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The last curtain call

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN

Bharat Gopy was the face of New Wave Cinema in Malayalam. His demise brings to an end a glorious career that redefined the image of the hero and the role of the actor in Indian cinema.

Photo: S. Gopakumar

Thespian par excellence: Bharat Gopy.

“Malayalam cinema can be divided into two periods: pre-Gopy and post-Gopy,” said Mammootty reacting to the news of Bharat Gopy’s demise. That statement encapsulates the thespian’s influence on Malayalam cinema right from his first appearance in a cameo role in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Swayamvaram’ (1972).

The maiden role wedded him to the silver screen and it was a happy marriage that blossomed. Gopy, the actor, grew from strength to strength and Malayalam cinema saw an actor who broke the conventional mould of the hero. His next film, Adoor’s ‘Kodiyettam,’ (1977) bagged him the national award for the best actor. Shankarankutty, the simpleton, was a masterpiece that will remain a milestone in Indian cinema.

“I had written the script of the film as Adoor narrated it. I had no idea who the hero would be. After all the characters had been decided, I asked him who would play Shankarankutty. That was when I was told I was going to don role of the protagonist,” Gopy had recalled.

Each role a masterpiece

From then on, the actor strode colossus-like on the screen. His physique or his unconventional looks were never a constraint as he essayed a wide variety of roles; each a masterpiece that won him recognition and adulation.

But Gopy the actor saw to it that his stardom did not eclipse the actor. In an interview, the actor had vehemently opposed the use of the word ‘star.’

He had said: “I was never a star. I have always been an actor. The first superstar in Malayalam cinema was Prem Nazir but he was always called an actor. But in my heyday cinema was not a business. It was an artistic expression that tried to reach out to viewers. I am a cultural activist or a worker.” Born on November 8, 1937, in Chirayankeezhu, Thiruvananthapuram district, Gopy used to point out that he was born on the birthday of Chitira Thirunal, the last ruler of former Travancore. He joined University College in Thiruvananthapuram as an under graduate student. It was Gopy’s theatre activities that honed the actor in him and he became a close associate of theatre persons such as C.N. Sreekantan Nair, G. Sankara Pillai and Kavalam Narayan Panikkar.

Soon cinema came calling thorough his activities in Chitralekha, a film society formed by Adoor. The gifted actor formed a formidable team with stalwarts such as G. Aravindan, Padmarajan, Bharathan and K.G. George. Despite his enviable histrionic abilities Gopy never yearned to play the hero. For him it was the character that mattered and his choice usually depended on who the director was. Long before other actors dared explore the grey spaces that existed between the villain and the hero, Gopy had made that space his own. Ayyappan in ‘Yavanika,’ Vasu in ‘Paalangal,’ Dushasana Kurup in ‘Panchavati Paalam,’ the novelist in ‘Rachna,’ and the domineering husband in ‘Adaminte Vaariyellu’ were some of his memorable grey characters.

It was not only in negative roles that he shone. He was equally at home as constable Gopi Pillai in Balachandra Menon’s ‘April 18, as Shakespeare Krishna Pillai in ‘Kaattathe Killikoodu,’ as artist Nandagopal in ‘Ormakkayi’ or the distraught father in ‘Ente Mammatikuttyammakku.’ ‘Chidambaram,’ ‘Peruvazhiambalam,’ ‘Marmaram,’ ‘Kallan Pavithran,’ ‘Akkare,’ ‘Sandhya Mayungum Neeram’ …the list goes on.

It did not take long for Bollywood to take note of this prodigiously talented actor. Gopy acted in Mani Kaul’s ‘Satah Se Udta Aadmi’ and Govind Nihalani’s ‘Aaghat.’

Defining his “own school of acting” he had explained: “an actor visualises a role and then enters the character instead of the character entering the actor. Nowadays, people say that they imbibe the character. If one does that, then all the characters that an actor enacts will look alike.”

At the peak of his career, Gopy suffered a stroke on February 20,1986. It was a blow that neither Malayalam cinema nor Gopy fully recovered from.

Comeback

Gopy did make a comeback with ‘Patheyam,’ which was produced by him.

“I managed to persuade him to act in that film. At first he was reluctant but I threatened to walk out of the film if he did not accede to our request. The warm vibes between us ensured that he acted and that was his second phase as an actor,” recalled Mammootty who added that Gopy had pioneered his own school of acting.

‘Akashagopuram,’ ‘Nazrani,’ ‘Naivedyam’ and ‘Rasathantram’ were some of the films in recent years that had Gopy donning important character roles. Balachandra Menon’s ‘Dey Engottu Nookiye’ will be the last take of the actor.

“There will never be another like him. Gopy might be no more but Gopy the actor will live on through his immortal characters,” said Mammootty.

* * *

Milestones

National award for the best actor (‘Kodiyettam’).

Five State awards for best actor.

Won an honour at the Asia Pacific Film Festival for his role in ‘Kattathe Killikoodu.’

A retrospective of his films was held in Paris.

National award for his book ‘Abhinayam Anubhavam.’

National award for ‘Yamanam,’ a film produced by Bharat Gopy.

Awarded Padma Shri in 1991.

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