He was a real adventurer. Jose Kattookkaran had an unquenchable thirst for things different. He played a very important part in the history of Malayalam cinema.
It was his spirit of adventure that led Jose to the army. He was recruited by the erstwhile Cochin state. But his claim to fame is that he was perhaps the first to realise that cinema was a huge commercial option.
Born in Ollur, Thrissur district, on November 27, 1871, Jose was just an average student in school. He discontinued studies after completing the fifth form and joined the provincial army. Disciplined and committed Jose was liked by his superiors. This paved the way for regular promotions and salary hikes. Despite all this Jose was dissatisfied. His mind roamed the world of moving pictures.
Jose decided to explore the fascinating world of movies and quit the army. He started a touring theatre called ‘The Great Indian Bioscope’. He bought a bioscope from Bombay and travelled across Malabar, Cochin and Travancore.
This touring theatre was later modified into ‘The Royal Exhibition Bioscope Company’. For this Jose borrowed money from friends. This company used improved exhibition systems. For four years Jose travelled with these machines. He paid back his debts and in 1944 started ‘Jose Bioscope’.
This time he bought films from Bombay. He even managed to get the film Kaliyamardan from D.G. Phalke, known as the Father of Indian cinema.
Jose followed the system propagated by Paul Vincent. There was the round tent, employees dressed in military-style with their band etc. were all like the early film exhibitions. One new idea he implemented was the introduction of an announcer. He travelled and exhibited many films, mainly made in Bombay. Sometimes he also showed foreign films. He frequently visited Tamil Nadu and the southern parts of Karnataka. Once, he took the road from Mangalore after sending all his equipment by ferry. When he reached Trichur, he came to know that the ferry met with an accident and all his equipment was lost. But Jose was not one to be put down so easily. He gathered his resources and started another touring company and began travelling.
When Jose came to know that the electric generators were used he purchased one. He started ‘Baby’s Electric Cinema’ which used power from the generator to light up his theatre. Later on Jose started a permanent theatre at Ollur. This thatched building from where he screened his films was perhaps the first permanent theatre in Kerala.
Jose died on May 26, 1925. His family members went on to trek the same path. His son Jose K. Varghese started Jose Theatre, in Thrissur, which still stands as a symbol of one man’s undying passion for cinema.