Indian Cinema – In 2013, we are celebrating the Centenary of this wonderful visual art, the most popular entertainment media of a majority of Indians. Strictly speaking, Indian cinema was born in 1912, even though there is difference of opinion on this point. The first feature film produced in India was the silent movie “Pundalik” which was released on 18th May, 1912.
This film, however, is denied the status of being the first Indian film for the technical reason that it was released and shown along with a foreign film “A Dead Man’s Child" (Denmark – 1911) directed by Eduard Schniedler-Sorensen as a single film show. The film was released at Coronation Cinematograph, Bombay. No footage of “Pundalik”, or any still pictures or literature related to the film are available. The advertisement poster is the only available document related to the film. Details of the artists who acted also are also not available. Difficulty with the documentation of Indian cinema starts with the very first feature film ever produced in India.
Dada Saheb Phalke’s silent film “Raja Harischandra” which was released on 3rd May,
1913 is considered as the first Indian feature film and we are lucky that some footage of
the film is available now. And in this case also, there is another version, that the footage
now available is that of the remake of the 1913 film that Phalke himself produced in
1917 with the same crew and artists of the 1913 version, because the negative of the
1913 production was damaged. More than 1300 silent films were produced in India, out
of which about 100 were from South India, Only a handful of silent films exist now.
Marthanda Varma (1931) produced in Kerala and Asiayi Sitara or “Star of Asia”
(1932) produced in Bangalore by Surya Productions are the only two silent films from
the South that exist now. Hence documenting the history of the Silent Era in Indian
Cinema is a difficult task, we have to depend on the few reports on these silent films
that was published in news papers and magazines of that period. Even such reports are
not available in most cases. In the case of “Marthanda Varma” also, there is difference
of opinion on its release. Some books on history of Indian cinema says that the film
was never released. There is another version that the film was released, but its exhibiton was banned
exhibition and its negatives were confiscated by the copyright owners of the novel based on which
the film was produced. The producer had not obtained the film rights from the copyright
owner. Some historians are of the opinion that the film ran in fully packed theatres for a
week and then only it was banned. No authentic report supported by documentary
evidence is found so far regarding the story behind the release of “Marthanda Varma”
A large number of the sound films produced during the early period, say between
1931 and 1950 are not available. Documenting the history of Indian cinema of this
period is a difficult task, in particular that of Malayalam cinema. In the case of Hindi,
Tamil and Telugu, etc the number of missing films is less compared with Malayalam.
Authentic reviews of the films published in news papers and magazines are also available
for reference in the case of films which are not available for viewing. In the case of
Malayalam ,the film magazines were less and those which were published continuously
for long time related to the said period are no longer available.
In the case of music in films, 78 rpm gramophone records of a large number of songs
were not produced, and in the case of Malayalam films – no gramophone records of some
of the films seems to have been produced at all. Music is to be listened and well appraised and
analysed before documenting with authenticity. I have not come across the 78 rpms of
the songs of early Malayalam films like Velli Nakshathram (1949), Sthree (1950),
Raktha Bandham (1951), Suhruthu (1952), Sandehi (1953), Devasundari (1957),
etc The songs books of these films are available, but how can one know about the quality
of the music without listening to it ? The film prints of these movies also do not exist.
Now a days a large number of books on Malayalam cinema and music are reaching the
hands of the readers. But so far an authentic and exclusive book on the subject is not
published , it seems. Most of such books are just reproduction of books published earlier.
And the pity is that the books that are referred by the present authors for their works
are not free from factual errors. Blunders contained in the books published earlier are
carried over in the books that reach the readers.
Commemorating 50 years of Malayalam Cinema and music, a journal was published in
early 1990’s. The book titled “MALAYALA CHALACHITHRA SANGEETHAM - 50
VARSHAM - CHITHRAGANA SMARANIKA” is supposed to be an authentic book ,
a compilation of the Malayalam Film music from “Balan” (1938) upto 1990s.
is not free from factual errors, and contain such blunders that – Papanasam Sivan , one of
the most popular Carnatic Classical legend of the 20th century and the legendary singing
star of Tamil cinema, VA Chellappa acted and sang in the Malayalam film “Prahlada”
( 1941) ! ! . How could such a serious mistake have crept in ? That too in a book, of which
the Committee behind its publication comprised of 21 luminaries of Malayalam cinema,
literature and arts ? We can’t blame the writers who refer this book for their work in
film music. The reason that I infer is that the Committee might not have verified the
authenticity of the contents. I was sure that Papanasam Sivan or VA Chellappa are no
way connected with Malayalam film Prahlada. But I reconfirmed the fact from the family of the producer of the film, the late K Subrahmaniam. “Chithragana
Smaranika” is a bunch of such errors and the errors are carried forward by the writers in
books on Malayalam cinema and music.
Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema ( By Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willeman)
published by Oxford University Press in 1994, with reprints in 2002 and 2004 - the
book is considered as an authentic work on the subject.
In the cover page of the book,
it is complimented by the leading magazine “Frontline” as follows – “ authoritative
and comprehensive compendium as yet on Indian Cinema”. But some factual errors
contained in the book are such that the reader will be reluctant to believe that the book in
his hands is a publication of Oxford University Press. For example, the filmography of
the legendary actress and dancer Padmini includes Malayalam films – Love in Kerala,
Pareeksha, Mr Kerala, Iruttinte Aatmavu, Adimakal, Chilanthivala Padakkuthira etc
One who refers this book are misled by such factual errors and it reflects in their works
also. Actress and dancer Padmini is in no way connected with these films. Those
enthusiast authors who are working on books on cinema and music are advised to
keep vigil while they refer to already published books on the subject. Don’t arrive at
conclusions simply referring to such books which are supposed to be “authoritative and
comprehensive” . Have references, and cross references on the subject.
Indian cinema has got a highly impressive and wonderful past. Indian cinemas
are a mirror of the social life and culture of the people of the respective periods of their
production and release. The cinemas reflect the political arena of the time also.
Chronicling the immensely rich but still grievously under–documented and under-analysed Indian cinema , in particular Malayalam Cinema , is a challenge.
Let us hope that the enthusiast writers who are involved in documenting the history of
Malayalam cinema will meet the challenge and authentic works on the subject will come
out as a result.
Some features that are not desirable in Cinema and books on Cinema – in the
forthcoming essays in this series.
Tailpiece: The serious mistakes pointed out in this essay – Prahlada. This is my own
inference and need not be correct or apt to the situation. In 1939, a tamil film of the
same title “Prahlada” was released. The lyrics of this film was written by Papanasam
Sivan. But he did not act or sing in this film. The tamil films acted by the legend are –
Kuchela, Bhakta Chetha, Kubera Kuchela and Thyagabhoomi. NP Chellappan Nair
has acted in Malayalam film “Prahlada”. The legendary singing star of Tamil cinema,
VA Chellappa was noted for his mythological roles . While compiling the data for
“Chithragana Smaranika”, the compiler might have got confused with the names of these
legendary stars and included in the starcast of Malayalam “Prahlada” (What an easy task
is writing a book on Cinema-Is it not? !!!!)
Padmini – It seems that the films acted by the actress with similar name – Padmini
(Junior Padmini) are included in the filmography of the international famous Indian
dancer and Hindi,South Indian film actress Padmini (What to comment on this careless
work, a neglect to the so called “authoritative and comprehensive” book on Indian
Cinema. Let such grave mistakes never occur in such books on cinema and that too in the
case of legendary artists like Padmini)