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Rat Trap

Adoor Gopala Krishnan

Production: General Pictures

Story: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Camera: Ravi Varma
Music: M.B. Srinivasan
Starring: Karamana, Sarada, Jalaja, Rajam K. Nair, Prakash, Soman, John Samuel, Balan K. Nair, Joycee

“Elippathayam,” made in 1981, is Gopalakrishnan’s first colour film, and almost the entire film is a sequence of beautifully framed shots of rural life in Kerala. Colour is used sparingly and mainly as a symbol to depict the nature of a character. On the whole, the film is highly imaginative and, one must add, relentless in its portrayal of the protagonist, the last heir of a disintegrating feudal order, as a rat caught in a trap. Gopalakrishnan explained that change always occurs, whether one consciously makes a choice or is a victim of others’ choices. The pace of the movie is inexorably slow, but the director holds that the subject, the imperturbability of a rural setting, and in this case the lazy lifestyle of a landlord, did not lend itself to fast cuts.

Unni is the last male descendant of an erstwhile rich, landowning family in Kerala who lives in the family house that has seen unbroken cycles of birth and death for many generations. But now, only the shadows remain, and in the shadows, Unni and his sisters, Rajamma and Sreedevi.

Through the years the world has been changing outside Unni's home. Unable to cope with the transformations around him, Unni avoids confrontation with the changing reality by hiding behind his false pride and self-centred silence. He also refuses to take any responsibility for his inheritance, and the yeilds from the property have to be looked after by an old retainer whose familiarity Unni scorns. Rajamma, the second sister, is past the marriageable age. The youngest sister, Sreedevi, a student in the local college, who has been exposed to the world outside, escapes Rajamma's fate by defiantly running away with a man. Unni, who is actually incapable of taking a stand, reacts to the event by hiding like a rat in his own home. He does not even try to look for Sreedevi. Rajamma watches with helplessness and despair Unni's growing paranoia, and finally collapses under her mental and physical strain. Finding her unconscious, helpful villagers carry her away under the guilt-ridden eyes of her brother, never to return.

Alone in the house of shadows, Unni locks all doors and refuses to have anything to do with the outside world. As the lamps go out and the shadows darken, he sits like a trapped rat, waiting for his doom. In the darkness of the night the door crashes in, and strange hands drag Unni to the pond near the house where Sreedevi used to drown the rats she caught in her carved wooden trap. Standing in the water, near the steps of the pond, Unni cringes like a rat, as if begging his unknown assailants for mercy in his final act of compromise.

Adoor GopalaKrishnan was born in the Adoor village of Kerala in 1941. Kathakali was part of life, when he was a kid, in the family. But later, the theatre and camera took that place. By the time he entered the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in 1962, he had already written over a dozen plays and produced eight. Adoor made several documentaries and films which won several national and international awards.

1972: Swayamvaram (One's Own Choice)
1977: Kodiyettam (Ascent)
1981: Elippathayam (Rat Trap)
1984: Mukhamukham (Face to Face)
1987: Anantaram (Monologue)
1989: Mathilukal (The Walls)
1993: Vidheyan (The Servile)
1995: Kathapurushan (Man of the Story)

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