Malayalam Cinema: Beginning

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.

Celluloid is the bipoic on which most of our information about the man is based.

Celluloid is the bipoic on which most of our information about the man is based.

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 awards to this biopic is part of the justice which is served to the man.

The awards to this biopic is part of the divine justice which is served to the man.

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.

TeNy

Kings of Travancore

I had recently written about two of the biggest battles of Kerala, the Battle of Colachel (1741) and the Battle of Nedumkotta (1789), and also mentioned a few of the great kings of Travancore. After a few posts about the Renaissance in Kerala, I plan to write something about those rulers who had control of the biggest kingdom based in Kerala, the Kingdom of Travancore which consisted of about half of the state along with the Tamil district of Kanyakumari. I have just chosen four of them, but you might also want to read about Ayilyam Thirunnal and Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma and a few incidents.

1. Marthanda Varma: Credited as the only king from India to beat any European army, which happened at the Battle of Colachel against the Dutch in 1741, he is also known to have been the maker of Travancore. The Dutch commander Eustachius De Lannoy had even chosen to join the great king. The Treaty of Mavelikkara made sure that the Dutch was no longer a threat to the Indian subcontinent. The unification of the southern part of Kerala is his biggest achievement as he lead the formation of the greatest kingdom based in Kerala. After establishing a strong kingdom with the capital at Padmanabhapuram, he made sure that it is properly defended with a more modernized army and enough fortifications, and also formed an alliance with the Kingdom of Cochin which ensured the latter’s extended existence.

This creation of modern Travancore was well aided by his minister, Ramayyan Dalawa who was the Chanakya figure during his time – his role in the success of the kingdom was more than one could imagine. Ramapurathu Warrier (Vanchipattu) and Kunchan Nambiar (Thullal) were known to be his court poets. The movie based on his life was just the second ever Malayalam movie after Vigathakumaran. You can also choose to read the novel by C. V. Raman Pillai which is a historical romance and the first historical novel to be published in Malayalam. Do check out for the pillar of victory at Colachel if you manage to travel near the place.

The Dutch surrender to Travancore

The Dutch surrender to Travancore

2. Dharma Raja: Succeeding his uncle Marthanda Varma, Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma was given this name as he gave asylum to a good number of Hindus and Christians who fled from the north during the invasion of Tipu Sultan. He was already known to assist his uncle in his conquests. The defence of Travancore from Tipu with the Battle of the Nedumkotta happened during his time, and Raja Kesavadas was the man behind the military success along with Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai. It was a battle against all odds in which Travancore succeeded in defending their kingdom.

Known for his religious tolerance and continuing the policy of his uncle, he remains one of the best known adherants of Dharma Sastra, and the success against a many times bigger and more modernized army of Sultan remains a great achievement of Travancore under him. Development of Alappuzha port, Construction of Main Central Road (Currently SH1 from Trivandrum to Angamaly) and establishment of Chalai Market also happened during his period. He was a much loved king, and serving the people was a priority for him, as infrastructure managed to find even more life.

3. Swathi Thirunal: This reign is often referred to as the golden age of arts in Travancore. He himself was a skilled music composer, and the golden age was not restricted to arts, to be exact. English education in Travancore started during his time, and the first Government printing press along with a better code of laws came into existence during his reign. Irayimman Thampi who wrote the famous lullaby “Omanathinkalkidaavo” when the king was born, remained part of his court. He was a huge patron of music and continued to support the same in his court. Swathi Sangeetha Puraskaram, the highest honour for musicians from Kerala government is under his name. A music festival, Swathi Sangeethotsavam is also conducted in his memory.

The red flag with silver conch shell

The red flag with silver conch shell

4. Sree Moolam Thirunal: He established the Travancore Legislative Council in 1888 is said to be the first Legislative Council for any state in India. It later went on to become the Sri Mulam Praja Sabha. The fields including education, transportation, medicine, law and order and others got major attention. He would continue to lead Travancore as the successful state that it has always been. The path of reforms would be followed by Sethu Lakshmi Bayi (grand daughter of the renowned painter Raja Ravi Varma) who would be the next one to be on the throne, and she abolished Devadasi system and animal sacrifice.

***The images used in this blog post are from the Wikipedia pages of the Battle of Colachel and the Kingdom of Travancore meant to support this post. I do not claim to be an expert in this, but I read Kerala History for the information and has graduated in History.

TeNy

The Kingdom of Travancore

There was the news about Kerala State Board Exam results for Tenth having published, and students given free pass marks – unlike the time when I had my tenth and we had to work hard to pass, now there are free passes to the Plus Two in Kerala – only to struggle to pass with degree and PG. So it will surely take the new generation some time to find Kerala on the map, and therefore, I will share two historical battles which happened here related to the Kingdom of Travancore which extended form Central Kerala to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. With those IIN advertisements continuing to make no sense, I am sure that the new generation will be searching on Google to study, and may be this blog post will help them a lot 😛

The red flag with silver conch shell

The red flag of the Kingdom of Travancore with silver conch shell at the centre

Battle of Colachel (1741): There are many battles that the Indian subcontinent has had against European powers, but among them, the most significant one is the Battle of Colachel and it is a case of huge and surprise victory. I am shocked that a lot of people don’t know about this which was part of the Travancore–Dutch War. But Battle of Colachel is more than just a battle, as it was decider. It was like the forces from Netherlands never really had the power to come up with another assault after this battle, and became no more threat to India almost completely disappearing from the scene.

The newly formed Kingdom of Travancore under Marthanda Varma defeated a superior Dutch force which had modern fire-arms, bringing the first complete defeat of a European power to an Indian kingdom. This was surely a twist of fate for the colonial powers in India. Eustachius De Lannoy who lead the Dutch, surrendered and served Travancore as “Valiya Kappithaan” and helped the king in later conquests, leading and modernizing the Travancore army. From here, Travancore would go on to become the best known and the most powerful kingdom of Kerala, and covered the half of Kerala along with Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari.

The Dutch surrender to Travancore

The Dutch forces surrender to the Kingdom of Travancore after the Battle of Colachel

Battle of the Nedumkotta (1789): It is interesting for a good number of people to avoid some battles and glorify only a few people of history. The case of Battle of the Nedumkotta is just the same. But nobody from Travancore can forget the great king Dharma Raja who might be one of the most likable king ever, and the man who is credited as “maker of modern Travancore” was that king who provided safety for everyone who fled for their lives during the attack of Tipu. Along with Dharma Raja’s respect for all religions, the efforts of his commanders, Raja Kesavadas and Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai to hold the fort despite being outnumbered by Tipu’s forces was an act of high valour.

Unfortunately, there is no monument for the former who was the minister, and the later who also lead rebellions against the British, and there happens to be no memorial for the valiant defence. It is a shame that we are forgetting our history and Kerala has given too less value for its heroes and its monuments – even the remains of the fort is lost. What happened at Nedumkotta was purely an effort of courage, as they managed to defend the lines and even strike a blow to the stronger and the more advanced opposition. The forces of Mysore were later denied by the monsoons and the river Periyar only to be forced to return without any gain except for spreading terror.

***The images used in this blog post are from the Wikipedia pages of the Battle of Colachel and the Kingdom of Travancore.

About two of the many great kings of the Kingdom of Travancore:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marthanda_Varma
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma_Raja

The rulers of Travancore were truly committed to their people, which is why they haven’t spent much money for building monuments, tombs or palaces. Building memories for them, their wives, parents, uncles, brothers-in-law, grand-parents and all those family members never became part of the plan. They did what the real kings were supposed to do – they ruled and they did that wisely. This is the reason why people will remember them a lot even after such a long time. They were not just kings of the territory, but kings of the people.

They were more committed to social reforms rather than luxuries. They have left marks on the hearts of the people with love rather than through the huge monuments. Spending state’s resources for personal use never really came to them and their religious and caste-related tolerance has left a mark on Kerala which has left their territories free of hatred towards “the other”. They were true devotees of Padmanabha, and were loved by all religions and castes of people in their kingdom alike.

***The Kings of Travancore give a free lesson to the intolerant new generation politicians and religious/spiritual leaders who find it impossible to live without the luxuries and can’t stop hating others. It is never about the size of a worship place, statue or monument, for it is about how good you are to others!

More on the Kingdom of Travancore: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travancore

TeNy