Of Cinema and Other things..

Cinema has kept me captivated since I was born. May be because of the first movie I saw. It was “Ulagam Sutrum Valiban” of MGR who also directed the film. Since then I became a very big fan of him. If his films are screened in theaters I would go and watch it even now. My brother once bought me the best in quality “Nadodi Mannan” DVD which I cherished for a long time. However it got missed and I am not able to find such a quality print anywhere.

Though it is a glamorous industry, it has its own struggle. I have been to few shootings and got really bored of the proceedings. A blink and miss scene takes forever to can. We would be standing in the crowd and commenting about the actors then. But when I was in front of the camera it was a whole different story. It was christian preaching short film and I played one of the brothers of the protagonist. I had only two dialogues that too in the crowd so I managed it easily. The director was stubborn on taking few reactions of all the brothers. For a simple pleading reaction I took half a day. Almost all members of the crew shouted at me. That day I thought I would never stand in front of the camera again.

One of  my friend’s facebook post led me to this movie called “Celluloid” which released yesterday. It was about the director who made the first film in Malayalam. His name is J.C. Daniel. I went into some more digging and then only knew why his life is worth a movie. J.C Daniels was born in Kerala and he was trained in Kalaripayattu. He authored books about fencing which is one of the rarest sport practiced in India. I am talking about 1915. Somehow cinema got his attention and he traveled various places like Chennai and Mumbai to learn the nuances and get the necessary equipment required to take a film.

Armed with his knowledge he filmed his first film Vigathakumaran in 1926. There was no supporting crew and he alone directed, handled camera, edited and also acted as the lead actor in the  movie. There was no funding and he produced the movie himself. He also made a girl to act as a heroine in the movie. At those times a girl acting in a movie is taboo. If you visit the Padmanabapuram palace, you will see that the performing area will have two narrow lanes on both sides covered by walls with small holes. This was for the ladies in the palace to watch the performed arts. In a society which considered even seeing a art form in public was a shame, acting was a strict no-no. He should have hard time convincing the girl to act.

One more thing about the movie is its a social movie. At that time nobody was willing to risk this. There was no social movie made in any language at that time. The directors were happy showing the epics in the movie. Basically because they had all the props from the drama companies and also retained the drama actors. But Vigathakumaran is a social drama.

The screening didnt go well in Trivandrum because there was severe objection for the movie which had a lady as lead actress and also the actress was a dalit and she took up the role of a Nair woman. The theater was damaged by the protestors. The collection was moderate in other towns where J.C. Daniels himself carried the film box as he had only one print of the movie. But the collection was not enough to cover the debts and he was forced to sell his equipment and close the studio.

He died penniless in 1975.

The story of the heroine of the movie is yet another disaster. Rosie was the dalit girl who played the female lead in the movie. She used to bring lunch and worked as a daily labor in the movie too. After the movie got released, she and her family were not allowed to watch the movie in theater. And also she was attacked at her house at night and her house was set on fire. Some say that she eloped with a lorry driver and lived the rest of her life in Tamilnadu. Some say she ended her life in a well. I would like to believe the former story.

The thing is nothing has changed since then. Not only in India but all over the world. The film makers are put into constant trouble for filming something they believe in, with their own money. Outright rejection of a work is acceptable but cornering a film maker or artist to death because they have performed something that didnt go well with particular group is called extremism. I always wanted to read Malayalam books and literary works as people hold it very high. The movie Celluloid is based on two books, Nashta Naayika by Vinu Abraham and J.C. Daniel’s biography.

Sometimes, I feel free art and free thoughts are just myths that exists in the minds of people to make them feel good at their heart. We talk what others want to talk, we behave to be liked by others. And if the society thinks that you are not thinking in their line and you are different, most probably that will be plucked in the bud. You will be branded as a outlaw and ignored. If you had already marked your place in the society you will be pelted stones or forced to drink Hemlock.

Quoting from my favorite author Ayn Rand…

I can die for you; But I cannot live for you

How long is the society (which is we) going to kill such artists, who try to do something out of the box? And then chide the Indian cinema industry for not thinking out of the box.

I can only wonder.


  1. gils

    CLAP CLAP CLAP…wonderful post…and semma flow…first paathapo ivlo peria posta irukay nenachen..padichapo it was a smooth sail…superbly written

  2. Aravind Kumar

    When a person expresses something through a medium he relishes then one needs to stand up and take notice. If it hurts a section of the society well then too bad. If you don’t want to see a naked Druapadi that’s your call but demanding that the work should be taken down is ridiculous.

  3. Bhavia

    Actually thanks for writing this post.It is sad that currently a lot of people are trying to stop the screening of the movie due to various political reasons.It is even sadder when the director gets blamed for such a wonderful creation.This is in fact pull down and pull back a lot of upcoming talents.The freedom to make a movie of one’s own concept is lost.


    1. --- :) ----

      Any art forms that are intertwined with politics is doomed. The problem with Indian cinema is right from the freedom struggle the drama and Cinema were used for propaganda and people shunned it otherwise. The other group of the side is always against a propaganda. The sad thing is it is continuing and at this rate no independent film straight from the heart can be produced. Then we can only dream of Bafta and Oscars.

  4. Susan Deborah

    Sad scenario. Kerala is supposed to be a 100 percent literacy state but the literacy is only knowing how to sign. As you have rightly mentioned, freedom of expression and all that is only a myth. Sometimes it seems that we have come a long way in this freedom and sometimes it seems that we are still pedaling in the same place and talking big things. Politics and petty politics rule almost everything under the sun in India. A long journey till we reach greater heights. Education seems to be doing nothing to some minds.

    Joy always,

    1. --- :) ----

      Very true Susan. Compared to other societies I still feel that Kerala is tolerable for many new attempts in both literature as well as Cinema. They sit through the movie, watch it and then reject it. This was the state of Kerala in 1930’s. But consider us. We are still asking for bans on movies. There is political mileage in everything and nobody wastes time to harness that. Education, seems to do lot of things but we should be very sure what the young minds are feeded with. There lies the problem

  5. muthiahsriram

    yeah!!people ant good films!!in the sense masal films which portrays the hero as super good!!but when a hero portrays a common man’s true essence ,they get bored!!or when a film creates awareness,its banned!!true appreciation of aestheticness is lost!!awesome post.keep them coming!!

  6. muthiahsriram

    yeah!!people want good films!!in the sense masala films which portrays the hero as super good!!but when a hero portrays a common man’s true essence ,they get bored!!or when a film creates awareness,its banned!!true appreciation of aesthetic films is lost!!awesome post.keep them coming!!

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