Swayamvaram, the directorial debut of the legendary film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, is considered as a landmark film within the parallel cinema movement of India. Released in 1972, the film opened up new platform in Malayalam Cinema.
The film pictures the story of a couple, Vishwam (enacted by Madhu) and Sita (enacted by Sharada), who have married against the preference of their families, and left their hometown. The film begins with a series of abstract sequences of Viswam and Sita, the lovers who have eloped to the city in search of love and a new life. He starts looking for a job, and aspires to become a writer and publish his own novel while Sita looks for small jobs. They fail in their attempts to find work and economic constraints force them to shift to a slum.
Vishwam finds a job as a teacher in a junior college but soon loses it and finally ends up working as a clerk in a timber factory. Even though their life was flooded with sufferings Sita gives birth to a baby. However things take a tragic turn when Vishwam falls critically ill. Sita, in her poor condition, tries hard to provide her husband better treatment. But Vishwam dies, leaving her alone with her baby. The film ends with Sita feeding her baby while looking at a closed door.
The romantic and lyrical settings used by the director were something new in Malayalam cinema, which was always loud and obsessed with storytelling. The climax scene, which gives an inconclusive end to the film takes it to a whole new plane of understanding.
Swayamvaram is the first Malayalam film to use synchronised sound and also to be filmed in outdoor locales. The editing of the film was done by Ramesan, camerawork by Mankada Ravi Varma, whereas S. S. Nair and Devadathan worked together on the production design. Sound mixing was done by P. Devadas and original score by M. B. Sreenivasan.
Through Swayamvaram, Gopalakrishnan became the first Indian director to use sound as a leitmotif (a recurring musical theme). The film provided a new experience to the audience, as it used ample amounts of natural sounds with a minimalistic background score.
The film won four National Awards in 1973, including that of Best Feature Film, Best Director for Gopalakrishnan, and Best Actress for Sharada.