Tamil cinema has completed 80 years today, with 'Kalidas', having released on October 31 way back in 1931. This trend setting film was the first talkie in Tamil and the only film that released in 1931. Released under the banner Imperial Film Company, Bombay, it was one trend setting venture.
The film starred T P Rajalakshmi, P G Venkatesan, Thevaram Rajambal, T Sushila Devi, M.S.Santhanalakshmi and LV Prasad. The story and the lyrics were penned by Madhura Kavi Bhaskara Das who also composed the music. The film was directed by HM Reddy and was produced by Ardeshir M Irani. This mythological film that had a length of 10,000 ft was released with a 'U' certificate in black and white and was a box-office blockbuster.
'Kalidas' was the first talkie made in Tamil, shot at Bombay. It was produced on the sets of India's first talkie Alam Ara (Hindi) by Ardeshir Irani. The director was Irani's former assistant, HM Reddy. The film had dialogues and songs in Tamil and Telugu since both the languages were spoken in Madras Presidency back then.
Though it was a Tamil film, it's characters spoke a variety of languages including Tamil (Princess Vidyadhari), Telugu (Kalidas, Naradhar) and Hindi (Temple priest). The sound recording was done using the Vitaphone process, by German technicians using German equipment.
The film was released in Madras (now Chennai) Kinema Central (later called Murugan Theatre). It was a big hit as it was a novelty for the audience to witness an audio visual with dialogues and songs of their language. When the film reels were brought to Madras, thousands gathered at Madras Central Railway station and followed the reel box to Kinema Central. Crowds showered rose petals, broke coconuts and burnt incense sticks in the procession of the reels of the film, all along Wall Tax Road from the railway station!
The film was based on folk myth on the life of the legendary third century Sanskrit poet Kalidas, the creator of many classics like "Shakunthalam" and "Megha Sandhesham". The story revolves around the beautiful Princess Vidyadhari (T.P. Rajalakshmi) who caught the attention of a powerful and cunning minister in the court of her father, King Vijayavarman of Thejavathi. He wants her to marry his son to bolster his own power in the Kingdom but she rebuffs him. As revenge he tricks her into marrying an illiterate, lowly goatherd. Realizing her mistake, she prays to Goddess Kali for help, resulting in her husband receiving knowledge and literary abilities. Soon, the humble goatherd is transformed into famous poet Kalidas (PG Venkatesan).
The Film was completed in just eight days. Produced at a cost of Rs.8,000/-, the film grossed over Rs.75,000/-. 'Kalidas' was the first Indian multi-lingual movie since the film had Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Bengali dialogues by various characters. The Director HM Reddy has also directed the first Telugu Talkie (Bhaktha Prahaladha in 1931). LV Prasad (who later founded Prasad Studios), acted in this film, has also acted in the first Hindi talkie (Alam Ara) and first Telugu talkie (Bhaktha Prahaladha). It was a rare distinction of a person common to all the three first talkies of India.
An advertisement announcing this film was published on the October 30 issue of Swadesamitran as "First Tamil-Telugu Talking Picture." A review of the film was also published in the same newspaper a day earlier, which means a press show, was held before the release of the film.
Despite the historical importance, no print of the film has survived and even the song-book is not traceable. The gramophone record of the film is also not available.
The film had around fifty songs in Tamil and Telugu. It had compositions of Saint Thyagaraja, an icon of Carnatic classical music. The songs, which became popular, were: "Rattinamam ... Gandhi Kai Baanamaam..." (sung by Rajalakshmi) highlighted Indian freedom movement and Mahatma Gandhi. "Manmada Baanamadaa...Maarinil payuthadaa..." (sung by Rajalakshmi) became very popular among young women. "Indhiyargal nammavarkalukkul eno veen sandai ..." was another song on freedom movement. Some of the songs also featured the nationalist slogan Vande Matharam.
Tamil magazine Swadesamitran wrote a favourable review for 'Kalidas' on 29th October 1931, even before the film was released. The magazine said that, the film will certainly run for few weeks and appreciated the singing of the actress T.P. Rajalakshmi and finally said the film is a "must watch" for all.
Films which followed the trend
The same film was made again in 1937 and in 1955 with different star cast namely 'Kaviratna Kalidas' (1937) and 'Mahakavi Kalidas' (1955) and each time it was highly appreciated and achieved success. In addition, the film is a trendsetter for talkies in Tamil cinema.
First talkie in Tamil and was the only film to be produced in 1931, creating history.
HM Reddy (Hanumappa Muniappa Reddy: 1892 - 1960) was the former assistant to Ardeshir M. Irani., the first talkie filmmaker (Alam Ara) in India. Reddy was one of the veterans of Indian cinema and has the distinction of directing the first talking pictures in Tamil (Kalidas in 1931) and Telugu (Bhaktha Prahaladha in 1931). He began his career in silent films in Bangalore with Surya Films and later shifted to Bombay and assisted Irani. He then directed movies in Hindi before shifting to Madras. He produced successful Telugu movies such as Tenali Ramakrishna (1941), Gruha Lakshmi (1938) and Partigna (1953). He introduced Chittor V. Nagaiah and other artists to the film industry. In a career spanning 23 years, he produced 3 films in Telugu and directed 19 films. Out of them only three films were in Tamil (Kalidas in 1931, Mathruboomi in 1939 and Niraparadhi in 1951). Rest of them, were in Telugu.
Source: Best of Tamil Cinema: 1931 to 2010 by G Dhananjayan