November 28th brings a birthday, and it is not just another birthday, but the date of birth of the man who is considered as the father of Malayalam Cinema, JC Daniel. He is maker of the first Malayalam film (even though it was a silent film like the rest of the flicks of that time), Vigathakumaran; meaning “the lost child” in the year 1928, it is the first Malayalam movie, and also the first movie to be made at this part of India. The Travancore National Pictures established by him at Trivandrum was also the first film studio in Kerala.
Vigathakumaran was followed by Marthanda Varma based on the 1891 Malayalam novel by C. V. Raman Pillai of the same name, but that came five years later. JC Daniel had to go through many hardships to bring the movie to the screen and also after the release, and so it was not really a path which the later movie makers were confident in following, even though his legacy has been accepted now, and Kerala Government introduced the Kerala State Film Award for Lifetime Achievement in his name as part of the Kerala State Film Awards from the year 1992.
All of these came very late, and the path after the release of movie was never smooth for the man, even though the film was one of its kind, dealing with a social issue rather than traveling the usual style of the other films of the time. With problems over a lower caste woman PK Rosy playing the heroine character far above her, the conservative sections of the society created big problems over the movie. The first actress of Malayalam Cinema didn’t have much to remember during her time.
As the movie couldn’t go on to become a commercial success at that time, the studio at Trivandrum had to be closed down and Daniel had to sell his belongings and leave, to live as dentist and go deeper into poverty in later stages. It wasn’t a fitting journey for the man who brought the cinema to Kerala. As the government earlier refused to give him the recognition as he was born and died in Tamil Nadu, it was the journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan who worked for bringing the attention to the man behind the first Malayalam movie. It was late, but thanks to him, the deserved recognition arrived.
Most of the Keralites will know him now, thanks to the movie Celluloid from Kamal, starring Prithviraj Sukumaran in the role of JC Daniel and doing the same to perfection providing him the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor and the movie with the Best Film Award. The movie has Mamta Mohandas doing the role of his wife Janet, the newcomer Chandni in the role of Rosy and Sreenivasan performing the character of Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan. It is a movie which I recommend the most among the films of the last few years.
The movie was based on Life of J. C. Daniel, a biography of the man which was written by Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan and also Nashta Naayika by Vinu Abraham. Receiving also the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam, the movie made its point so well that by the end of the movie, people knew the man who was behind the first Malayalam movie, and this movie was a tribute to the man who did something which none other could dare to do at that time, as it was the big risk.
Some movies make the big impact and some don’t. The one special thing about Celluloid is that it released at a time when one just couldn’t be sure about its success. A lot of the viewers did have the doubt because the period drama wasn’t a preferred genre at that time, especially when it was not about kings and warriors. The situation is safer these days, with Iyobinte Pusthakam becoming a hit and Ennu Ninte Moideen becoming a success despite its slow pace. But the latter movie was a very safe bet as it released these days, and when considering the same, Celluloid is a true and righteous tribute to JC Daniel with its success well earned during difficult times.
***The images used in this blog post are from the Official Facebook Page of the movie, Celluloid.