Come Saturday and it would be 75 years since the first Malayalam ‘talkie’. The city has had its share in the history of the technological changes in Malayalam cinema.
The first screening of ‘Balan’, the first Malayalam talkie, was held at 7 pm on January 19, 1938, at Select Cinema here, the only centre in the state. Contrary to the latest trend of movie releases on Fridays, the first Malayalam talkie was released on a Tuesday.
“It was a time when only Tamil and Hindi films were being screened in the state. The maximum collection for the day fell in the range of Rs 15 to Rs 18,” says T E Vasudevan, veteran producer. Incidentally, he started his journey in the film world in the same year by opening a theatre in Tripunithura. “Though I used to watch movies, I did not watch Balan for some reason or the other,” he reminisces.
“It is difficult to compare the situation, as it was a different world altogether. The world was about to be engulfed by the Second World War and there was a blackout after 6 pm,” remembered Vasudevan who went on to produce 45 films in Malayalam and Tamil until 1987.
The first talkie came ten years after the release of the silent movie, ‘Vigathakumaran’ made by J C Daniel. The majority of the crew behind the first talkie were non-Malayalis, including producer T R Sundaram and director S Nottani, while the cinematographer Bado Gushwalkar was a German.
Balan’s screenplay and dialogues were written by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai based on the story ‘Vidhiyum Mrs Nayarum’ by A Sundaram Pillai. The story which narrated the struggle of two orphaned children, oppressed and exploited by an evil stepmother, had 23 songs written by the script writer.
The movie, the shooting for which started at the Salem Modern Studio on August 17, 1937, was well received by the audience. However, except for a few stills and a song book, the footage of the film is not currently available.