In the early 20th century, when the world was just beginning to witness the magic of moving pictures, a visionary filmmaker named Joseph Chellayya Daniel, fondly known as J. C. Daniel, embarked on a journey that would earn him the title of the father of Malayalam cinema.
Born on 28 November 1900 in the quaint town of Agapur, in the princely state of Travancore, J. C. Daniel grew up fascinated by the possibilities of storytelling through the medium of cinema. At a time when the Indian film industry was still finding its footing, Daniel’s aspirations were nothing short of revolutionary.
J. C. Daniel’s tryst with cinema began in the early 1920s. His passion for storytelling led him to the bustling city of Bombay (now Mumbai), the epicenter of Indian cinema at the time. There, he learned the art and craft of filmmaking, absorbing the techniques and nuances that would later shape the trajectory of Malayalam cinema.
In 1928, J. C. Daniel returned to Kerala with a dream and a vision. Armed with limited resources but boundless creativity, he set out to create the first-ever Malayalam feature film, “Vigathakumaran” (The Lost Child). The production was a labor of love, with Daniel wearing multiple hats as the director, producer, and actor.
“Vigathakumaran” premiered on 7 November 1928, marking a historic moment for Malayalam cinema. The film, shot entirely in black and white, unfolded a poignant narrative that resonated with the audiences of the time. However, despite its artistic and cultural significance, the film faced financial challenges and was not a commercial success.
The struggles faced by J. C. Daniel did not deter him; instead, they fueled his determination to pave the way for future filmmakers. Unfortunately, the challenges took a toll on Daniel’s personal life, leading him to financial ruin and obscurity.
It was only in the later years, with the recognition of his pioneering efforts, that J. C. Daniel received the credit he deserved. In 1992, the Kerala State Film Development Corporation instituted the J. C. Daniel Award, an honor bestowed upon individuals for their outstanding contributions to Malayalam cinema.
J. C. Daniel, the visionary who dared to dream when the idea of Malayalam cinema was in its infancy, passed away on 27 April 1975. His legacy lives on in the vibrant world of Malayalam cinema, where filmmakers continue to draw inspiration from his audacity, creativity, and unwavering commitment to the art of storytelling.
As Malayalam cinema flourished over the decades, J. C. Daniel’s name became synonymous with the indomitable spirit of the pioneers who laid the foundation for a thriving cinematic culture in Kerala. The father of Malayalam cinema may have faced trials, but his contribution remains etched in the silver screens that continue to captivate audiences across the region.