Abhishek Krishnan



A column about the father of Malayalam Cinema, J.C Daniel


We have always celebrated cinema, cherished good movies and glorified the ones who are on top. Indian Cinema has never failed to roll out the red carpet to those who have emerged successful in their respective fields.

However, I would like to mention someone here, who had spent all his life tasting the bitterness of failure and by the time he was recognized, he was no more. This man, J.C Daniel, is now called the father of Malayalam Cinema, a title he would have been extremely proud to hold against his chest, had he been bestowed with it when he was alive.

As a young boy, J.C Daniel used to sneak out of his house in the wee hours of the night to catch glimpses of the ‘theru koothu’ that happened beside his house. His craze for art did not cease even after he was caught and beaten up by his father, as acting and drama was considered a sin in Christianity back then.

His quest for adventure landed him in Trivandrum, where he pursued his higher studies. “My father was a tall and strong man. So strong that he used to lie down on the road and let bullock carts pass over his chest,” says Mr. Harris Daniel the youngest son of J.C Daniel. “He learnt martial arts and ‘varma kalai’ in Trivandrum and was also the captain of the football team.”

His affinity for art remained intact even during his busy sporty school days. He made sure he ran his exuberant eyes through all the movies that were exhibited there and soon turned out to be an ardent fan of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

J.C Daniel got married in the year 1924, at around the age of 24, after waiting for five long years for the lady with whom he fell in love at first sight. His passion for films started to grow and ultimately he decided to make a movie of his own. He visited studios in Bombay, worked there as an extra and soon learned the fundamentals of cinema.

He then came to Trivandrum and raised funds by selling a land of 108 acres and borrowing money from his friends. He wrote a story, bought equipment from Mumbai and Kolkata and was all prepared for shooting the first ever silent movie in Kerala, titled Vigathakumaran.

The first glitch that J.C Daniel faced was when he had to find a female artist for the film. Women never stepped out to act back then. It was the men who dressed themselves as women even in stage plays. Unable to find his female protagonist in Kerala, J.C Daniel roped in an actress named Lana, from Mumbai.

My father paid her 5000 rupees, which was a huge amount those days and also booked first class train tickets for her,” says Mr. Harris Daniel. “But she hardly came to the sets and was often found drinking. She also started demanding my father for a car and a house.

J.C Daniel ultimately sent her back to Mumbai and began his quest for a heroine yet again. He then happened to meet P.K Rosy, a lower caste girl who expressed her willingness to act in the film. After a struggle that lasted for two long years, Vigathakumaran was finally a finished product and was released on the 23rd of October, 1930.

The movie was released in The Capitol Theater - Trivandrum, The Pioneer Theater - Nagerkoil and other theaters in Kollam and Alleppey.

My father spent over a lakh for the movie. In those days, the Indian currency was such that one British rupee was equal to 28 and a half chakras and 1 chakra was 16 Kaasu. The tickets for a high class seat cost 1 chakra and the corresponding classes were around 8 Kaasu and 2 Kaasu respectively. Collecting an amount of one lakh British rupees with the ticket rates as low as that was almost impossible,” said Harris Daniel

The screening lasted for a few days after which people started to become uncomfortable. They raised slogans against the movie announcing that it had obscene scenes.

They deliberately did it, primarily because a lower caste lady was featured as an upper caste in the film” said Harris Daniel. “The obscene scenes they referred to is a scene where my father, who played the lead in the movie, takes out a rose that is placed in the heroine’s hair. There was another scene in the movie where they attempt to kiss and a saree comes into frame and obstructs view at the nick of time.

The discomfort slowly grew into a rumpus and people tore down the theater screens. P.K Rosy, the actress in the movie was chased away from her village. And thus, all the little dreams that J.C Daniel bubbled up, burst away into diminishing droplets. A disappointed J.C Daniel, left Trivandrum after clearing all his debts by selling away some property that remained.

He soon cobbled up all his losses by learning and pursuing dentistry in Madurai and later in Pudhukottai, where he got acquainted with actor P.U Chinnappa.

My father’s craze for films blossomed again after meeting him. He sold his car and all his dental equipment and set off to Madras for round two.

Unfortunately he had to taste the venom of history again. He lost all his wealth and came back empty handed.

During the latter part of J.C Daniel’s life, a journalist called Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan recognized his work and came forward to offer help. But, by the time he managed to earn him the title he deserved, J.C Daniel was no more.

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