8 1/2 Intercuts Documentary Review: A fitting, unbiased tribute to a maverick filmmaker
8 1/2 Intercuts is a gift for fans of one of Malayalam cinema's greatest filmmakers
In the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Steven Spielberg described Kubrick as a filmmaker who, when given a blank canvas, painted with large brush strokes and delicately presented some of his boldest ideas. Perhaps the same can be said of KG George, a darling of every hardcore Malayali cinephile. In 8 1/2 Intercuts: Life and Films of KG George, we get a fitting tribute to a maverick filmmaker who went against the grain and made, over twenty years, films that stimulated the intellect and kickstarted neverending discussions.
The documentary's release couldn't have come at a better time. It was only recently that a newly released Fahadh Faasil film, Joji, was compared to one of KG George's masterpieces, Irakal, for a good reason. At one point, the leading man of the former shows up in his Maheshinte Prathikaram look, professing his love for George's Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback by singling out a distinctly impressive moment from it. When the film gets discussed again, this time by an emotionally overwhelmed George, it becomes the documentary's most moving moment. I would be lying if I said I didn't tear up here. It's also a favourite of acclaimed author, screenwriter, and filmmaker MT Vasudevan Nair. (One wonders why he and George never got to work together.)
Director: Lijin Jose
Streaming on: Neestream
The documentary, directed by Lijin Jose and produced by him and Shibu G Suseelan, features thought-provoking insights and anecdotes from eminent critics and actors and filmmakers (Lijo Jose Pellissery, Mammootty, Anjali Menon, and Balu Mahendra are among them). It has the added advantage of the man himself speaking about the impetus behind making some of his most iconic and infinitely enduring films.
For those who only knew KG George through his films, 8 1/2 Intercuts gives them an understanding of his upbringing, religious beliefs, his relationships, his collaborators and even his shortcomings. The unbiased approach is commendable. Since George had built a reputation for making brilliant women-centric films with strong female characters, one particular interaction must have come as a shock to those who had formed an image of a liberal, progressive man who deeply cared about women and their issues. Was he a saint? How was he at home? How does his wife Selma see him?
This part, where Selma brings out her husband's true nature out in the open, is the documentary's bombshell moment. She describes him as an "insensitive" person despite his propensity for "crying while watching a film", and she is surprised that she managed to live with him this long. "Though he gave importance to female characters in his films, he failed to do justice to his mother or wife," she says. There's more, but I'll let you find out for yourself. If this isn't a good argument for separating the art from the artist, I don't know what is. Following this is a clip from Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, where a woman tells Marcello Mastroianni character, "You don't love anyone. Your heart is closed and empty. All you think about is women, and you think that is love." However, to be fair to George, Selma acknowledges her husband as the "best among all the Malayalam directors till date".
But does George evade the criticisms? No. He not only acknowledges them but also explains his behaviour towards the end of the documentary. You may judge him for it, but you can't help but admire a man for living life on his own terms. He is who he is. This brings me to the point in the documentary where filmmaker Geetu Mohandas lauds George's ability to present his characters as they are without judging them.
The discussion about Panchavadi Palam, arguably the best political satire in Malayalam cinema, becomes a nice segue into his political beliefs. George also calls it his most expensive film (they built and, later destroyed, a real bridge). Besides Panchavadi Palam, 8 1/2 Intercuts makes it a point to not miss George's other seminal work, except for the omission of something like, say, Ee Kanni Koodi. Thankfully, the mention of his underappreciated Mattoral, which I rank way above his widely discussed Yavanika, is worth noting. And, of course, Irakal. (Ganesh Kumar, who played the psychopath Baby, is one of the speakers.)
For those who haven't seen Yavanika, I suggest watching this documentary once you've seen it because one director reveals a major spoiler. But keeping that aside, this documentary made me want to revisit his films in the hope of gaining fresher perspectives.
The title, 8 1/2 Intercuts, couldn't be more apt. The documentary opens with George watching his favourite filmmaker Fellini's iconic classic 8 1/2 with a little boy's smile. It ends with a dream sequence, one of the film's most discussed scenes. George may have given up his dreams of making more films, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that he was able to realise most of what he once dreamt.