Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malayalam Cinema: The Celluloid Controversy

Poster from the web.

Within 24 hours of Kamal’s Celluloid winning seven awards including Best Film and Best Actor (Prithviraj) at the Kerala State Film Awards on February 23, 2013, a major controversy erupted. It was ignited by K. Muraleedharan, son of the former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran. He claimed that the film insulted his father and a bureaucrat who had worked under him.

The debate was fuelled by the politicians. The Minister for Cultural Affairs condemned Kamal. Neither he nor Muraleedharan had seen the movie. The movie industry stands solidly behind Kamal. They point out that Karunakaran’s name is not mentioned in the movie.

Celluloid is a biographical picture about JC Daniel, the Father of Malayalam Cinema. He was the man who produced the first Malayalam movie. It was a silent film named Vigathakumaran (Lost Child). Daniel wriote the story, directed the film and also played the hero’s role. He sold his land reportedly for Rs.400,000. With that money he established the studio Travancore National Pictures in Trivandrum in 1926 and started the production of Vigathakumaran. Most of the Indian films then were based on the puranas but this one had a social theme.

A still from Vigathakumaran

Malloor Govinda Pillai a leading advocate of those days inaugurated the screening at Trivandrum’s Capitol Theatre on 7 November 1928. The invitation card reproduced here shows a different date. Probably that was not for the original show.

 Invitation to the screening.

Vigathakumaran immediately ran into problems. Those were the days when women who acted on stage or cinema were considered immoral. Daniel settled for a scheduled caste worker named PK Rosie as his heroine. A low caste woman playing a Nair lady was unacceptable to the orthodox groups. She was not allowed to watch the screening. Finally she had to run away from Trivandrum.

Daniel’s movie was a financial flop though it played in Nagercoil, Quilon, Alleppey, Trichur and Tellicherry also. He was down and out. He went back to his native place. He approached the Kerala Government for the Rs.300 per month pension for artists in distress. That was rejected on the contention that the place where he lived had been transferred to Tamil Nadu State. The Government also decided that Balan produced in 1938 was the first Malayalam movie.

Daniel died in 1975. In 1992 the Government introduced the J.C. Daniel Award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam Cinema. Too late for the pioneer.
Kamal, one of the top directors in Indian cinema, depended on two books for scripting Celluloid – Vinu Abraham’s novel Nashta Naayika which is based on the life of the heroine Rosie, and Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan’s biography of JC Daniel. Gopalakrishnan has clearly stated in his book which came out two years ago that K. Karunakaran and the bureaucrat Malayattoor Ramakrishnan did not help Daniel.

Today’s Deepika has given a photo of their issue dated Tuesday, October 28, 1930 which carried a detailed review of Vigathakumaran. Does the Kerala Government still believe that Balan was the first Malayalam movie?

What the Malayalam director’s organization says is that one should see the movie before criticising it. Reportedly, Muraleedharan has referred to Kamal as a third rate director. Shocking.

What is the difference between the people who opposed Vigathakumaran 80 years back and those who are criticising Celluloid now?

Addenda on February 28th morning. The latest news is that K. Muraleedharan has stated that the Celluloid controversy is closed because he watched the movie and found nothing objectionable in it.  Well...well...well... Now, where does that leave the Minister for Cultural Affairs?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Syro-Malabar Church Wedding

Syro- Malabar Church with its headquarters in Cochin is the second or third largest Rite in the Catholic Church. It is also the largest denomination among the different factions of the original pre-Portuguese Malabar Church.

There is a great deal of similarity in the matrimonial customs among the various Christian segments in Kerala. Some of the procedures are even common to those practiced by the Hindus. But regional, cultural and status-wise variations do exist.  

Though the number of love marriages is rapidly increasing, arranged marriages are still common. The avenues for this are mainly matrimonial advertisements, marriage bureaus, relatives and common friends. Both sides make enquiries about the other and if compatibility is indicated on critical factors, the boy and the girl meet, may be several times.

If they like each other, Kalyana nischayam is held. It is sometimes called Kalyana Urapeer and means formally fixing the marriage. In the past, only a few senior men from both sides used to attend such meetings, at the boy’s place. But now ladies also take part.

The next important step is Manasammatham or betrothal conducted by the bride’s side. This is a big event though it has no Canonical or legal value. The boy and girl declare to the priest in the parish church that they are willing to marry each other according to the laws of the Church. The boy puts a ring on the girl’s finger. The priest blesses them. Then they sign a register. It is witnessed by one person from each side and countersigned the priest.  

But before the betrothal takes place, the boy and the girl have to attend separately a two day stay in Marriage Preparation Course at an approved facility. This is a very good system. Various important aspects of family life are explained to those who are about to get married. It can be of great help.

In my family, Parayil, the priest used to come to the house and conduct the Manasammatham function. I think we were the only ones who were permitted this rare privilege. But after many generations it was stopped about ten years back by Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, the then Head of the Syro-Malabar Church.

After the betrothal, the bans are notified at the parish churches of the boy and the girl.  If any one has sufficient valid reason that the notified marriage should not take place he is obliged to report the matter to the parish priest. But if there is no objection, the parish priest issues the required certification to his counterpart at the church where the function is to take place.

On the wedding eve there are evening parties at the boy’s and girl’s places. This is known as Mathuram Vekkal meaning ‘giving sweet’. Close relatives and friends would be present. The sweet used to be either a conical savoury called ayani churut or grated coconut mixed with honey and a bit of salt kept on the side of the plate. These days mostly cakes are used. In the case of the bride her sister and husband, and for the boy his sister and husband usually performs this.

There used to be a practice of the bride’s eldest maternal uncle taking her around the house after Madhuram Vekkal in the light of a koluvilakku in what is called ‘bidding goodbye to the paternal home’. One purpose of this was to give the tenants and workers who would not be attending the wedding an opportunity to see the bridal ornaments. Now this is rarely done.   

Usually, the boy’s side conducts the marriage. Before proceeding to the church the boy and the girl pay respects to their elders and take their blessings. Formerly weddings used to be held only on Monday and Thursday mornings. Now it can be on any day. But on Sundays weddings or betrothals can be blessed only after 12 noon. This is because the Catechism classes are held in the morning.

After the actual function is over, the bride and the bridegroom, one witness from each side and the priest sign the Wedding Register. (These days the couple go through the civil marriage registration as well.) After that there would be another Madhuram Vekkal wherever the reception is held. That would be followed by lunch, tea party or dinner.

Reproduced below are some photographs of a wedding held last August. 

The boy placing the engagement ring on the girl's finger 
at St. Martin de Pores Church, Olavipe

Our tharavad Thekkanattu Parayil where the betrothal function was held

When the boy and the girl reach the house from the church they 
are escorted with ceremonial umbrellas from the gatehouse to the 
main building.

Lunch goes on in the background. View from the outhouse (below) 
where refreshments were served.

Requirements for Madhuram Vekkal on wedding eve. On the left is kindi 
(water container with a sprout) and kolambi (spittoon). The bronze bowl in front with 
flower petals contains a tiny lamp.

The madhuram - grated coconut with honey and salt.

The girl washing hands before taking Madhuram.


The priest lighting nilavilakku before the matrimonial services start at Edapally Church.

The requirements for the ceremony. The essentials are banyan leaf shaped thali (it is not clearly seen here but is on the red thread and will be later shifted to the gold chain) Manthrakodi (a saree which is equivalent to Pudava in Hindu custom) and rings to be exchanged.

The bridegroom ties the thali. The woman is to wear it for the rest of her life.

Mantrakodi is placed on the bride's head.

Swearing by the Holy Bible.

 The boy's sister would take the Manthrakodi, fold it and place it 
on the girl's left arm 

 The couple cutting the wedding cake at Le Maredien, Cochin 
where the luncheon party was held.

A smile from the bride, my youngest daughter. The trend these days is that the bride 
does not wear too much jewellery. The contrast is shown in a photo
from the web given below.

All photographs except the last one are by Chackochen of Thycattusserry.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

JJ Murphy remembered

I am getting back to Kerala’s much loved Irish planter, JJ Murphy about whom I have already written so much. There are two events that I have to report.

The first is that The Mundakayam Club which Murphy built in 1912 is holding a one year long Centenary Celebration and so much is being said about Murphy. Incidentally, my post Short Story: DANIEL OF THE MANMALAI CLUB would give you an idea of how club life was for the planters during the last century.

Given below is the portrait of Murphy in the Mundakayam Club:

It seems different from his photo which is in An Indian village remembers its Irish ‘father’. I am reproducing that one here:


 Did the artist take too much liberty or did Murphy’s appearance change in his old age? 
Now, the Rubber Board of India is honouring this pioneer planter. They want to build a memorial at Murphy’s tomb at the St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery at Yendayar. The required land has been transferred to the Ribber Board by the Vijayapuram Diocese.

The following photo shows the Vicar, Fr. Peter Nelson handing over the relevant documents to Ms. Shiela Thomas IAS, The Chairperson of Rubber Board. Between them is Dr. J. Thomas, Rubber board Commissioner.

Incidentally, the photo is reproduced from Deepika, the oldest Malayalam newspaper which started in 1887. I am proud that my family, Parayil, played a key role in founding it.

A new public road is being built to the Murphy Memorial. A local committee has been formed to assist in the related activities. The people are proud that Murphy wanted to be buried in Yendayar to which he contributed so much.

Some time back there was talk about a movie on the Irishman. But I have not heard anything further about it.

Let me conclude with this statement – Murphy ruled over the area. Every one of his people loved him and he wanted to be buried amongst them..

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