Celluloid (2013) #SherylPuthur


Directed By: Kamal

Written By: Kamal


Prithviraj – J.C. Daniels

Sreenivasan – Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan

Mamta Mohandas – Janet

Chandni – Rosie

Language: Malayalam                                                            Genre: Biopic

Malayalam cinema is known for its mature handling of the medium and its introduction of themes ahead of their times. It then seems fitting that the Father of Malayalam cinema – J.C. Daniels would be a pioneer in this regard.

However, as forward as the themes of Malayalam cinema were and are it is balanced out by a rigidity of thought and caste prejudices. At present it may be slight in comparison to earlier times but it still exists and so the film functions simultaneously as a critique of Kerala society.

Celluloid follows the ill-fated career of J.C. Daniels (Prithiviraj) who has a dream to make the first Malayalam film. It follows his journey to erstwhile Bombay to meet with Dadasaheb Phalke (Nandu Madhav), who explains various aspects of film making. After a few delays, he manages to get hold of the equipment and a British cameraman, and begins his filming. Since he sold his land to finance the film, to keep costs low, he directed, acted, edited and also wrote the screenplay.

Unlike his contemporaries, his film Vigathakumaran was not based on mythology but was a social drama. Ironically, his own life resembled a social drama because when Bombay-based actor Lana proved difficult to work with he got Rosie (Chandni) a Dalit Christian (the term is ironic since the latter ought to cancel out the former but…) to act instead. She played a Nair lady but when the film was screened the orthodox upper-caste men took offence at the idea of a lower-caste woman playing a Nair woman and boycotted the film.

The film parallels J.C. Daniels life with the investigation of the journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan (Sreenivasan) into the film career of this obscure dentist who was once known as J.C. Daniels, the director of Vigathakumaran.

The relationships portrayed in the film have been beautifully sketched out such as the love based in friendship shared by J.C. Daniels and his wife Janet (Mamta Mohandas). A strong woman who stands by her husband and remains the factor that keeps them knitted together. Her sisterly treatment of Rosie, ignoring the caste barriers makes for some of the most moving scenes within the film. A scene that stood out for me, for its poignancy, was decking Rosie in the attire of a Nair lady and her amazement at their ‘presumption’ that it was normal to treat her as equal.

A technically sound film, it uses film conventions to create symbolism within the film such as the shadow play on the whitewashed walls that eases with breathing. The narrative of the life continued in a closed carriage.

The film is about idealism, regret, apathy at the sight of continued failure and the slight flicker of hope that stays sometimes like a disease and sometimes like a blessing. It is also about the burning need to tell a story – to find expression.

Over and above, though it is a tribute to the first filmmaker in Malayalam. A technically sound film, its obvious use of technique is in itself a tribute to J.C. Daniels – whose first film in some sense set the base for the future of Malayalam cinema.