The Malayalam documentary film 8 1/2 Intercuts Life & Films of KG George is a retrospective of (and an introduction to) the director’s most important films, like Swapnadanam (1976), Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback (1983), Adaminte Vaariyellu (1984), Panchavadi Palam (1984), and Mattoral (1988). The name of the film is an homage to Federico Fellini, whom KG George mentions as his favourite director. Each ‘intercut’ in the film shows scenes from a specific film along with commentary by actors (Fahadh Faasil, Mammootty), writers (MT Vasudevan Nair, Zacharia), and directors (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Balu Mahendra, Lijo Jose Pellissery), and also personal notes by KG George himself.
While the films are introduced in chronological order — one per each part or ‘intercut’ — the director’s reminiscences are sort of ‘timeless’ and build a parallel narrative to that of the films. It’s always fascinating to probe the relationship between an artist’s mind and their art. It’s especially interesting with KG George because he is a pioneer in taking a psychological approach to characterization. And fittingly, the first intercut talks about Swapnadanam which is about a doctor who has had a nervous breakdown. Filmmaker B Unnikrishnan talks about how the film is a glimpse into the subconscious of a person. So, could one expect to understand KG George, the creator, better after an introduction to his films? If anything, the man becomes more of an enigma.
It’s not for any lack of any forthrightness on KG George’s part. He openly talks about his attitude to relationships, marriage, and sex. He even dismisses several of his films after Swapnadanam as “not worthy of mention”. He also talks about how he used to like his drink, but not as much as John Abraham (with whom he had worked).
Perhaps, it’s this transparency that makes him an enigma; he presents himself with all his apparent contradictions. There’s an especially telling example of this in an intercut around the classic Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback (1983).
The film is — in it’s narrative barebones — about the journey of a poor Malayali girl who becomes a film star before she takes her own life. KG George brushes away similarities to incidents from real life. And in fact, actor KB Ganeshkumar reads it more as an expose on “the hell-like existence behind the glorified world of cinema,” specifically the one situated in Kodambakkam where KG George worked with directors like Ramu Kariat. Director Adoor Gopalakrishnan cites an example from the film where several female junior artistes are packed into a single car and dropped at the set. It must be something KG George had observed during his time in Madras.
We see a scene from Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback with Suresh Babu (Bharath Gopi) and Lekha (Nalini). He is about to abandon her after an affair. As Lekha sits teary-eyed, he tells her that their affair was nothing but an adventure to him. It’s an intense scene of betrayal but it never gets melodramatic. Actor and director Geethu Mohandas marvels at his ability to be objective while still giving us detailed portraits of his characters. His objectivity gives him the ability to situate these characters on a fresh canvas, she suggests.
Perhaps, it comes from an aspect of his own personality. There’s a part where KG George talks about how he relates to women in his life. He casually remarks that they don’t really mean much to him. He says that the only relationship he cherishes is the one with his childhood sweetheart, because of the purity of emotions that he felt. He then recounts — in great detail — a chance meeting he had with her (along with her husband) in Mumbai. He talks about the conversation and the parting. You’d think he’d talk about how he felt next—you’re expecting pathos. Instead, he chuckles like he’s recalling a joke and describes the scene visually: he talks about how she walked away, into the beautiful evening sunset. His emotions seemed to have become images. It seems like he can be totally objective.
But almost immediately, he adds that “the only face I want to remember before death closes my eyes” is hers. That’s not what you’d expect from someone who is just analytical about their emotions. Both in life and in his films, KG George appears to be straddling the impossible extremes of subjectivity and objectivity.