Elippathayam (Translation: The Rat Trap) is a 1981 Malayalam film written and directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan.It stars Karamana Janardanan Nair, Sharada, Jalaja, and Rajam K. Nair. The film documents the feudal life in Kerala at its twilight. The protagonist is trapped within himself and is unable to comprehend the changes taking place around him. The film premired at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[1]. It was also screened at the London Film Festival where it won the Sutherland Trophy. It is widely regarded as one of the best Indian films ever made.[2][3][4][5][6]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byAdoor Gopalakrishnan
Produced byK. Ravindran Nair
Written byAdoor Gopalakrishnan
StarringKaramana Janardanan Nair
Rajam K. Nair
Music byM. B. Sreenivasan
CinematographyMankada Ravi Varma
Edited byM. Mani
Release date
  • 30 April 1982 (1982-04-30)
Running time
121 minutes


A middle-aged man, Unni, and his three sisters struggle as the feudal way of life becomes unviable in Kerala. Eventually, succumbing to the adverse conditions surrounding him, Unni becomes helpless like a rat in a trap. The 'rat trap' is a metaphor for a state of oblivion to changes in the external world, such as the disintegration of the feudal system, in which some are caught and which leads to destruction.

Gopalakrishnan says in his interview that the movie was inspired by the feudal characteristics of his own family. Silence is a huge trope in the move, with large swathes of silence in dialogue.

The film is set in the now derelict manor house of an aristocratic family, that has obviously seen better days. Unni, the patriarch, in spite of the looming changes in the family's fortune and the times retains the old attitude and is portrayed as proud, and incapable of adjusting to the impending downfall of his family and himself, and remains oblivious to it. He is shown to spend most of his day in idleness and sleeping. His only activities are reading the paper and oiling himself. He cannot take care of himself without his sisters, and cannot face the taunts and the threats of his extended family and the villagers. He needs to be propped up by his sisters who cook for him, clean for him, and do chores for him. He is incapable of negotiating the changing outer world. The chief theme of the film, according to Gopalakrishnan, is Unni's obliviousness to external realities.

The sister Rajamma is destroyed by the silence of her brother, who does not support her when she wants to get married - he turns down an offer because he felt it was beneath his family - and keeps silent when she is ailing and dying.

Rajamma wears blue. Gopalakrishnan says he gave her blue to show her gentleness, submissiveness, and being doomed. She is incapable of imagining how to chart her life outside the patriarchy. She is shown to be constantly working for others and faithfully looking after Unni.

The eldest sister wears green according to Gopalakrishnan to show earthiness, practicality and intelligence- she has survived within the patriarchy by marriage and bearing children. She worries about wealth and how to feed her family, and her main concern is to claim her share of the family property and income. She is portrayed as intransigent and self-centred.

The youngest sister, Sridevi wears red, which Gopalakrishnan says is to symbolize revolt, youth and life. She is very pretty and highly concerned about her looks. She runs away from the family, presumably with a lover.

Unni, according to Gopalkrishnan, is given a mixture of all three colours- white.

The feudal characteristics of the patriarchy is shown through the way Unni treats his servants, the various people who visit him and most importantly how he treats Rajamma, his sister who takes care of him. The music is throbbing, incomplete throughout the movie to show the sense of sustained urgency, that the crippling patriarchal structure results in (symbolized by the crippling mansion which is infested with rats). The rats are caught by Sridevi and drowned just like Unni is eventually destroyed by the decline of the feudal way of life.



The film has won the following awards since its release:

1982 British Film Institute (UK)

  • Won - Most Original and Imaginative film shown at the National Film Theatre - Elippathayam - Adoor Gopalakrishnan

1982 Kerala State Film Awards (India)

  • Won - Kerala State Film Award for Best Film - Elippathayam - Adoor Gopalakrishnan

1982 London Film Festival (UK)

1982 National Film Awards (India)


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