Very few biopics in Malayalam have managed to maintain intense sincerity to the lives of the person they told on screens. And when the lives of the iconic figures of Malayalam cinema are recreated, it really needs an intense research and care to do justice to the real life personality.' Celluloid' by senior film maker Kamal is a film that succeeds partially in managing to give a moving tribute to the men who made the first Mollywood film. It is a discourse on what destiny has in store for people who do not conform to socially-acceptable definitions of triumph.
The movie opens in the 1920's when J C Daniel (Prithviraj), who was born in Nagercoil moves on to create the very first movie in Malayalam. He tours various studios and gathers knowledge about the techniques from eminent men like Dada Saheb Phalke and succeeds in making the first film in Malayalam, Vigathakumaran or The Lost Child in 1928. A social drama, 'Vigathakumaran' had an ordinary worker named P K Rosy (Chandni), a converted Christian lady as its heroine. But the traditional society gets the movie banned from screening halls and the lead lady is forced to flee from the village. Daniel but recover from this financial crisis after becoming a dentist, but soon gets into the making of another movie which leave him a lost man. He then hurls into a disastrous life and dies in poverty. His wife Janet (Mamta Mohandas) remains the only person who stood by him, all along like a pillar of support.
The movie is based on Vinu Abraham's recent book titled 'Nashta naayika' on Rosy and on writer Chelangad Gopalakrishnan's (played in the film by Sreenivasan) hard work to unleash the struggles of the real father of Mollywood, J C Daniel to the world and to give him necessary attention from the movie industry. The highlight of the movie is that even while remaining true to the history chronicling its facts, the director also give some dramatic and creative touches to the narrative making it palpable and enjoyable even for the ordinary folks.
This is where Kamal's riveting screenplay, where not a moment is misspent in new age gimmicks, gets truly astounding.......As a cinematic experience, the director takes us into the world of J C Daniel, Jannet and Rosy and enlightens us the reasons that resulted in the loss of the prints of the first ever Malayalam cinema. It thus remains a close to the factual account of a man who brought honour to the language, but felt betrayed when he needed the enthusiasts of arts the most. An incredible film, no doubt, but could have been better with a little more fine touches in original slang.
Taking on a biopic is akin to a challenge of sorts for the actor since he/she has to visit a part they may be unaware of, yet have to portray it with tremendous passion. Prithviraj , essays the character of Daniel with aplomb, in a physically and psychologically demanding role and appears remarkably forceful in this complex part. Chandani sparkles as Rosy while Mamtha is consistently good as Janet. The rest of the cast also play to the demands of their roles. The songs by M Jayachandran are gems with both the songs climbing the ladder of popular success and synking well with the narratives. The technical sides are also remarkable with Venu creating finer visual of the period tale .
This 'Celluloid' remains as a fine tribute to the men who liked to travel earlier than the rest.. a cinematic endeavour reminding about the achievers who never got their due during the sunset of their lives. Recommended for all those who like quality, well made cinema.