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P.J. CHERIAN’S CONTRIBUTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY

In 1927 Cherian started Royal Studio in Broadway Ernakulam, a photo studio where where oil portraits were also done. On his return from Madras due to his father’s death, he started his own studio with the expertise he gained from his experiences in Madras, along with Doraiswamy Pillai who was the Kochi Durbar photographer. As assistants he appointed T.C.Cherian in the accounts section and Chammini Joseph to do retouching and finishing of photographs and paintings. They continued to be a part of the studio for more than 50 years.

In 1931, Cherian made a remarkable contribution to photography which Kodak company acknowledged. Till 1931, the Kodak camera used the plate size 15 x 12 inches for photographs. The drawback of this camera was that when a lengthy group photograph was taken, the upper portion would remain blank. The plates and mounts were made to suit this type of camera. Finding this as a disadvantage Cherian got into correspondence with Kodak Camera Company. On his suggestion the company made 15 x 6 size cameras, the same size plates, and suitable 15 x 6 and 12 x 5 mounts. In recognition for his contribution to manufacturing film plates of 15x6 and 12x5, Kodak named them after Cherian’s Royal studio as ‘Royal Size’. During this time he was the personal photographer for Kochi Maharaja Rama Varma and Diwan R.K. Shanmugham Chetty. He established another branch of Royal Studio at Thiruvanthapuram and handed it over to his brother, Urmese.

Cherian was presented a second ‘Veerasrinkala’- for Photography in 1932 from Dharmika Chakravarthi

In 1936 he took up a job along with his studio work and theatre ventures at the Harbour Administrative Office, where Sir R.C. Bristow entrusted him with a unique painting task. At that time Wellington Island was reclaimed land and was lying barren. Apart from his office and bungalow, there were no other buildings. He wanted Cherian to paint an aerial perspective view of Wellington Island with the proposed buildings and establishments. Cherian’s excellent visualization and draughtsmanship was appreciated and he was honoured by Sir Bristow.

It was in this time in1937 that a catastrophe struck Cherian. The Royal Studio in Doraiswamy Aiyar Building in Broadway Kochi, was gutted in and burnt to ashes. But Cherian consoled himself and his family with the biblical words “God gives ; God takes back; everything that has happened is God’s will. May His name be praised.” He took on rent a small house situated in a lane going eastwards opposite Cochin Bank in Broadway temporarily, got new equipments from the companies, installed them and set up the studio within two to four weeks. In this temporary studio all kinds of photographic work were done. Even though there were limited facilities, he was able to satisfy all his customers. Such was the steely integrity of Cherian that he converted this disaster into an opportunity. By 1938 he rebuilt Royal Studio as the first electric studio in Shanmugham road, Ernakulam, on 5 cents of land allotted by Government and a loan of Rs.10,000 and the teak wood donated by the Maharaja. There were several innovative arrangements in the new studio. It was the first electric studio to be set up in Ernakulam which did not have to depend on sunlight.

In 1939 he also established another studio ‘Kerala Cinetone’ in Thrissur. Royal Studio shifted to Kottayam for 1 year temporarily, due to the threat of war in 1942. There too, it continued functioning under the same name. Only after the fear of war had subsided did Royal Studio return to Ernakulam. During that time, due to the lack of availability of photographic materials, the work of the studio slowed down. The studio became a totally unprofitable establishment.

The financial failure of the Tamil cinema that he produced in 1954 and the debts caused by this would normally depress any person but not Cherian. While walking through Pondy Bazaar in Madras he happened to see a ‘To Let’ board hanging on a building. Thinking it would be a suitable place for a photo studio, he decided to take it on rent at once and along with his five younger sons, established a studio named ‘Cherian Brothers’. His sons were given training by experts and they single mindedly engaged in the activities of the studio under Cherian’s supervision and all the necessary equipment was arranged for a modern studio. ‘Cherian Brothers’ was inaugurated on October 11, 1954. of Under my, they studied, experimented and translated into practice what they had studied. In 1958 Cherian Brothers shifted into an air-conditioned studio. Both Royal Studio in Kerala and Cherian Brothers in Madras continued to be renouned studios run by his sons.

He was rooted in certain ideals and principles, which he communicated to his family and his community through his actions and artistic experiments.

 

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