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P.J. CHERIAN’S CONTRIBUTION TO CINEMA

He ventured into a Film production Company in 1945 under the name ‘Kerala Talkies Limited’. Many members of the Kochi Royal family, the Naithyarammas, the Metropolitan Bishop of Ernakulam and others among the elite took shares in this company. Within two to three months more than one lakh rupees could be collected from the sale of shares. At that time only three films “Balan”, “Prahlada”, “Jnanambika” were produced in Malayalam. Among these, the last one, “Jnanambika”, had been released (in 1935), ten years earlier. Lack of studio facilities in Kerala, Tamil domination and dearth of Malayali technicians and actors, gave the notion that the movies would flop financially, especially if vulgar romantic scenes were not included. Cherian ecided to produce a heroine oriented family drama for which a touching story, written by M. S. Jacob was selected. They decided to have Sri. P.V.Krishna Iyer, from Palghat as Director and the songs were composed by P. S. Divakar, a renowned saxophone player, and E. I. Warrier, from Thrissur as the music director. Mahakavi G.Sankara Kurup also agreed to write the lyricsfor this film. Sri. Puthezhathu Raman Menon took up the burden of preparing the dialogue. Cherian’s eldest son Joseph Cherian, was the hero and his wife Baby, heroine. While Cherian’s daughter Achamma Joseph, A.P. Thayil, S.J.Dev, and Chertala Vasudeva Kurup, N.Bhaskaran Nair, Mathappan, Kamalmma, Kuttyamma etc were chosen as other actors. J. G. Vijayam G. Ranganathan were the cinematographers and editing was by Balu. Switch-on of ‘Nirmala’ was in 1946. Recording was done in Modern Theatres, Salem. Since many pictures were shooting simultaneously they had to wait weeks and months for their turn. Cherian sold many of his property and pawned Royal studio for Rs. 20,000 in order to complete ‘Nirmala’. The distribution rights were given to the well known film industrialist in Kerala, Sri. K.V. Koshy but the advance of Rs. 60,0000 which was received had to be spent for the completion of the film. Just two months before the film’s release, on November 23rd, 1947, his wife Unnichar, who was suffering from diabetes passed away. On the 25th of February 1948, “Nirmala” was released.

Some praised the film and some criticized, but all agreed on one matter: “Nirmala” was a movie which could be enjoyed by the whole family. The cause for financial disappointment in his film venture was due to the heavy expenditure he incurred in paying actors and technicians during its production which took years due to the lack of facilities in Salem studios and to their bias towards Tamil movies. Mrs Baby Joseph, his daughter in law and the heroine in his film recalls, “the Salem film production period escalated the costs as we hired houses for women and men separately and stayed together as a family with cooks and housekeepers to take care of them for months on end”. Though the movie was not a financial failure, the expenses of running the company and shooting for two and a half years and the interests paid on the sums of money taken as loan drained Cherian financially. But he refused to transfer this burden to the share holders of Kerala Talkies and decided to give profits of the movie to the shareholders of the company, thereby harming himself financially.

He thought that with his experience in film production he could attempt another film a Tamil Movie ‘Kanavu,’ from the play ‘Idiyum Minnalum’ by N.P.Chellappan. Some producers of Madras and some members of Kerala Talkies joined him in this venture. But “Kanavu”, which was released in 1954 was an utter failure and placed a big financial debt on Cherian. The fact that he was the first Keralite to produce a cinema and that he dared to cast his own son and daughter in law as the hero and heroine made him a legend. He was also the first to introduce playback singing in the movies.

At this time he was offered a old priest’s Role in “ Snehaseema” a Malayalam movie in 1954 along with Sathyan and Padmini and made by Associated Producers in Madras. At that time, Cherian along with his sons shifted to Madras and lived in a small house near the building where the studio functioned. The financial troubles inspired and encouraged his sons to be economical and to work hard to establish a photo studio. Five sons of Cherian, his second son Cherian and younger Paul, Alex, Verghese and Johny settled in Madras.

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