Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malayalam Cinema: The Celluloid Controversy

Poster from the web.

Within 24 hours of Kamal’s Celluloid winning seven awards including Best Film and Best Actor (Prithviraj) at the Kerala State Film Awards on February 23, 2013, a major controversy erupted. It was ignited by K. Muraleedharan, son of the former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran. He claimed that the film insulted his father and a bureaucrat who had worked under him.

The debate was fuelled by the politicians. The Minister for Cultural Affairs condemned Kamal. Neither he nor Muraleedharan had seen the movie. The movie industry stands solidly behind Kamal. They point out that Karunakaran’s name is not mentioned in the movie.

Celluloid is a biographical picture about JC Daniel, the Father of Malayalam Cinema. He was the man who produced the first Malayalam movie. It was a silent film named Vigathakumaran (Lost Child). Daniel wriote the story, directed the film and also played the hero’s role. He sold his land reportedly for Rs.400,000. With that money he established the studio Travancore National Pictures in Trivandrum in 1926 and started the production of Vigathakumaran. Most of the Indian films then were based on the puranas but this one had a social theme.

A still from Vigathakumaran

Malloor Govinda Pillai a leading advocate of those days inaugurated the screening at Trivandrum’s Capitol Theatre on 7 November 1928. The invitation card reproduced here shows a different date. Probably that was not for the original show.

 Invitation to the screening.

Vigathakumaran immediately ran into problems. Those were the days when women who acted on stage or cinema were considered immoral. Daniel settled for a scheduled caste worker named PK Rosie as his heroine. A low caste woman playing a Nair lady was unacceptable to the orthodox groups. She was not allowed to watch the screening. Finally she had to run away from Trivandrum.

Daniel’s movie was a financial flop though it played in Nagercoil, Quilon, Alleppey, Trichur and Tellicherry also. He was down and out. He went back to his native place. He approached the Kerala Government for the Rs.300 per month pension for artists in distress. That was rejected on the contention that the place where he lived had been transferred to Tamil Nadu State. The Government also decided that Balan produced in 1938 was the first Malayalam movie.

Daniel died in 1975. In 1992 the Government introduced the J.C. Daniel Award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam Cinema. Too late for the pioneer.
Kamal, one of the top directors in Indian cinema, depended on two books for scripting Celluloid – Vinu Abraham’s novel Nashta Naayika which is based on the life of the heroine Rosie, and Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan’s biography of JC Daniel. Gopalakrishnan has clearly stated in his book which came out two years ago that K. Karunakaran and the bureaucrat Malayattoor Ramakrishnan did not help Daniel.

Today’s Deepika has given a photo of their issue dated Tuesday, October 28, 1930 which carried a detailed review of Vigathakumaran. Does the Kerala Government still believe that Balan was the first Malayalam movie?

What the Malayalam director’s organization says is that one should see the movie before criticising it. Reportedly, Muraleedharan has referred to Kamal as a third rate director. Shocking.

What is the difference between the people who opposed Vigathakumaran 80 years back and those who are criticising Celluloid now?

Addenda on February 28th morning. The latest news is that K. Muraleedharan has stated that the Celluloid controversy is closed because he watched the movie and found nothing objectionable in it.  Well...well...well... Now, where does that leave the Minister for Cultural Affairs?


Anish Panicker said...

J C Daniel wasn't get the due recognition at his times and now when he is no more...., film fraternity tends to worship him..

thanks sir..

Anish Panicker said...

Such a good write up sir...

Really deserve recognition for J C Daniel...

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