Kalidas (film)

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Kalidas
Vidhyadhari (TP Rajakalshmi) on the songbook of Kalidas
Directed by H. M. Reddy
Produced by Ardeshir Irani
Starring T. P. Rajalakshmi
P. G. Venkatesan
Production
company
Imperial Movi-Tone
Release dates
31 October 1931
Country India
Language Tamil

Kalidas (English: The Servant of Kali),[1] also known as Kalidasa,[2][3] is a 1931 Indian, Tamil-language, biographical film directed by H. M. Reddy and produced by Ardeshir Irani. It is notable for being the first Tamil language sound film, and the first sound film to be made in South India. It was based on the life of the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa; it featured P. G. Venkatesan in the title role 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.

Kalidas, principally in Tamil, contained additional dialogue in Telugu and Hindi. While Rajalakshmi spoke Tamil, Venkatesan spoke only Telugu due to his lack of fluency in Tamil, and Prasad spoke only Hindi. Despite its mythological theme, the film featured songs from much later time periods, such as the compositions of carnatic musician Tyagaraja, publicity songs of the Indian National Congress, and songs about Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement. The sound was recorded using German-made technology. Kalidas was shot in Bombay on the sets of India's first sound film Alam Ara (1931).

Kalidas was released with high expectations on 31 October 1931, coinciding with Diwali day. It was the only Tamil film to be produced and released that year. Despite numerous technical flaws, it received critical acclaim, with praise for Rajalakshmi's singing performance, and it became a major commercial success. The success of Kalidas spawned other films based upon Kālidāsa, including Mahakavi Kalidasa (1955), Mahakavi Kalidasu (1960) and Mahakavi Kalidas (1966).

In addition to its commercial success, Kalidas was a major breakthrough for Rajalakshmi's career, and made her a bankable singing star. Because no print, gramophone record, or songbook of the film is known to survive, it is a lost film.

Plot[edit]

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 another potential husband for Vidhyadhari. In the forest, the minister finds an illiterate cowman sitting in a tree and cutting into the branch on which he is sitting. The minister persuades the cowman to come to the palace and has Vidhyadhari marry him. When Vidhyadhari realises she has been cheated, and is married to a farmhand, she prays to the goddess Kali for a remedy. Kali appears before her, names her husband Kalidas and endows him with phenomenal literary talents.[4]

Cast[edit]

Other supporting roles were played by: Thevaram Rajambal, T. Susheela Devi, J. Sushila and, M. S. Santhanalakshmi.[5]

Production[edit]

A woman, a goddess and a man.
A man kneeling before a woman.
Two surviving stills from Kalidas

Kalidas is the first sound film to be produced in South Indian cinema, and the first in Tamil.[6][a] It was based on the life of the Sanskrit poet and playwright Kālidāsa.[9][b] The film was produced by Ardeshir Irani, who directed India's first sound film Alam Ara,[12] and was directed by his former assistant, H. M. Reddy,[13] for the studio Imperial Movietone.[14] P. G. Venkatesan was chosen to play the title role.[10] L. V. Prasad—who later founded Prasad Studios—appeared in a comic role as a temple priest.[6][15] Theatre artiste T. P. Rajalakshmi was chosen to play the female protagonist;[3] according to film historian Randor Guy, she was the "automatic choice to play the heroine."[16] Before this, Rajalakshmi had acted in many silent films, and Kalidas was her first sound film.[17] Supporting roles were played by Thevaram Rajambal, T. Susheela Devi, J. Sushila, and M. S. Santhanalakshmi.[5][18] The sound was recorded by German technicians using German-made equipment.[19][20] Kalidas was shot in Bombay (now Mumbai) on the sets of Alam Ara;[21][22] it was completed using either 6,000 feet (1,800 m) or 10,000 feet (3,000 m) of film, as sources differ.[c] Film historian Film News Anandan states that Kalidas "was produced in a hurry, and was technically flawed."[14]

While Kalidas' primary language was Tamil,[25] the film's actors spoke a variety of languages, including Tamil (Rajalakshmi), Telugu (Venkatesan) and Hindi (Prasad).[6] Because Venkatesan's first language was Telugu, and he could not correctly pronounce Tamil words, his dialogue was in Telugu.[6] Irani was initially unsure if the German sound recording equipment would record the Tamil language. To assuage his doubts, he had some actors speak and sing in Tamil, Venkatesan in Telugu, and, because the equipment had already recorded Hindi before, he had other actors speak Hindi; the equipment recorded each language clearly.[19] Owing to the use of multiple languages, sources including Film News Anandan,[14] Birgit Meyer,[26] and Randor Guy have refused to call Kalidas the first Tamil sound film; Guy instead called it India's first multilingual film.[27] In the 2010 book Cinemas of South India: Culture, Resistance, Ideology, Sowmya Dechamma states that Telugu dialogues were included in the film, apparently to "increase its market potential in the two important language markets of southern India."[28]

Music[edit]

Kalidas featured fifty songs composed and written by Bhaskara Das.[29][30] Film historian S. Theodore Baskaran mentions in his 1996 book, The Eye of the Serpent: An Introduction to Tamil Cinema, that all of the songs were in Tamil.[25] Birgit Meyer contradicted Baskaran in her 2009 book Aesthetic Formations, stating that the film had Telugu songs,[26] a view that was supported by Sowmya Dechamma in Cinemas of South India: Culture, Resistance, Ideology.[28]

Although the film was based on mythology, it featured compositions from much later time periods, such as those by the carnatic musician Tyagaraja, and Indian National Congress publicity songs.[14] Film News Anandan says Reddy was "probably pleased to add on anything artistic that came his way. Relevance was hardly an issue."[6] The 2008 book Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India's Other Film Industry by Selvaraj Velayutham and Aesthetic Formations by Birgit Meyer stipulate that the nationalistic songs featured in the film had nothing to do with the main plot,[31] while Randor Guy states during that period, "Historical accuracy wasn't as important as the music. It wasn't uncommon for the deities to sing modern poems or nationalist songs."[20] Baskaran noted that this marked the "beginning of cinema being used as an instrument of political propaganda."[32]

The patriotic song "Gandhiyin Kai Rattiname" ("The Charkha that [Mahatma] Gandhi handles"), also known as "Raattinamam… ... Gandhi Kai Bhanamaam ...", was sung by T. P. Rajalakshmi,[33][19] and was unrelated to the story of Kalidas; the song extolled the charkha (spinning wheel), a Gandhian symbol of nationalism.[34] Rajalakshmi also performed Tyagaraja's composition "Enta Nerchina" for the film, in the raga Udayaravichandrika.[35] Another song which Rajalakshmi performed, "Manmada Baanamadaa", became immensely popular, and was described by Guy as "the emotional outburst of love by the heroine".[19] Another song, "Indhiyargal Nammavarkkul Eno Veen Sandai", spoke about the Indian independence movement and the need for unity among Indians.[36] Guy described "Manmada Baanamadaa" as the "first hit song of Tamil Cinema".[37] No songbook of the film is known to survive.[19]

Release and reception[edit]

Tamil language advertisement with all text, no visuals.
Pre-release advertisement for Kalidas

An advertisement announcing the release of Kalidas was published on 30 October 1931 in The Hindu, where it was proclaimed that the film was the "first talkie to be screened in the city with Tamil and Telugu songs".[38] Kalidas was first released theatrically at the Madras (now Chennai) based theatre Kinema Central (now known as the Murugan Theatre) on 31 October 1931,[19] during the festive occasion of Diwali and coincided with the Civil Disobedience Movement.[38][39]

When the film reels were taken to Madras, thousands of people gathered at the city's central railway station and followed the reel box along Wall Tax Road to Kinema Central, throwing rose petals, breaking open coconuts, and burning incense.[20][40] The posters of the film read, Tamil Telugu pesi paadu padam (English: "Tamil Telugu talking singing film").[20] An earlier attempt at producing a Tamil sound film, a four-reel short (identified by S. Theodore Baskaran as Korathi Dance and Songs), was screened alongside Kalidas as a side attraction.[25] It starred Rajalakshmi, and the gypsy dancer Jhansi Bai.[10] In a 2015 interview with The Times of India, Rajalakshmi's daughter Kamala stated that during the film's release, "people in Madras used to stand outside theatres for a distance of about 4-5km to witness [Rajalakshmi] acting in her first pesum padam. She was welcomed with a roar here. Her name was announced from speakers installed on roads and autorickshaws, as a talkie was something new for the people."[17]

In his 1997 book Starlight, Starbright: The Early Tamil Cinema, Randor Guy described Kalidas as a "crude experiment" that had poor lip sync; when characters opened their mouths there was no sound, and when dialogue or song was heard, artistes remained silent. He said the public did not care about technical niceties and flocked to see the film.[41] The Tamil newspaper Swadesamitran printed a favourable review for Kalidas on 29 October 1931, two days prior to its theatrical release, in which the reviewer appreciated Rajalakshmi's singing.[30] Kalidas was commercially successful, grossing over 75000 (about US$25,252 in 1931) and easily covering its budget of 8000 (about US$2,693 in 1931)[d] according to a 2013 estimate by The Hindu Tamil.[42] Film producer and writer G. Dhananjayan said the film succeeded because it was a "novelty for the audience to witness an audio visual with dialogues and songs of their language".[5]

Legacy[edit]

The arrival of sound in South Indian cinema, with the release of Kalidas, triggered a migration of theatre artists into cinema.[43] Kalidas was the only Tamil film to be produced and released in 1931.[19][44] No print or gramophone record of the film is known to survive, making it a lost film.[15][19] The Indian Express stated in 2014 that the film had "turned to dust" long before the National Film Archive of India was established in 1964.[45] The only remaining artefacts include a few stills, advertisements, and an image of the cover of the songbook.[14][19][7] As of December 2002, Film News Anandan had preserved several photographs related to the film.[46]

Kalidas was a major breakthrough in Rajalakshmi's career,[47] and made her a "bankable singing star".[48] Other films based on the life of Kālidāsa include the Kannada film Mahakavi Kalidasa (1955), which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Kannada,[49] the Hindi film Kavi Kalidas (1959),[50] the Telugu film Mahakavi Kalidasu (1960),[51] the Tamil film Mahakavi Kalidas (1966),[52] and the Kannada film Kaviratna Kalidasa (1983).[53]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Until September 2012, Bhakta Prahladha, the first Telugu sound film was believed to have been released on 15 September 1931, which would make it the first South Indian sound film released. However, film journalist Rentala Jayadeva proved Bhakta Prahlada was actually released on 6 February 1932, making Kalidas the first South Indian sound film to be released.[7][8]
  2. ^ While French film historian Yves Thoraval claims that Kālidāsa lived during the fourth century,[2] Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen states that he lived in the third century.[10] Edwin Gerow, writing for Encyclopædia Britannica, states that Kālidāsa flourished in the fifth century.[11]
  3. ^ According to Sri Lankan historian Sachi Sri Kantha, Kalidas used 10,000 feet (3,000 m) of film,[23] while Film News Anandan says it used 6,000 feet (1,800 m).[24]
  4. ^ The exchange rate in 1931 was 2.97 Indian rupees () per 1 US dollar (US$).[54]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rajan 1997, p. 2.
  2. ^ a b Thoraval 2000, p. 36.
  3. ^ a b Raman, Mohan V. (22 June 2011). "The Rani of Cinema". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Baskaran 1996, pp. 88–89.
  5. ^ a b c "Tamil Talkies completes 80 years today !". Sify. 31 October 2011. Archived from the original on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Rangarajan, Malathi (10 May 2012). "Tryst with the past". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Narasimham, M. L. (9 September 2012). "Wake up, industry". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 18 January 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "'Bhaktha Prahladha': First Telugu talkie completes 81 years". CNN-IBN. 7 February 2014. Archived from the original on 18 January 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Velayutham 2008, p. 3.
  10. ^ a b c Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1999, p. 254.
  11. ^ Gerow, Edwin. "Kalidasa". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 11 July 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1999, p. 253.
  13. ^ Pillai 2015, p. 103.
  14. ^ a b "Talking about talkies". Deccan Chronicle. 19 July 2013. Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  15. ^ Guy, Randor (27 March 2009). "Blast from the Past – Miss Kamala 1938". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Balachandran, Logesh (13 August 2015). "Tamil cinema's first heroine – TP Rajalakshmi". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 15 August 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Baskaran 1996, p. 88.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i Guy, Randor (November 2006). "The first talking Tamil picture" (PDF). Madras Musings. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c d Vincent, Pheroze L. (25 November 2009). "Romancing the reel". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Sastry 1993, p. 15.
  21. ^ "The story so far...". The Sunday Indian. 8 July 2012. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  22. ^ Kantha, Sachi Sri. "Book Review: A Valuable Source Book about Tamil Movie History". Ilankai Tamil Sangam. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Narasimham, M. L. (8 September 2006). "A leader and a visionary". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c Baskaran 1996, p. 89.
  25. ^ a b Meyer 2009, p. 97.
  26. ^ Guy, Randor (October 2012). "Tamil Cinema 75 - A Look Back" (PDF). Anna Nagar Times. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 January 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  27. ^ a b Dechamma C. C. & Prakash 2010, p. 13, introduction.
  28. ^ Baskaran 1996, p. 42.
  29. ^ a b "தமிழ் சினிமாவின் முதல் சாதனைப் பெண் : வறுமை துரத்திய ஒரு சாதகப் பறவை!". Keetru (in Tamil). Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  30. ^ Velayutham 2008, p. 158; Meyer 2009, p. 105.
  31. ^ Lakshmi, K. (12 September 2004). "Cinema and politics". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 15 September 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  32. ^ Baskaran, S. Theodore (6 January 2002). "Music for the people". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  33. ^ Baskaran 1996, p. 75; Gokulsing & Dissanayake 2013, p. 129.
  34. ^ Kolappan, B. (20 September 2013). "South India's first heroine stormed male bastion". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  35. ^ Meyer 2009, p. 105.
  36. ^ Guy 1997, p. 58.
  37. ^ a b Poorvaja, S. (1 November 2016). "A reel revolution from 85 years ago". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  38. ^ Gokulsing & Dissanayake 2013, p. 129.
  39. ^ Krishnamachari, Suganthy (25 April 2008). "Celebrations ... in and on AIR". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  40. ^ Guy 1997, p. 54.
  41. ^ "இன்று தமிழின் முதல் பேசும் சினிமா வெளியான நாள்" [Today is the day the first Tamil sound film was released]. The Hindu (in Tamil). 31 October 2013. Archived from the original on 1 November 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016. 
  42. ^ Velayutham 2008, pp. 113-114.
  43. ^ Rangan, Baradwaj (17 March 2011). "Romancing the screen". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 3 December 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  44. ^ "In reel time". The Indian Express. 5 September 2014. Archived from the original on 5 September 2014. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  45. ^ Rangarajan, Malathi (12 December 2002). "A pioneer speaks ...". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  46. ^ Balachandran, Logesh (18 October 2014). "First Rani of South Indian Cinema". Deccan Chronicle. Archived from the original on 20 October 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  47. ^ Patel, Bhaichand (5 April 2015). "Southern sirens". The Asian Age. Archived from the original on 29 June 2015. Retrieved 29 June 2015. 
  48. ^ "State Awards for films" (PDF). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. 28 April 1957. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  49. ^ Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1999, p. 202.
  50. ^ "8th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. pp. 32–33. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  51. ^ Ganesan & Narayana Swamy 2007, p. 241.
  52. ^ Sampath, Parinatha (22 June 2013). "Roopa's inspired by Kaviratna Kalidasa". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  53. ^ Officer, Lawrence H. (2015). "Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies". MeasuringWorth. Archived from the original on 5 August 2015. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 

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