1916 : the lost movie

Why did i choose “1916”, as the name of this blog ?

1916 is not an ordinary year for tamil cinema : it’s the date of birth, the first cry, the “pillayar suzhi” of this industry. Indeed, in 1916, began the production of the first tamil (and south indian) silent movie : “Keechaka Vadham” (The destruction of Keechaka), directed, produced, cinematographed, edited by the same man, a precursor and we should say, the founding father of tamil cinema industry : R.Nataraja Mudaliar. 

R.Nataraja Mudaliar (1885-1972)

Nataraja Mudaliar, born in Vellore in 1885, was a quite fascinating man, as we can understand with this description by Theodore Baskaran :

“An automobile spare part dealer, Nataraja Mudaliar, was so fascinated by moving pictures when he watched them in Madras that he decided to make films himself. He traveled to Pune, sought and met Steward Smith, a cinematographer of the British Government and learnt film making. It took only a few days to learn to handle the primitive camera operated by hand cranking. Returning to Chennai he set up a studio, India Film Company in Kilpauk and made Keechakavatham/The Destruction of Keechaka the first Tamil film in 1916. (…) Soon a few other studios were set up in Madras. In the following eighteen years, nearly 110 Tamil silent films were produced.”

“Keechaka Vadham” was inspired by the Epic “Mahabharatha” : the story is all about the characters named Keechaka and Draupadi. It’s interesting to note that from Nataraja Mudaliar to Mani Ratnam, Indian Epics are a constant and inexhaustible source of inspiration for tamil filmmakers (“Roja”, “Thalapathy”, “Ravanan” for example, are kind of mythological movies by the Madras talkies owner).
Shot in only five weeks,“Keechaka Vadham” was the first movie with an full and full tamil cast (i will write later an article about the birth of indian cinema with the first screening of Lumière Brothers films in 1896). The film was a success at that time, but, unfortunately, we have (i think) no prints left of this movie.
So, yes, that’s it : the first tamil movie is a lost movie.
But is this a reason to forget about the silent origins of a film industry that does so much talk about it ? Just as all the world cinema industries, tamil cinema has roots in its own silent movies era. In western countries, silent movies are pantheonized, treasured and usually well known. It’s quite sad that this tamil silent era makers are not that much glorified, or just recognized. Tamil cinema has also its own geniuses, founding fathers (and mothers) and pioneers, just like Nataraja Mudaliyar, who have built the foundations of one of the biggest cinema industries in India.
As we are (should be) celebrating the centenary of Tamil cinema in this year 2016, i hope that we would look at the rear-view mirror, try to understand the richness of tamil cinema history, and not “lose” this first movies.
1916-2016 : 100 years of tamil cinema. That’s why i choose “1916” as the name and the “pillayar suzhi” of this blog.

Shakila Z.

References : 
Source of the header image : “Kannathil Muthamittal”, Mani Ratnam, 2002.