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Chevalier Artist P.J.Cherian is an iconic figure of Kerala who left his indelible mark on the scene of fine arts in Kerala through his life and art. His unique vision was the fountain head of his creativity. For him art had a divine purpose and he was just an instrument. Certain principles framed the life and contribution of Mr. Cherian. The purpose of his artistic life was to practice and propagate positive messages and values through art for the benefit of the community and for enabling social transformation through the various mediums of art. Through his art and activities, he communicated the message that art has a moral and social function which is to elevate and not to degrade man. A visionary, much ahead of his times and circumstances, he contributed many new innovations in various fields of art like Cinema, Theatre, Art, Photography, Children’s Theatre and Art Education and showed courage to experiment successfully, thereby charting new paths for his followers.

P.J. Cherian was born in November 1891. He was born to a branch of the Puthenangadi Tharavadu called Vadakkumthala Thekkeveedu in Njarakkal village in Kochi taluk of Kerala. He was the sixth of the ten children born to Ouseph of this family. Though his initial schooling was at Njarakkal, when he was 13 years old, in 1904, he was admitted to St. Thomas High school, Thrissur. He studied there for just a year staying in the boarding, but even at that early age his drawing talents attracted both students and teachers of that school. Next year he returned to Njarakkal and studied for two years there. During studies, he used to spend his spare time doing drawings. He joined Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, in 1907 for further education in the Fourth Form which was available only in Ernakulam at that time. In 1912 at the age of 21 he married Unnichar of Elanjikkal family in Kuthiathodu . His marriage and subsequent partition of the family property where each person got debts amounting to over Rs. 10,000 and property worth around Rs. 20,000, put him in a difficult situation made him realize that the only way to face the financial difficulties was enthusiasm, exactitude and persistent hard work with the determination to achieve victory. He decided to make the field of art in which he had talent and potential as his profession, leaving the traditional agricultural occupation.

Quote from Chevalier Artist P.J.Cherian’s words… “My journey into the world of art, abandoning the traditional agricultural occupation was an adventurous one in those times. The circumstances were not encouraging or holding the promise of a glorious future. On the other hand, I had to face many obstacles. Yet I don’t consider my life to have been a failure. Besides I also enjoy a feeling of content and peace today. I believe that this is the result of holding fast to my moral principles, not surrendering to disappointment and maintaining my trust in God, even when encountering dangers and difficulties which darkened my life. “Hard work, hard work, work hard, You will become great and successful (continuous hard work will lead to success) was my motto in life. And God blessed my endeavours.”

He wrote down the important events of his life in an autobiography titled “Ente Kala Jeevitham” which was published by NBS, hoping it will be an inspiration to society, art fraternity, his children and grand children and to give them courage and fortitude to face adverse circumstances and to gain insight from his experiences. Art was not just a money making career proposal for him. It became a dedication for a cause that was dear to him, which is upliftment of art, artists and the community. Whether painting, drama or cinema, he chose themes that had a moral message reflecting his philosophy. In his drama and cinema he refused to add vulgar dialogues and cheap jokes that was not suitable for a family audience, even though people recommended such things to enhance box office collection.

A PIONEER

Shri Artist P. J Cherian made an entry into the world of art as a portrait painter and later on has ventured into various fields like photography, drama acting, theatre production, film production, cine acting, art education, and even as architect and visualizer of Kochi. His major contribution to Kochi is that he visualized and drew the topographical view of Wellington Island before its construction, envisaged the changed view of Kochi before and after Five Year Plan through his paintings. He contributed many new innovations in various fields of art. He pioneered the concept of permanent theatre in Kerala with artistes being paid monthly salaries. He was the first Malayalee to produce a cinema, first to introduce playback singing, founder principal of the earliest school of art in Kerala. He also introduced many artistes and actors who became well known in their respective fields later. He was also a revolutionary who was bold enough to break the shackles of patriarchal frame work and encouraged women and children to enter the fields of art, theatre and cinema. He encouraged women and children of his family to act in theatre and cinema and even started a children’s theatre. He was able to convince Kodak company to introduce a new size of paper which is named as Royal size in recognition to his contribution. Through all these he achieved his dream of giving back something to the society without looking for personal profit.

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