J.C Daniel is rightly considered as the father of Malayalam cinema. He produced a film almost singularly like a mother cooking meals alone in the kitchen. The first Malayalam film, Vigathkumaran, was made in 1926 selling a major portion of his property for about 4 Lakh Rupees. In 1926 the price of one Gram of Gold might not be above ten Rupees. So the 4 Lakh was a fortune at that time. He did not think twice to invest it in an uncertain venture. Even now investing in film production is a risky business.
For J.C.Daniel producing a film was his passion. When Cinema was a far-fetched notion, he was somehow bitten by the bug. Any way he was instantly drawn to its scope as a media for imparting knowledge and potential for entertaining people. The desire to make a Malayalam film stood first and foremost in his mind. He was up against many odds to fulfill the dream. Primarily he knew nothing about the technical side of producing a film. Secondly, unlike now, there were no production houses to go in and make a film. He had to start from scratch and it was a Herculean effort, literally.
As he knew nothing of the technical side of making a film he first goes to Madras where films were used to be made even then. He gets no entry into any Studios and returns disappointed. His enthusiasm for films never fades. So he goes to Bombay to learn the techniques under the guise of a school teacher wanting to learn the shooting of a film to teach his students and he somehow gets entry into a Studio.
He comes back and establishes a Studio named Travancore National Pictures to commence work on the film. Once established a studio Daniel plunges into the works of the film. Since the Cinema was a rare thing technicians were not available and he takes the roles as Director, Script writer and photographer in addition to its producer. The film was named as Vigathakumaran or lost child. It was a time when Sanskrit words influenced writers of Malayalam. Today not many Malayalees will answer correctly the meaning of Vigathakumaran and fewer still will go for a film titled as such. But times were different and the Film’s name was in tune with the literary trend of the period.
The story of the film was strong and trendy. Most films produced at the time were based on mythological stories. Vigathakumaran was a socially relevant film with the story of an abducted child who was transported to Ceylon. He lived there working in a plantation on daily wages while his parents lived back at home in India with broken hearts. In the end he meets his parents and the story ends with a happy note.
The film was released at Capitol Theater Trivandrum ( no one knows now where that theater stood) on November 7, 1928. The Cinema, being a new visual experience, should have attracted audience. But the result was contrary. The film invited the wrath of a section of the people. The heroine Rosie was a converted Christian and she donned the role of a Nair girl in the film. The fact that a lower caste girl doing the role of higher caste Nair girl infuriated the higher caste people and they did whatever they can to prevent the smooth exhibition of film. The film was thus a failure at Trivandrum.
It had only one print. However Daniel exhibited the film in other parts of the Kerala too. Though the caste issues did not come up again, the film commercially failed and Daniel had to sell the remains of his property to pay back liabilities. In those periods the people of Kerala were poverty stricken for whom entertainment was a luxury and comes only 2nd. in preference. It is to be assumed that Kerala was not prepared for an entertainer like cinema at the time when Vigathakumaran released. Perhaps lack of proper marketing was also a reason.
Daniel’s cash strapped life began from then on until he died on 27th May 1975. He had worked as a dentist for some time but his last days were lonely and pathetic. Thus he became a martyr for the cause of Malayalam film. The life and sacrifice of J.C. Daniel came to light by the single minded research of Chelangattu Gopalakrishnan and when the story came out the cultural affairs Ministry of Kerala instituted the J.C Daniel Award for lifetime achievements in the field of Cinema. Now he is considered the father of Malayalam Cinema.
Yet another martyr in this story still remains ignored by the Government, the actress Rosie. The people burnt down her hut in anger and assaulted her. She was forced to leave Kerala in the end and spend the rest of her life in Tamil Nadu. During those pseudo moralists' period, the actresses were not looked upon kindly.
Rosie too deserves adulation. It would be fitting if the Government of Kerala institutes the best actress award in her name for her sufferings and sacrifices.
Images from Google