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Strength in the face of adversity

K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Naalu Pennungal” looks at the struggles of women in yesteryear Kerala.


Five years after his last film “Nizhalkuthu”, Adoor takes his audience beyond the predefined concepts of a feature film with “Naalu Pennungal”.



Women centric: Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Naalu Pennungal” is a sensitive portrayal of gender issues.

“Nalu Pennungal” means four women. With this, his 10th feature film in 37 years of filmmaking, Adoor Gopalakrishnan unveils the agonies and aspirations of rural women in yesteryear Kerala as portrayed in the short stories of master storyteller Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai.

Incisive look

It is a deep and incisive look at the life and role of women as individuals in society. The film was premiered in the Toronto Film Festival in the ‘Masters’ section. The screening was repeated four times to full houses and earned rave reviews. “Nalu Pennungal” is also Adoor’s first feature film without cinematographer Mankada Ravi Varma.

Adoor accelerated a new wave movement in Malayalam cinema with his first film “Swayamvaram”. It was a departure from the films laden with the usual ingredients of melodrama, slapstick comedy, music and dance. Produced in 1971 and released in 1972, Adoor’s maiden venture won the National Award for best film, best director, best cameraman and best actress.


Five years after his last film “Nizhalkuthu” Adoor takes his audience beyond the predefined concepts of a feature film with “Naalu Pennungal”. The film is an anthology of four short films, which are uncommon in Indian film, comes five years after “Nizhalkuthu”. The stories are different as are the situations faced by the women. At one level, the women face similar problems; at another the films lays bare the hypocrisy of men and society. Though Thakazhi’s stories refer to the period between 1940 and 1960, the film communicates with the audience at multiple levels.

Four stories

The film starts with “Oru niyama lemganathinte katha”. Society challenges the marriage of a prostitute with a homeless labourer since they do not have any legal sanctio. Men who once used her and man-made rules defeat them.

“Kanyaka” is about a woman who remains a virgin due to her husband’s impotency. When her people question her chastity, she faces the darker side of life with black humour. Through silence she survives; her mental strength supports her.


“Chinnu Amma” features a married but childless woman, nourishes her aspirations and survives the longing of her childhood friend Nara Pillai. She upholds her warmth in her behaviour towards him but when he offers her a way to conceive, she rejects his advances. Despite everything, she cares for her husband. Her priority is her life and not momentary pleasures.

“Nityakanyaka” portrays Kamakshi, a woman of mettle and character. The man who came to see her preferred her younger sister. Her brother marries a girl of his choice. Her youngest sister also gets married. Her mother’s death leaves her without protection. When her younger sister disowns her, Kamakshi returns to the family home. Wedded to loneliness, the house is her companion.

Feminine survival

The women are representatives of their time. While the woman of “Oru niyama lemganathinte katha” signifies surrender, the other three symbolise a feminine survival. Padmapriya (“Oru niyama lemganathinte katha”) Geetu Mohandas (“Kanyaka”), Manju Pillai (“Chinnu Amma”) and Nandita Das (“Nityakanyaka”) give life to the “Naalu Pennungal”. The treatment and theme of “Naalu Pennungal” are such that the Plot evolves and characters grow naturally and effortlessly. “Naalu Pennungal” has been nominated for the Indian panorama of International Film Festival of India and for a host of film festivals around the world.

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