Keechaka Vadham

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Keechaka Vadham
Directed by R. Nataraja Mudaliar
Produced by R. Nataraja Mudaliar
Written by C. Rangavadivelu
  • Jeevarathnam
  • R. Nataraja Mudaliar
  • Raja Mudaliar
Release dates
January 1918
Country India
Language Silent film
Budget 35000[1]
Box office 50000[2]

Keechaka Vadham (English: The Slaying of Keechaka), alternatively spelt as Keechaka Vatham,[3][4] was a 1918 Tamil silent film produced and directed by R. Nataraja Mudaliar. The film was based on a short story from Mahabharata, an Indian epic. It was the first silent film made in South India.[1][5] The film was shot in five weeks in 1917 and released the following year. Despite being a silent film, the cast was filled with Tamil people, hence it was considered the first Tamil film.[2] The film was critically acclaimed and successful upon release,[6] however no print of it is known to exist presently, so it is considered a lost film.[5]


The film opens with a Malla Yudha (wrestling) scene. A great wrestler comes to the city and nobody could take his challenge and the whole country of Virata gets ashamed. At that time Bhima the cook comes and challenges him resulting in a royal wrestling match, one of the finest on stage, and Bhima defeats the Malla. Once Panchali was plucking flowers for making garlands. Keechaka, the queen's brother, sees her and addresses her with a request to be his love. She refuses. Then Keechaka approaches the queen and requests a favour. He says he wants the company of Panchali, the dasi. The queen is annoyed but considering the strength and status of Keechaka she tells him that she will send her to Keechaka's room.

The queen asks Panchali to take food and wine to Keechaka's room. Panchali is aghast. She tells many reasons why she cannot go. But the queen strictly orders her to go. She takes the vessels containing food and wine and proceeds to Keechaka's room. When Keechaka sees Panchali he is delighted. He offers to press her tired legs. He asks her to sit on his well-made bed. Panchali starts running away but Keechaka chases her, often beating her, but swift footed Panchali escapes.

Panchali reports to Bhima, the cook, about the incidents. Since they are living incognito Bhima devises a plan. He tells Panchali to tell Keechaka that she will meet him at the dance house in the night when nobody will be there. She does that. Bhima lies down in the dance house and covers himself with a bedsheet. Keechaka comes searching for Panchali and addresses the sleeping Bhima thinking Panchali is inside. When he tries to lift the bed sheet Bhima takes hold of his throat and suffocates him to death.



Nataraja Mudaliar, the director of the film

Mooppanar, a wealthy landowner based in Thanjavur District, had owned a Williamson 35mm camera and a printer purchased in England. R. Nataraja Mudaliar, a then-automobile dealer in Madras,[7] had taken the entire equipment from him at a price of less than 2000, thereby making his debut in the film industry.[1]

He sought the advice of his friend, Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar, one of the founding fathers of the Renaissance of Tamil Theatre, who suggested that he should picturise the story of the Mahabharatha characters Draupadhi and Keechaka. However, some relatives objected to it for they felt that for the first venture it was not the proper story. But Mudaliar decided to go ahead and launched his maiden film Keechaka Vadham,[1] which was based on an episode from the Mahabharatha.[7]

Mudaliar was not a writer, so he had to take assistance from his close friend C. Rangavadivelu, a lawyer by profession. Besides writing the screenplay, Rangavadivelu agreed to coach artistes on sets. Mudaliar engaged a stage actor, Raju Mudaliar, to play the role of Keechaka, and a stage actress, Jeevaratnam played the role of Draupadhi. The production for the film cost 35000 (US$560), which was then considered high, revealing Mudaliar's inexperience in filmmaking.[1] Filming began in 1917, and was shot in a span of five weeks.[2] The entire film was shot at The India Film Company, Mudaliar's own studio. The film's intertitles were written in English, Tamil and Hindi. The Tamil intertitles were written by Pammal Sambandam Mudaliar, a founder of the Renaissance of Tamil Theatre, while the Hindi intertitles were written by Mahatma Gandhi's son Devdas Gandhi.[8]


Keechaka Vadham was released on January 1918 at the Elphinstone Theatre. Film historian Randor Guy has stated that the film netted 50000 after being screened all over India and in Burma, Ceylon and the Federated Malay States and Singapore. According to him, 15000 was a "tidy profit in those days."[2] With the film's critical and commercial success, R. Nataraja Mudaliar had "created history".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Randor Guy (9 May 2002). "Remembering a pioneer". The Hindu. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d S. Muthiah (7 September 2009). "Metro Plus Chennai / Madras Miscellany : The pioneer‘Tamil’ film-maker". The Hindu. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Arunn Narasimhan (20 October 2011). Of Srirangam and Steam Engine Locomotives (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  4. ^ M Suganth (2 March 2012). "Black and white films in Kollywood". The Times of India. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Gone Forever". The Times of India. 1 May 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Randor Guy (10 July 2000). "The stamp of honour". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  7. ^ a b S. Theodore Baskaran (1996). The Eye of the Serpent: An Introduction to Tamil Cinema. East West Books, Chennai. p. 4. 
  8. ^ Randor Guy (5 October 2013). "The forgotten heroes". The Hindu. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 

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