Romancing history and historicizing romance


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‘The film is a medium born to become a depot of history.’1

‘The screen has come to be known as the subtlest and the most powerful medium of propaganda and especially in the case of Travancore, nothing is going to succeed in making her greatness known.2


THIS paper tries to explore the fascination with history that is demonstrated in these two commentaries upon a film’s capacity to record and store the historically important and conventionally eulogized aspects of history in the princely state of Thiruvithamkoor (Travancore) in the early decades of the 20th century. By 1940s when the studio system was established and thriving in the metropolitan centres of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, cinema in Thiruvithamkoor was as much driven by a desire to capture and represent history as it was impelled by the challenge to store and archive this endless vista of evidence for future generations. Nestled within debates of political self-assertion, antiquity and ‘modern-ness’ of Thiruvithamkoor and formulation of Aikya Keralam, the project of imagining a cinema for Thiruvithamkoor occurred in the context of a rich film culture, knowledge about other cinemas, and vexed attempts at film production in the state. The quest to represent the terrain of historical experience, record details and events provided one of the central contexts in which early cinema evolved in Thiruvithamkoor. In this essay I wish to analyze the relationship between cinema and history across key developments in the history of early cinema in the state; from the first published film script Marthandavarma and ‘shorts’ or publicity films. I wish to argue that in diverse film forms like the biopic and documentary, ‘history’ emerges as the central impulse of an imagination about cinema.

Debates around the film and script Marthandavarma and publicity films in Thiruvithamkoor speak to a culture of thinking about the central impulses of film medium that existed prior to the full penetration of mass culture, on the cusp of the studio based film production and at the threshold of Malayalam cinema’s subordination to the conventions of ‘realism’ in the 1940s. This idea about cinema’s affinity to represent and document history contained a kernel of utopian possibility.


In the 1940s the princely state of Thiruvithamkoor was marked by the presence of a large number of touring film companies, the establishment of new permanent cinema halls across most small towns and a profusion of discourses around cinema in the public sphere. A new exhibition system had been mobilized through the state machinery, primarily during the war years, for the exhibition of propaganda films. Though there were only a few films made in Malayalam during the 1940s, with film journals and film reporting becoming a part of mainstream journalism, cinema emerged as an important theme of public discussion. The second half of the 1940s witnessed the emergence of two prominent studios – Maryland in Thiruvananthapuram and Udaya in Alappuzha. The studios came up as a result of efforts on the part of entrepreneurs to de-link Malayalam cinema from the Madras studios and find a permanent home for cinema in what would be called ‘Keralam’ in the future. Though cinema had become an integral part of public entertainment in the preceding three decades, it was only in the second half of the decade that the Malayalam film industry began to take shape in the Madras studios and in Thiruvithamkoor and Kochi. Analyzing the film culture in Thiruvithamkoor in the 1940s thus offers an opportune moment to reckon with some vexed questions relating to the political and cultural life of the incipient ‘regional’ cinemas in India.


During the 1940s the political map of Thiruvithamkoor was being redrawn and thus questions about history and identity of Thiruvithamkoor took on greater urgency. The long history advocating formal cooperation between the princely states of Kochi and Thiruvithamkoor and British Malabar was soon taken over by an argument for an Aikya Keralam, ‘United Keralam’, a definite political unit comprising of all the three states. Aikya Keralam, the political entity was based on a common language and by extension a common culture. Various evocations of the Aikya Keralam were made from divergent groups, with distinct but not necessarily antithetical interests. However, the formulation of an Aikya Keralam based on linguistic unity was fraught with difficulties engendered in part by the presence of other language communities in various areas. This non-availability of a linguistic unity was strengthened by attempts to steer the discussion away from and stress the importance of geographical, social and cultural contiguities. Thus, the intense public sphere debates around the idea of Aikya Keralam in the process also demanded the redefinition of the boundaries of Thiruvithamkoor.3

Rather than attempt an exhaustive account of that dynamic period, this essay focuses on certain specific engagements with history and cinema by looking at discussions on cinema in film journals and the writing of the first film script in the Malayalam language. The film journalism of the period concerned itself with an admixture of film aesthetics as well as practical work on film production, technologies, distribution and exhibition. Equally important in these debates is an early glimpse of thought around cinema as a language and its function as a tool in the writing of history.

Reading these debates and the first Malayalam film script on the historical figure of the King Marthandavarma, provides us with a sense of film as a means of grasping the inexorable power of history. Although these questions pose significant and theoretical issues for historiography, this essay focuses on the complex ties between cinema and history.


In Thiruvithamkoor, the relationship between cinema and history is only in part a question of representing history through cinema. More significant are the ways in which cinema as a new form of knowledge plays a productive role in thinking about historical imagination.

Though the first film in Malayalam was produced as late as 1928 in Thiruvithamkoor, the Malayalam speaking regions of Thiruvithamkoor – Kochi and Malabar – already had a thriving film culture since 1906. By all accounts these regions witnessed prolific screenings of Tamil, Marathi, Hindi, Telugu and world cinema by touring film companies. Some of the film companies which toured South India were also owned by Malayali entrepreneurs mainly from the princely state of Kochi.4 Cinema was ordered into the new visual regime by the 1940s at the end of a long phase of tenuous negotiations around exhibition spaces, attempts at social regulation, efforts to locate cinema as a legal object and developing a schema for knowing cinema in comparison to other entertainment forms.

Archival records all through the early decades of the 20th century report continuing negotiations around the political and cultural valence of cinema. Thus the rich debates around the first Cinematograph Bill enacted by the Sri Mulam Prajasabha in 1926, bear witness to social anxieties around caste pollution and the ‘moral nature’ of cinema and exhibition spaces.5


Exhibition sites also figure as terrifying miasmatic spaces of disease and contagion during epidemics like the 1928 plague and bouts of cholera. While the first film Vigatakumaran (The Lost Child, J.C. Daniel, 1930) met with unprecedented violence against the film and the Dalit Christian actress Rosy, thus for the first time posing concerns about unruly audiences and the libidinal surplus of cinema, the second film Marthandavarma (Sundaram, 1931) was caught up in the first ever copyright case. The screening of the film based on C.V. Raman Pillai’s famous historical romance was banned and the copies seized following a lawsuit with the Kamalalaya book depot.The copyright case was of some moment because, from a licensing act focusing on conditions of exhibition, it sought to broaden film as an object in which property rights could subsist. While the first cinematograph regulation had its focus solely on the physical aspects of film and its conditions of exhibition, the copyright issue veered the understanding of cinema as a signifying practice. Balan (S.R. Nottani) the first talkie in Malayalam was produced in 1938 and met with commercial success. All of these ventures were attempts by film enthusiasts or businessmen. It is only by the 1940s that concerted efforts at film making take shape in Thiruvithamkoor and the first film script, Marthandavarma, was a product of such an effort.


In 1940, Century Cinetone Classics, a newly formed film company in Thiruvananthapuram, developed an interest in making another film based on the life story of the historical figure Maharajah Marthanda Varma. Unlike the earlier film, the new one was not to be based on C.V. Raman Pillai’s well known historical romance Marthandavarma for two reasons – the producers wanted to steer clear of any legal difficulties involving copyright as also the need of an ‘authentic’ life story which was closer to historical ‘facts’ and shorn off any ‘fictitious’ aspects.

The producers also wanted to try out new production methods, unlike earlier productions which were shot with no written scripts and followed practices borrowed from theatre, such as rehearsing before shooting. The ‘facts’ needed to be unearthed through historical research and the script had to be supervised and validated by eminent scholars. An advisory committee constituted with prominent personalities such as Malayalam and Sanskirt poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, Sanskrit scholars L.A. Ravi Varma, Prof. Sreenivasan and Lieut. Padmanabhan Tampy. J.H. Cousins, Art Advisors to the Thiruvithamkoor government, was commissioned to advise the company in writing and selecting outdoor locations. N.P. Chellappan Nair, renowned playwright, was appointed to write the script.

Burdened with the double task of producing ‘authentic’ history and writing a film script (for which he had little or no training) markedly different from C.V. Raman Pillai’s influential novel, Nair wrote the script aided by intensive historical research for almost a year in the palace archives and extensive fieldwork on folklore and mythology in southern Thiruvithamkoor. Yet, though the script might differ considerably from C.V. Raman Pillai’s work, it was clearly influenced by the genre of historical romance as expounded by Pillai.


I would like to return to the genre of the historical romance as explicated by Raman Pillai and the film script to probe the complexities involved in film script writing at that time. The historical romance as reinvented by C.V. Raman Pillai in his three novels Marthandavarma, Dharmaraja and Ramaraja Bahadoor in the late 19th century had initiated a different mode of writing history, culture and progress. This body of work could not be merely called a literary genre or a genre of history; it contains and exceeds the generic laws of both. A resurgence of this genre in the latter half of the 19th century coincides with the historical crisis of representation encountered in Thiruvithamkoor – a crisis in terms of the presentation of ‘self’ or ‘self rule’. The immediate manifestation of this political self-reflection was found in the agitation against the dominance of the Marathi or Tamil Brahmins who had been brought in by the British administration. The videshi Brahmin in their view embodied the colonial regime which had ruined Thiruvithamkoor economically and politically. Of concern was not the foreign origin but the foreignness of the rule – a colonial modern mode of governance, bureaucratic or administrative apparatus, power/knowledge network, and distance from the indigenous mode of governance and the cultural ethos of people. It was a protest against the collapse of the Rajya rule and ideas which sustained it.6


The agitation found profound articulation in the representation ‘Malayalee memorial’ which argued for reservation in civil service for the natives, which included mainly the upper caste educated youth. Recent historical work on Thiruvithamkoor treats the movement and practices as not merely the context or background, but as a corpus of forces or praxis which had possibly engendered the historical romance as a literary genre as well as a historico-political movement.7 Closely related to this movement of political self-assertion that emerged in late 19th century Thiruvithamkoor, it was a mode of seeing and writing, a political sensitivity to radically alter the world and history.


The significant generic trait of the historical romance, in C.V.s work, was to provide an intensive reciprocation between history and the desire of the new ‘enlightened’, mostly upper caste youth, for political self-reflection. Inherited from the European traditions of historical romance, C.V. widened the genre by assimilating the veeragadha traditions of Thiruvithamkoor.8 The biography of Marthanda Varma, hailed as the ‘maker of modern Thiruvithamkoor’ held special valence in this project of political self-reflection to imagine a new polity, mode of governance and provide a critique of the new regime by invoking its modern ‘origins’. The biography of Marthanda Varma has been entrenched in popular memory through folklore, plays and school textbooks.

Marthanda Varma was crowned as the King of Venad in 1729 following the death of his uncle and King Rajah Rama Varma, following the matrilineal law of inheritance. From a powerless throne constantly under threat from the refractory nobles and Brahmin chiefs of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Marthanda Varma consolidated Venad into the most powerful kingdom on the southwestern coast during his rule which came to be known as Thiruvithamkoor. He also had to defeat his cousins, the sons of the deceased Maharajah who allied with the detracting nobles to capture power. The internally discordant nobles and cousins were murdered and the Brahmin chiefs banished from the kingdom, and the smaller principalities were annexed or captured. The army was modernized and reforms were introduced in the revenue system, budgets, public works, among others. It was during his years that the invading Dutch army was effectively countered.


The turbulent years of this consolidation of power provide rich material for incredible stories of war, espionage, loyalty, duty, love and passion. C.V. Raman Pillai’s novel, Marthanda Varma has enjoyed the status of a school textbook from 1920s onwards in Thiruvithamkoor and Kochi, almost acquiring the status of a credible history text. C.V. found the genre of historical romance as a way to express the hierarchical relationship between the contemporary colonial order of knowledge and the speculative genres of knowledge of the past and the disjunction between the present and past modes of governance.

In his series of historical romances, C.V. drew on heterogeneous modes of storytelling and folklore as also the rich performative traditions in the region. He often created fictional characters and wove rich tapestries of romance, passion, loyalty and death. His historical novels were widely read, adapted as plays and became a part of the school curriculum from 1920 onwards, blurring the boundaries of history and fiction.9 It is no surprise that at the moment of imagining a cinema for Thiruvithamkoor, the cinematic imagination drew on the most ‘credible’ source of history in Thiruvithamkoor – the historical romance.


Pieces of sight, pieces of sound – on the edge of a new visual language: A new geography of film culture in Thiruvithamkoor emerges through a close reading of the film script. The film script Marthandavarma is distinct from C.V.s novel. It includes both linguistic elements such as dialogues and texts, and cinematic elements such as editing, sound and lighting. It stems from the fertile ground of a vibrant vernacular culture – including traditional theatre, amateur theatre, storytelling, popular fiction, music, dance, painting and magic – that cuts across the arbitrary divide of the cinematic and non-cinematic, pre-modern and modern.

To write his ‘authentic’ script for the biopic, Nair did not limit himself to the palace archives. He did extensive field research in the southern districts of Thiruvithamkoor collecting folklore. This source, which provides much of the heterogeneous phrases in the historical romance genre as it developed in Thiruvithamkoor, performs another function in this case. Some of the stories which form part of the large corpus of folklore from southern Thiruvithamkoor provide one of the sharpest critiques of Marthanda Varma’s rule.

The story of the wronged and vengeful Ummini Thanka or Kochu Manithanka has a continued presence in popular memory. Legend has it that the Maharajah murdered her two brothers and their mother, his aunt to secure power and a bereaved and vengeful Thanka led the detracting nobles with the help of a few neighbouring principalities. When the detractors succumbed to the Maharajah’s armed forces, Thanka took her life in front of the Maharajah. The folkloric imagination describes the brutal acts of the King, like murdering the detractors and selling the women and children of these noble families as slaves to low caste fishing communities.


The melodramatic retribution of Thanka served as a powerful critique of the King. In a move to rectify this ‘misconception’, Nair’s script is written as a romance between Marthanda Varma and Ummini Thanka, fraught with the complexities of duty, kinship and loyalty. The scriptwriter tries to animate the latent folk tale structure of the film through cinematic technology. In it is also embedded a recognition of cinema as modern folklore.

In Nair’s recasting of Ummini Thanka lies a different dynamic of women and the ‘nation’. If Ummini Thanka was most involved in organizing the rebelling nobles in folklore, in Nair’s script she does it to curb their attempts to seize power. She had to die for she could not live as the wife of the murderer of her mother and brothers. In the script she dies a death of dignity, securing the throne, thus redeeming Thanka from the figure of a detracting and vengeful woman. Redemption here is brought to the King not through victory over the dissidents but Thanka’s trust and love.10


The news about the film script and the committee started circulating in 1940, all focused on the importance of the film as a historical document. ‘What better way to make it widely known than through the performance of film drama? This film is a method to assure that our people know the history of Thiruvithamkoor completely.’11 In other words, a popular film could bring the past alive and make available for the people the lessons of history. The attempt to equate authenticity in historical events and filmed images, recalls D.W. Griffith’s 1915 image of the libraries of the future where film images would replace the writen word. The project of legitimating the medium of film was as important in 1940s Thiruvithamkoor as it was in 1915 United States of America.

At various instances the script shows an awareness of cinematography and the requirements of creating an image. Scene 24(b), for example, is a description of the pageant led by the Maharajah for the Arattu festival with a cautionary note – ‘if possible only!’ Scene 19(c) is a description of the terrifying sword fight with Raman Tampi, the detractor cousin, at the end of which Raman Tampi is murdered in the royal chamber. The episode ends with Marthanda Varma’s soldiers breaking into the royal chamber.

‘What do they see there? They are indeed paralyzed with fear at the sight before them. The Maharajah’s face was invigorated with a severity similar to that of Lord Narasimha Moorthy. The Maharajah lifted Tampi’s corpse with ease to shove it through the window. Unable to encounter the sharp gaze of that Narasimhabhairavan, the soldiers stealthily moved out of the chamber.’12


The whole episode resembles traditional theatre as well as modern theatrical performances like song and dance dramas. With the royal chamber in disarray, the cut viscera of Tampi, bloodstains around the room, the ferocious body language of the Maharajah and the final act of throwing the corpse in a fluid motion that speaks of a control of the situation – all of these constitute a bloody scene. The sensation that arises out of the sanguinary scene resonates with cultural perceptions and theatre forms specific to the Malayalam region. Gory scenes, including brutal murders and blood stained props are popular in the traditional theatrical forms of Kutiyattam and Kathakali. While the Maharajah is first described as resembling Narasimham, subsequently he is described as Lord Narasimham himself. This technique of Pakarnnattam is generic to traditional Sanskrit theatre of Kudiyattom in the region. A specific aesthetic technique in Kutiyattam, Pakarnnattam is a technique of actor transformation, which would acquire new meanings in the new visual medium of cinema.

It reveals a new performative language as it is being formed, a new combination of words, images and sound that are borrowed and translated from traditional performance registers, but cannot be read in terms of existing languages of sound and image and this calls for new, as yet unformulated, languages. The script provides us with dialectic of formulations and ‘imitations’ of other forms like traditional theatre and film forms from other places. In this movement between traditional theatre and films and between filmic image in the process of formulation and films from other places, a new cultural knowledge is produced about visual language.


This ancient land of beauty – cinema and the aesthetic landscape: Looking at the discursive field of cinema in Thiruvithamkoor, through film journals and various attempts at film making provides yet another engagement with history and a different trope in the project of writing history through cinema. Chitra Keralam, a bilingual magazine published from Thiruvananthapuram, between 1940 and 1945 had a special focus on cinema. Most of its issues carried articles on nascent attempts at film making, news from Bombay and Madras film industries and Hollywood, the social function of cinema and general film news. Several of these articles map the possibility of a film industry in Thiruvithamkoor and enquire into the possibilities of importing technology, technical personnel and generating capital for film making.


Some of the essays in Chitra Keralam and other magazines are archives of an active imagination around what kind of cinema would be proper to Thiruvithamkoor. One such essay published in 1940, titled ‘Thiruvithamkoor: subject for a publicity film’ by Malati, constructs Thiruvithamkoor as a specific geo-political territory apt for publicity films or documentaries. ‘With reference to the state of Thiruvithamkoor, we are inclined to say that Thiruvithamkoor deserves to be called something better than India’s Hollywood… Thiruvithamkoor should receive that amount of publicity which she so richly deserves to get, not only that she may get a place on the map which belongs to her, but in order that there might be different aesthetic conception of beauty under the sun. What is there in God’s own earth that cannot be cumulatively found in Thiruvithamkoor? Our answer most "emphatically is nothing ever".’13

Making a case for the ‘greatness’ of Thiruvithamkoor through aspects that are archeological, aesthetic, spiritual, sociological and cultural, the essay tries to establish Thiruvithamkoor as a specific ethnographic subject for a publicity film which in fact can also be read as an argument for a not yet formulated documentary realism. It marks a search for a language with which to express the ‘place’ – geopolitical and historical.

This is articulated in a most engaging manner in what appears like a proposal to the government and film makers and lays out a schema for ‘shorts’ or documentaries. Under the section titled Naturalist, the essay elaborates: ‘Again in respect of the panoramic scenery, Travancore contains within herself, the canyons of Canada, the lagoons of Venice, the rolling plains of America, the snow-clad mountains of Alps and the lakes of Lucerne. The camera of the film maker can capture for the world at large the beauties of Travancore. What better entertainment can one possibly have for an extra half an hour than to watch the beauties of Travancore on the silver screen?’14 Landscape in these writings is much more than pure scenery. Drawing on historical knowledge about the Aryan and Dravidian elements in Thiruvithamkoor culture, it is argued that ‘A state which could boast of the temple of Sree Padmanabha Swami at Trivandrum, the Varkalai temple, Shuchindram temple and the temple at Cape should have her own Pompei; her own Pallas Athene. Topical films on her temples and fortresses should prove interesting to all.’15


In this schema of shorts, which produces Thiruvithamkoor as a unique object for cinema, the landscape is not similar to the ‘scenics’ of early films. In this schema, the scenic is deployed to form part of sociology of the land, its specific customs like matriliny, artisanal practices and emerging industries. It is not at all surprising to find a discussion of the status of Hindu women in Thiruvithamkoor as part of this schema for ‘shorts’. Describing the matrilineal practices in Thiruvithamkoor as unique, it is argued that the status of Hindu women in Thiruvithamkoor is similar to those of post-suffragette movement women in the West. This uniqueness, combined with voting rights for women, is thought as an ideal subject for ‘shorts’.16 Thus the landscapes in this proposal emerge swollen with history and bear marks of activity. These known views of landscapes, buildings, monuments, temples and man-made spaces stand as social hieroglyphs open to a multiplicity of readings.


In 1941, while replying to a letter from the Madras State Agent seeking permission for the American company March of Time to shoot a documentary in Thiruvithamkoor, the Dewan of Thiruvithamkoor, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer is emphatic about the tropes that could be deployed in it – the beauty of the landscape, productivity and the better standards of life. ‘I am not adverting solely to the picturesque landscape or historical antiquity of the state, but I think that it can be fairly stated that the general standard of life among poorer classes is higher than almost anywhere in India. In other words, while there are no rich men and hardly any capitalistic enterprises in Travancore, there is little destitution or starvation. The series of typical villages on both sides of the Trivandrum-Cape Comorin road is a commentary on what England and Travancore had been able to do by joint effort. The spread of education in the state, the activities of the university and the possibilities of indigenous industry can also be illustrated.’17

These narratives also bespeak of an awareness of other cinemas and the territoriality of Thiruvithamkoor. Landscapes understood purely as ‘scenics’ had a short existence in early 20th century films all over the world, before possibilities expanded in the creation of narrative cinema. ‘Scenics’ relied on a conception of natural beauty defined as pristine. It is unlikely that the eventual disappearance of the ‘scenic’ was due to a decrease in its function, but rather its sublimation in other forms like travelogues.18 Most writings on cinema of the period similarly argue for developing an aesthetic eye through Thiruvithamkoor landscape. One such essay on the possibility of making a film on Thiruvithamkoor thus concludes: ‘Travelogues as these are now called are presented with a running commentary. Opening with the state crest the picture shall unfold itself on the screen to conclude with the singing of the national anthem.’19


All of these thoughts for a cinema in Thiruvithamkoor have a futurological utopia to them. These discussions on cinema in Chithra Keralam campaign vigorously for a ‘depot of shorts’ which would function as an archive for the future. They argued that films were the most apposite form to create an archive due to its ‘affinity for storing actions and spectacles of a documentary nature’ which is legitimated by the ‘authenticity, precision and exactitude of the film alone.’20 While the central impulse seems to be one of restoring history for the future by documenting the contemporary, they also aspire to record a terrain of routine experiences, habitual gestures, transient details, uneventful moments and casual occurrences.

This particular imagination of an archive through cinema is driven by two forces – its power to represent the past and the organizational and transformative capacity of the medium; its archival ability to record and store the often indecipherable aspects of contemporary life as a history of the present. In its focus on the visual display of the ‘place’ depicting the past and the present, this imagination of shorts as a future archive welded the notions of encyclopedic compilations with a more recent ‘exhibitionary complex’, figured in institutions like museums, universal expositions and department stores.21


In 20th century Thiruvithamkoor we see the production of the unique ‘place’ of Thiruvithamkoor through its landscape in conservative, folkloric, literary practices and modern disciplines like anthropology, sociology, folklore studies, art history and history and in such visual representations like postcards and compilations of photographs which were widely circulated and in various exhibitions held in Thiruvithamkoor starting in the 1930s. These were mainly reproductions of photographs of important temples, monuments, ‘beauty spots’ like the backwaters and beaches, modern architectural achievements, new public spaces like parks and markets, indigenous crafts and art products, houseboats, waterways, railways, motor vehicles and so on. Indeed, by 1900 anthropology, sociology and geography were involved and intertwined in knowledge production of this ‘beautiful ancient land.’ The land in all its lush beauty was fertile and bountiful in these accounts. Thus were such cartographic imaginations as the horn shaped territory of Thiruvithamkoor filled with crops, fruits and trees produced.


In this genre of writings and visual representations the ‘place’ emerges as an authentic and enduring object to be mapped and restored. Some of the articulations of this ‘realist’ depiction of Thiruvithamkoor geography in cinema follow the same trope as of the visual representations and performs the function of drawing the political boundaries of Thiruvithamkoor through a new visual language, which in this case acquires a cartographic nature. They mark a search for a language with which to express the ‘place’ – geopolitical and historical and a quest to objectively represent one’s history and culture through the new language of cinema.

These divergent explorations around a film language in founding a cinema that would represent Thiruvithamkoor history leads to a confrontation between words and images in the case of the first film script of Marthandavarma and one of developing an aesthetic of landscape to document history in the second case of publicity films. They are at the same time also marked by a deep suspicion of visuality.

In addition, the debates around the affinity of film to the archive in incipient regional cinemas invites us to rewrite the history of cinema from the perspective of previously marginalized genres; non-fiction, non-narrative and non-commercial cinema. It gestures towards a pre-history of Malayalam cinema that developed out of both narrative and non-narrative impulses.



1. ‘Making Money’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 1(3), p. 13.

2. Malati , ‘Travancore: Subject for a Publicity Film’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 1(4), p. 6.

3. For an insightful discussion of the tenuous debates around the formulation of Aikya Keralam and the centrality of develop mentalism to it, see Devika J., ‘A People United in Development’: Developmentalism in Modern Malayalee Identity’, Working Paper 386, CDS, Trivandrum, 2007.

4. Cheriyan Joseph, Kazhchayum Samskaravum, Festival Book 2004, International Film Festival of Thrissur, Thrissur, 2004.

5. A select committee was constituted by Thiruvithamkoor legislative assembly, Sree Moolam Prajasabha in 1922 to evaluate the nature and condition of film exhibition practices in Thiruvithamkoor. The report of the select committee was discussed by the Travancore Legislative council on 22 April 1926, following which The Cinematograph Regulation (Regulation 1 of Malayalam Era 1102) was passed by her highness Maharani of Travancore on 24 May 1927, under Section 14 of Municipal Regulation of 1922. The council discussions are confused attempts at knowing the object called cinema – its specific commodity form, exhibition system, ownership pattern, moral economy and the spatial reconfiguration that it engendered.

6. Vinod Chandran in his doctoral thesis on Historical Romance in Thiruvithamkoor argues that the cognitive or the speculative genres of knowledge gained knowledge over heterogeneous modes of reflection during the colonial encounter and it was the faculty of the judgment of the people which was gravely affected by the procedural violence of the new regime of knowledge. The ‘Rajya politics’ is a term coined by him to denote what was represented in the political self-assertion movement. The thesis argues that it was the presentational and existential crisis brought about by the conditions of a colonial modern order that led C.V. and his colleagues to experiment, explore and traverse across heterogeneous genres of representation like petitions, memorials, essays, farce, satire and social novels. For a detailed discussion of the genre and Rajya politics see Vinod Chandran K., The Counter narratives of Power and Identity in Colonial Keralam – A Reading of C.V. Raman Pillai’s Historical Novels, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 2004.

7. The Malayalee memorial was criticized as a fundamentally upper caste representation by low caste movements in its time itself. It was soon joined by an ‘Ezhava Memorial’, which criticized the Malayalee memorial as an alliance between Brahmins and upper caste Nairs and a vicious move to keep away the educated low caste communities like the Ezhava from government jobs. The debates around these were crucial in founding a redistributive political economy in Thiruvithamkoor.

8. Veeragadha comprises of songs about heroic deeds of warriors, descriptions of warfare etc. Rich in Tamil usages and indigenous tunes and rhythms, they form part of the large corpus of folklore in southern Thiruvithamkoor. K.K. Nadar, Thekkan Pattukal , S.B.R. Printing Works, Thriuvananthapuram, 1967.

9. The renowned Malayalam poet and Jnanapeeth awardee G. Sankarakurup, writes about the valence of C.V.’s historical novels for a project of teaching history in his autobiography. As a school student in 1920s he found them inspiring. ‘These historicals would have inspired a territorial nationalism in children’s imagination. We all had a consciousness about Thiruvithamkoor and none at all about Kerala at that time.The heroics of great men like Marthanda Varma, Dharma Raja, Raja Kesava Das and Veluthampi Dalawa inspired veeraradhana (hero worship) in us.’ Sankara Kurup G., ‘Ormayude Theerangalil’ (In Memory’s Shores), National Book Stall, Kottayam, 1963.

10. Romance in the historical romances is not a way to escape from politics and nation. Doris Sommer in her study of the national romances of Latin America explicates this relationship. The work analyzes the rhetorical relationship between heterosexual passion and hegemonic states function as a mutual allegory, as if each discourse were grounded on the historically stable other. Sommer prioritizes neither erotics nor politics, but suggests that they complement each other, comment upon each other and consider them as effects of each other’s performance. See Davis Sommer, Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991.

11. ‘Sree Veera Marthanda Varma’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 1(3), p. 16. Newspapers and magazines published several reports of the committee from 1940 to 1943, about the progress of the script, failure in producing the film, etc.

12. Chellappan N.P. Nair, Marthanda Varma, National Book Stall, Kottayam, p. 28.

13. Malati, ‘Travancore: Subject for a Publicity film’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 1(4), p. 2.

14. Ibid., p. 3.

15. Ibid., p. 4.

16. Ibid., p. 4.

17. Response to the State Agent Col. Murphy, Confidential Files, Letter dated 17 July 1941, Bundle No.107 File1699/44, Kerala State Archives.

18. ‘Documentary Chitrangal’, Chitrodayam, 1(3), 1942, p. 23.

19. ‘Shorts’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 2(4), 1942, p. 12.

20. Making Money’, Chitra Kerala Bilingual monthly, 1(3), p. 13.

21. For his analysis of the museum as one of the central site of this exhibitionary complex emerging in 19th century, see Tony Bennet, The Birth of the Museum, Routledge, London, 1995.