement from the southwesterly state of Kerala that focuses on social issues. Set in the 1940s, before Gandhi won independence for India, Gopalakrishnan’s tale begins with the aging hangman (Oduvil Unnkrishnan) an innocent man. Then the local ruler’s messenger arrives to inform him that he’s been ordered to carry out another execution.

The executioner spends a worried night with the prisoner’s three guards, who try to distract him with the tale of an innocent young boy who is executed in the place of a rich murderer. It turns out that the young boy is, in fact, the prisoner the executioner has come to hang.

“Shadow Kill” harbors many delights. Gopalakrishnan’s attention to both historical detail and the religious rituals of the executioner allows the film to stand as a document to a time and a place. Structure is exciting and unusual, especially the way the story within a story suddenly becomes the turning point of the plot. Vignettes of local life are seamlessly integrated into the work as a whole. There are also stunning visual moments, as when the white threads on a loom crisscross the screen’.

Richard James Havis The Hollywood Reporter

Filmmakers and Critics Say

Cahiers du Cinema, France

“We conclude our article on Venice film festival-’02) with the most masterly film of the festival by the  Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Nizhalkkuthu that took six  years of preparation to  make and is of diabolic  precision on all counts- screenplay, photography,     sound…  In a simple life story of a hangman of the Forties who could no more withstand executing the innocent people, the tragedy gets intrigued by an unexpected second part narration of a story within story- a fiction that the character owns and develops by himself leading to his own peril. An entirely  astounding mind’s fiction, the film relates to the social traps that frequent  Gopalakrishnan’s works.” –

– Stephane  Delorme  & Charles Tesson

Film Comment, USA

” Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s first film in almost seven years, Shadow Kill marks a striking visual advance from his earlier work. Gopalakrishnan operates within a colorful widescreen palette to create an evocative portrait of rural southern India in the Forties. The film explores the moral turmoil plaguing an official state executioner on the eve of a hanging, and while the story initially unfolds with a grim, measured solemnity, Gopalakrishnan masterfully redirects the plot for the final third of the film, allowing an oblique tale of personal romance between a flute-blowing orphan boy and a lamb-toting young girl to gradually reveal itself as the central argument on the ethics of capital punishment. A demanding but rewarding film.”

Travis Crawford

Cinemascope, Canada

“The tale of a hangman in pre-independence India, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Shadow Kill is, quite simply, extraordinary. In this narrative tour de force, Gopalakrishnan combines everything from turn -of- the -century stage -craft (two wealthy wags set the table through their desultory gossip), to a chilling, post – modern set piece, to a myth gone devastatingly wrong. This intensely cerebral film has the emotional jolt of an archetypal horror story, but it prefers the natural to the supernatural. Shadow Kill is an exquisite example of the director’s dictum that art should be fiction but not fictitious, for the dark forces at work here are all too human”

Steve Gravestock



  • Story, Script, Dialogue and Direction: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
  • Produced by: Adoor Gopalakrishnan Productions
  • Co-produced by: Artcam International, Paris
  • Cinematography: Ravi Varma, Sunny Joseph
  • Music: llayaraja
  • Sound Recording: N. Harikumar
  • Sound Editing & Mixing: Dominique Vieillard
  • Editing: Ajith
  • Decor: RatheeshBabu
  • Costumes: Satheesh S B
  • Make-up: P. N. Mani  
  • Still Photography: Razakh Kottakkal
  • Production Controller: Kettidathii Vijayan  
  • Production Coordinator: K.N.Shaji
  • Chief Assistant: Sajeev Pillai  
  • Duration: 90 Minutes  
  • Length: 8363 ft. (2549 Mtrs)
  • Color: Eastman  
  • Format: 35 mm Cinemascope  
  • Sound: Optical – Mono
  • Language: Malayalam  
  • Country: India-France  
  • Year of Production: 2002


Cast & characters:

  • Oduvil Unnikrishnan (Kaliyappan the Hangman)
  • Sukumari (Marakatam, his wife)
  • Reeja (Mallika, the younger daughter)
  • TharaKalyan (Madhavi the elder daughter)
  • Sunil (Muthu, the son)
  • Murali (Vasu, Madhavi’s husband)
  • Sivakumar (Mallika’s lover)
  • Jagathy Sreekumar (the royal messenger)
  • Nedumudi Venu (the story-teller jail-warder)
  • Vijayaraghavan (Jail warder)
  • Aliyar (Jail warder)
  • Ravi Vallathol (the landlord)
  • Pooappura Radhakrlshnan (the lanlord’s aide)
  • Indrans (the barber)
  • Cuckoo Parameswaran (the patient)
  • Punnapra Appachan (the arrack-shop owner)
  • N. K. Gopalakrishnan (the school teacher)


More Stills..

Working Stills:


Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Darsanam, Trivandrum – 695 017 Kerala, India.
Ph:+91-471-2551144 Fax:+ 91 -471 -2446567

Joel Farges

Artcam International
19 rue de Santonge, Paris 75003 *
Ph: + 33 (0) 1 42 71 1675 Fax:+33 (0)1 42 71 1403
E-mail:artcam @ artcam.