J C Daniel – Father of Malayalam Cinema
J.C. Daniel is Kerala’s first film maker who produced, directed, wrote, photographed, edited and acted in the first film ‘Vigathakumaran’ made in Kerala, India. The title of the movie ‘Vigathakumaran’ means Lost Child. It was JC Daniel who established the very first film studio in Kerala namely ‘The Travancore National Pictures’ in Trivandrum at Pattom. These facts of being the pioneer in various art departments of film in Kerala is more than enough to call him ‘Father of Malayalam Cinema’. Later on the JC Daniel Award was instituted by the Government of Kerala in order to honour lifetime achievements in Malayalam cinema.
J C Daniel was born in Agasthishwaram, Nagercoil, Travancore in 1893 on April 19. His ancestors were from Changanacherry. He finished his studies at Maharaja’s College Trivandrum. Daniel had a great passion for some of the martial arts of Kerala and proved as an expert in Kalaripayattu. In 1915, at the age of 22 he published a book in English titled ‘Indian Art of Fencing and Sword Play’. He married Janet. He was very active in the society during 1926 – 28. His ‘Vigathakumaran’ won the Public Mirror Prize in 1929. Later. on 09 May 1975 he died at his native place.
Daniel becoming film maker
He knew that through cinema can be used as the best form of communication to public. He wanted to popularize ‘Kalaripayattu’ through cinema. He had to face so many difficulties to become a professional film maker at his tender age. He travelled to Chennai to learn the techniques of filming and to purchase the necessary equipments for filming. But his travel to Chennai was of no use as he was not given entry to any of the studios in Chennai. All the studios in Chennai did not accept him as he had no direct contacts and as he was an entrepreneur. But his great passion for the martial art form Kalaripayattu chased him to travel to Mumbai for the same purpose of learning filming technology and to buy the necessary equipments to make a film. When he reached Mumbai, he introduced himself as a teacher to the studio owners and said that he wants to teach his students about film making and the importance of cinema in Kerala. This opened the gate before him to the studios. There he gathered enough knowledge for film production and owned the necessary equipments for film production and returned home. This was a silent mode movie and therefore, an announcer announcing the story and the situation of the movie.
Making of ‘Vigathakumaran’
Daniel in 1926 established ‘The Travancore National Pictures’ which was Kerala’s first film studio. For achieving his dream of filming, he had to sell a land property of his for a price of Rs.4 lacs. The then began the work of the film ‘Vigathakumaran’ in which he played the central character. He was also the producer, director, writer, photographer and editor of the film. The film had a theme of social significance. This was one of the early films with social themes as most of the Indian films featured religious stories form Puranas.
The film was released on 7 November 1928 at Capitol Theatre in Trivandrum. The heroine of the film was a converted Dalit who played the role of a Nair lady and prohibited her entering the theatre. Even the fact that a lady acted in the film was not accepted by the public and the action in films at that time was considered as equal to prostitution. This even proved the audience to throw stones at the theatre screen. However, the audience in Alleppey was more liberal to accept the movie. The announcer of the film did not forget to mention officially that there would be some minor errors in the film as it was the first film made in Kerala, and the audience accepted the apology and were supportive.
The film was also shown at different theatres at Quilon, Trichur, Tellichery and Nagecoil. The film had only one print as it was costly to make a copy. It is said that it was J.C. Daniel himself who carried the print to various theatres. The film though was an box office hit of the time did not meet the expense of film making. This put him in heavy debts and forced him to sell his film equipments to overcome his financial problems. Thus, he had to shut down his studio and it marked the end of his film career.
Last days of JC Daniel
After the end of the film career he lived as a dentist at Palayamkottai and faced utter poverty during the last days of his life. He applied for the pension scheme of ailing artists in Kerala but was rejected since he was born in Tamil Nadu. The Kerala government asked him to apply for the ailing artists pension scheme in Tamil Nadu. And now, we accept him and call him proudly as ‘Father of Malayalam Cinema’. Thus, the last days of the first Malayalam film maker in all the sense was pathetic. He can be titled as the first Malayalam film maker as he was the producers, director, story writer, actor, editor, cameraman, distributor, etc. of the film.
The name of the actress in the film was Rosie. She was the heroine of the film. Rosie’s personal life was a bit pathetic as she was a daily wage laborer who used to come to act for the film during day and worked at evenings. She used to come with her lunch to the locations. Just because she acted in the film she was given a picture of prostitute by the society and her hut was burned down by some of the orthodox members of the society.