A TRAGIC FIRST MOVIE

Athira Gopal k
5 min readApr 1, 2022

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The first movie I watched, I have no recollection of. Amma said I slept through the whole movie but considering my 7-month experience on earth, I’m glad I was good enough not to cry and make it difficult for the rest of them. India has long been attracted to Malayalam cinema. It has made a significant contribution to Indian film. Malayalam cinema’s major achievements include the first 3D film, the first cinemascope film, and the first 70mm picture.

An old movie poster; Image poster: Pinterest

Malayalam cinema’s golden era began in the 1980s. This success was due to detailed screenplays and excellent directors. On my journey to find stories, I got everything but snippets of cinema. I heard narratives from two people, one from the cultural capital and the other one all the way from the capital of Kerala. The whole point was to get different content so I could write an interesting story. To my surprise, both stories were identical except for the accents of the people I heard it from.

The biggest choice I have to make is what platform to watch movies on right now. Family movies were once or twice a year ritual then. More often than not, associated as a treat during festivals such as Onam and Vishu. Achachan is no more but amma clearly remembers Ammamma shouting at him to get rid of the bed bug he brought home from the cinemas. It was a big shed made of braided coconut leaves with seating of three different categories.

First-class or the all in one sand floor, second class or the small benches and last but not the least balcony or the wooden chairs on the same level as the previous classes infested with bedbugs. The theatre was divided into 2 halves for men and women with a path in the middle for walking. I vaguely remember watching “perumazhakalam” in one of these cinema theatres, Star Talkies, Kanjany. Amma said they shut down soon after, Lucky me. Achachan(grandfather) took the family for a matinee (A matinee movie is one that is played in the early afternoon and sometimes even in the morning), music starts playing at 2 and the matinee starts at 3. That was the cue for them to get ready. Getting there before, standing in line for tickets, watching the previous audience reaction, asking them about the stunts were all part of the pre-movie ritual. Once inside they were separated into two groups, The tough choice kids have to make, choosing a parent to go sit with. Playing with the tiny pebbles in the sand to make patterns before the movie starts. You were guaranteed neck pain from looking up the screen regardless of where you sat.

Breaks were for the men to go smoke outside. Police monitor during the breaks for anyone who posed a threat to the cinema shed by ignorantly smoking inside. Amma was a nuisance back then too. She always wanted to use the bathroom and her sister had to take her to the bathrooms outside, missing all the beautiful ads that played during the interval. I can’t stand the thought of sitting through ads and this piece of information baffled me. The protagonists for the kids weren’t the hero in the movie, it was the nice man who had roasted peanuts covered in paper, ginger candy and best of all songbooks that sold for 25paise. The second lead for them was when their achan(father) walks through the centre space looking for them in the pile of scattered people on the sand to give them roasted peanuts.

Amma always slept through the movie and her sister had to carry her home. Typical younger sibling behaviour. After that exhausting walk back home their amma(mother) would only let them enter after taking a bath. Bed bugs were lethal at sucking blood. Vellimma(aunt) remembers watching Swami Ayyappan when she was in 7 standard. That’s the most useful information regarding cinema I could squeeze out of everyone. Turns out movies were amazing, stunts, songs, heroes were all pretty good but nothing retained as strong as the memories associated with cinema. Now years later while discussing the assignment with my family, my brother was curious to know what movie he watched first, amma didn’t know. By 2004 it was different, the experience changed. Or maybe amma is just a bad mother who can’t remember her sons’ first movie as my brother put it.

By that time Mammootty and Mohanlal became household names. Both of them were nominated for five national awards in the category of best actor. “My dear Kuttichathan,” created by Navodaya Appachan, was the first 3D film in the Indian film business. I got a pretty funny story regarding that one too. So achachan took ammamma(grandmother) for that one. They got these black specs to put on. Ammamma who had no clue what to expect was terrified each time “something came out of the screen”. She vowed to never trust Achachan to trick her into these sorts of pranks as she sat on the edge of the chair gripping it with all her life to save her from the flames kuttichathan was blowing at her.

My dear Kuttichattan; Image source: screenanarchy

Although Malayalam cinema had a tragic start with Vigathakumaran, a silent film released in 1928. J.C. Daniel, the man behind Vigathakumaran, produced, directed, wrote, photographed, edited, and starred in the film as the protagonist. In 1926, J.C. Daniel launched the Travancore National Pictures, Kerala’s first film company. P. K. Rosy performed the female role in the film and is regarded as Malayalam cinema’s first heroine. On November 7th, 1928, Vigathakumaran was displayed at the Capitol Theatre in Trivandrum. However, the film was a disaster due to objections from certain conservative organisations in Kerala. The reason for their opposition is said to be the presence of women in the film, which was considered an act at par with prostitution, at that time in Kerala. Daniel suffered huge financial losses and his film career came to an end.

While all this happened I found out that amma doesn’t know which movie she took me to first. So as a result of guilt trips from both her kids she is currently going through the names of movies from 2000 to figure out to which she took her 7-month-old daughter. Our experience with cinema continues….

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Athira Gopal k

NIFT Communication student | Eagerly writing about Fashion ,design ,communication that interests me and could help you too one day.