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Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

His pioneering effort set the cameras rolling

N.J. Nair


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Diamond Jubilee of the pioneering effort that marked the beginning of Malayalam cinema falls on Sunday. The history of the industry began when a daring young cineaste J.C. Daniel sold his 100 acres of land at Panachamoodu in Neyyatinkara and ventured to make the silent film, Vigathakumaran.

The film, which Daniel himself described as the first photo-play produced in Kerala, was first screened at 6.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. on October 23, 1930 at Capitol Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram and Pioneer Theatre in Nagercoil.

Daniel was born on February 26, 1900 at Neyyatinkara. He had an enduring passion for cinema and the martial arts, especially `Kalarippayattu.' Naturally, when he decided to make a film, thrilling fights became an integral part of Vigathakumaran.

Daniel produced, directed, picturised and played a major role in his film. He set up a studio, Travancore National Pictures, in Thiruvananthapuram and Vigathakumaran was shot entirely in Kerala.

The house of a lawyer, Nagappan Nair, near the Public Service Commission office at Pattom, was one of the main locations of the film. It was all about the abduction of Chandrakumar, son of a rich man in Thiruvananthapuram, to Ceylon and his reunion with his family years later.

The film bombed at the box-office. When his maiden venture thus ended in failure, Daniel decided to become a dentist and completed his studies in Mumbai and Chennai. He set up dental clinics at Neyyatinkara, Karaikudi and Agastheeswaram.

When the State Government decided to grant a pension of Rs.300 to indigent artistes, Daniel was among the list of applicants. The committee appointed to scrutinise the applications was not in favour of granting the pension to the father of Malayalam cinema.

To begin with, Vigathakumaran being a silent film, the committee members were unwilling to consider it as a Malayalam film. As Daniel had settled at Agastheeswaram in Tamil Nadu, the committee also expressed doubts whether his mother tongue was Tamil or Malayalam.

Daniel's efforts to present his case came to nought. Ultimately, the founder of Malayalam cinema did not get the assistance he more than deserved. Later, the Government sanctioned the pension to his wife, Janet Daniel.

Years later, the Government made amends by instituting an award of Rs.1 lakh in the name of Daniel to honour members of the film fraternity who make remarkable lifetime contributions to Malayalam cinema. Daniel was laid to rest at Agastheeswaram.

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