“It’s sheer irony that those who make history are displaced from the annals of history ,” says director Kamal on the eve of his latest venture, Celluloid, hitting the silverscreen. The film narrates the story of the iconic J C Daniel and his struggle in realising the dream of Vigathakumaran, the first Malayalam film. Kamal takes the road less traveled in this 43rd film of his, through which he also makes a debut as producer.
Though primarily seen as a tribute to the ‘father of Malayalam cinema’, the film also depicts the life of a few people who dedicated their life to cinema and made tremendous sacrifices for the love of the movies, in a society that was steeped in casteist and feudal tendencies.
“Some people ask me why I took the risk of making a film on a period subject. But I am convinced that even if it was not history, the story of a fallen hero who died as a nobody, all for the love for cinema. Nearly five years ago, my friend Johny handed me a copy of the novel about Rosy, ‘Nashtanayika’, by Vinu Abraham. Then I came across the biography of Daniel by Chelangad Gopalakrishnan. Later Vinu told me that Daniel’s son Harris had publicly apologised for destroying the print of the first silent movie made in Travancore. Together, all this formed the materiel for a film. It took almost one-and-a-half years for me to convert the concept into reality,” he said. The print of Vigathakumaran, (Lost Child) was, however, lost forever. “I chose the title Celluloid as it is also fading with time, just as Daniel and Rosy did.
The challenges were herculean, from production to casting, considering the limitations of the Malayalam industry. “Somehow Raju (Prithvi Raj) was my only choice for Daniel and I liked his positive approach. Considering the features of Daniel’s wife, I had two heroines in mind. I zeroed-in on Mamta as Samvrutha is abroad. Sreenivasan was also a natural choice for the role of Chelangad Gopalakrishan, who stood by Daniel.” Kamal’s search for a fresh face for the role of Rosy ended in Chandni, a contestant in a music reality show.
Veteran actors Nedumudi Venu, Siddique, Thalaivasal Vijay appear in significant cameos. “Moreover the presence of Nandhu Madhav as Dadasaheb Phalke is notable as he had enacted the same role in Harishchandrachi Factory, based on Phalke’s struggle,” said the director.
Much home-work has been done on the dialect of the era. “I was not fluent with the dialect spoken in southern Kerala during those days. So I sat with poet V Madhusoodanan Nair who recreated the dialogues to suit the mood of the period,” he said.
This is Kamal’s first film with ace cameraman Venu. “His work is perfect for the classical mood of the film,” the director says. Recreating the not-too-distant past is no mean task. Kamal entrusted Suresh Kollam (art) and S B Satheesan (costumes) with the job, and he is more than satisfied with the final product. “The music by M Jayachandran is another gift for this film” says the director as the lilting tunes of ‘Kaatte Kaatte’ fill the air.