Kalidas (The Servant of Kali) also known as Kalidasa, was a 1931 Indian mythological film, most notable for being the first sound film made in Tamil, as well as the first sound film ever to be made in South India. It was produced by Ardeshir Irani, and directed by Irani's former assistant H. M. Reddy. The film was based on the life of the fourth-century Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa. It features P. G. Venkatesan as the eponymous character and T. P. Rajalakshmi as the female lead, with L. V. Prasad, Thevaram Rajambal, T. Susheela Devi, J. Sushila and M. S. Santhanalakshmi in supporting roles.
Although primarily a Tamil film, due to additional dialogue in Telugu and Hindi, some film critics and scholars see it as India's first multilingual film. It was even billed in the Tamil newspaper Swadesamitran as the "First Tamil-Telugu Talking Picture". However, because all of its fifty songs were in Tamil, the film historian S. Theodore Baskaran considers it mainly a Tamil film. Despite the film's mythological theme, it also featured patriotic songs. The film was shot in Bombay (now Mumbai) on the sets of India's first sound film Alam Ara and was completed in eight days.
Amid much hype, Kalidas released on Diwali, 31 October 1931—the only Tamil film—that year. It received critical acclaim and became a commercial success, grossing 75000 (US$1,200) against a budget of 8000 (US$130). The success of Kalidas spawned numerous other films based on the character in various languages. It is currently a lost film.
Vidhyadhari is the daughter of Vijayavarman, the king of Thejavathi. His minister wants the princess to marry his son but she refuses. Annoyed, the minister sets out to find a different husband for Vidhyadhari. In the forest, the minister comes across an illiterate cowherd sitting in a tree and cutting down the branch on which he is sitting. The minister persuades the cowherd to come to the palace and has Vidhyadhari marry him. When Vidhyadhari realises she has been cheated and is married to a cowherd, she prays to the goddess Kali for a remedy. Kali appears before her, names her husband "Kalidas", and endows him with phenomenal literary talents.
Kalidas was the first Tamil sound film, as well the first sound film ever produced in South Indian cinema.[a] It was based on the life of the fourth century Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa. The film was produced by Ardeshir Irani—who directed India's first sound film Alam Ara—and was directed by his former assistant, H. M. Reddy, for the studio Imperial Movi-Tone. P. G. Venkatesan was chosen to play the title role. L. V. Prasad—who later founded Prasad Studios—played a temple priest. Prasad also acted in Alam Ara and Bhakta Prahlada—the first Telugu sound film—earning the rare distinction of appearing in three of the first sound films in India. Theatre artiste T. P. Rajalakshmi was chosen to play the female protagonist; she was "the automatic choice to play the heroine". Other supporting roles were played by Thevaram Rajambal, T. Susheela Devi, J. Sushila and M. S. Santhanalakshmi. The sound recording was done by German technicians using the Vitaphone process and their equipment. Kalidas was shot in Bombay (now Mumbai) on the sets of Alam Ara and was completed in eight days, using 6,000 feet (1,800 m) or 10,000 feet (3,000 m) of film.[b]
First Tamil sound film?
The characters of Kalidas spoke a variety of languages, including Tamil (Vidhyadhari), Telugu (Kalidas, Naradhar) and Hindi (the temple priest). As Venkatesan's first language was Telugu and he could not get his Tamil right, his dialogue was in Telugu. Because the characters spoke multiple languages, experts including Film News Anandan, Birgit Meyer, G. Dhananjayan and Randor Guy have refused to call Kalidas the first Tamil sound film, with the latter two instead calling it India's first multilingual film. In the 2010 book Cinemas of South India, Sowmya Dechamma believes that Telugu dialogues were included in the film to "increase its market potential in the two important language markets of southern India".
The film featured fifty songs, composed and written by Bhaskara Das. All of them were in Tamil, and only because of that, the film historian S. Theodore Baskaran considers Kalidas a mainly Tamil film despite the various languages spoken by the characters. Although the film was based on mythology, it featured Thyagaraja Kirtanas (compositions by the carnatic musician Thyagaraja) and the Indian National Congress publicity songs. Film News Anandan believes that Reddy was "probably pleased to add on anything artistic that came his way. Relevance was hardly an issue" while scholars Selvaraj Velayutham and Birgit Meyer believe that the nationalistic songs featured in the film had nothing to do with the main plot.
Some of the most notable songs in the film were the patriotic "Gandhiyin Kai Rattiname", sung by T. P. Rajalakshmi, the Thyagaraja-composed "Enta Nerchina" (also sung by Rajalakshmi) the Rajalakshmi-crooned number "Manmada Baanamadaa" which became very popular among young women, and the freedom-movement themed "Indhiyargal Nammavarkkul Eno Veen Sandai". No songbook of the film is currently known to exist.
Prior to its release, Kalidas was given a "U" certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification. An advertisement announcing the film was published in the 30 October 1931 issue of the Tamil newspaper Swadesamitran, where it was billed as the "First Tamil-Telugu Talking Picture". Kalidas was first released theatrically at the Madras-based Kinema Central (now known as the Murugan Theatre) on 31 October 1931, during the festive occasion of Diwali day and coincided with the Civil Disobedience Movement.
When the film reels were taken to Madras, thousands of people gathered at the city's central railway station and followed the reel box to Kinema Central along Wall Tax Road, throwing rose petals, breaking open coconuts and burning incense. An earlier attempt at producing a Tamil sound film, a four-reel short titled Korathi Dance and Songs, was screened alongside Kalidas as a side attraction.
Swadesamitran printed a favourable review for Kalidas on 29 October 1931, two days prior to the film's theatrical release. The reviewer stated, "The film will certainly run for a few weeks" and appreciated the singing of Rajalakshmi, calling the film a "must watch" for all. Kalidas was commercially successful, grossing over 75000 (US$1,200) and easily covering its budget of 8000 (US$130).
In addition to being critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Kalidas became a trendsetter for sound films in Tamil cinema. It was remade by K. R. Seetharam Shastry as the Kannada film Mahakavi Kalidas (1955), which was also critically appreciated and commercially successful. Other Kalidas-themed films include Kaviratna Kalidasa (Kannada, 1983), Mahakavi Kalidas (Tamil, 1966) and Mahakavi Kalidasu (Telugu, 1960). Kalidas was the only Tamil film to be produced and released in 1931. No print or gramophone record of the film is known to have survived, making it a lost film.
- Keechaka Vadham, the first South Indian silent film ever produced
- Alam Ara, India's first ever sound film produced
- List of lost films
- Till September 2012, it was believed that Bhakta Prahladha, the first Telugu sound film was released on 15 September 1931, which would make it the first South Indian sound film ever released. However, film journalist Rentala Jayadeva proved that it was released on 6 February 1932, making Kalidas the actual first South Indian sound film ever to be released.
- While scholars Sachi Sri Kantha and G. Dhananjayan claim that Kalidas used 10,000 feet (3,000 m), Film News Anandan claims that it used only 6,000 feet (1,800 m).
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