Released on August 17, 1941, ‘Prahlada' was the third sound film and first mythological film in Malayalam. The film was produced and directed by K. Subrahmaniam under the banner of Madras United Artists Corporation. The film introduced to cinema, the noted dancer Guru Gopinath. He, along with his wife Thankamani, performed some memorable dances in the film. The film also introduced to cinema T. K. Balachandran, who went on to become a leading actor and producer. He starred as a child star in ‘Prahlada.'
The film was shot on spectacular sets at Gemini Studios. Cinematography by Kamal Ghosh was excellent. Haribabu, one of Indian cinema's best known make up man, worked in this project. But the film failed at the box office. No print, or a single film frame or a photograph of the film is available now. Repeated screen versions of the same story and success of some of the other language films with the same story might have adversely affected the success of the film.
Drawn from Vishnupurana, the story of Prahlada was staged in Malayalam as musical operas, and the first of such plays authored by Kunnath Neelakantan Moosath in 1924 was the most popular one. The mythological episode was produced as a silent film under the same title ‘Bhakta Prahlada' (1926) by Baburao Painter (producer) and Dadasaheb Phalke. The story was remade as sound films in almost all the major Indian languages several times, eight times in Hindi, three times in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, as per available records. It is strange that in Malayalam, the story was never remade after the 1941 film. The first sound film in Telugu ‘Bhakta Prahlada' (1931) directed by H. M. Reddy also told the story of Prahlada. ‘Bhakta Prahlada,' produced in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada by AVM Productions, under the direction of Narayanamoorthy in 1967 that had S. V. Ranga Rao, Anjali Devi and Baby Roja Ramani (who later became famous in Malayalam as ‘Chembarathi Shobhana) is considered as the most successful screen version of the Prahlada episode. The film was dubbed into almost all the Indian languages also.
Guru Gopinath was a famous court dancer of the Travancore state. K. Subrahmaniam invited Guru Gopinath and his wife and dancer Thankamani to act in ‘Prahlada'. Guru Gopinath's disciple and relative of Travancore Dewan Sir C. P. Ramawamy Iyer, Kumari Lakshmi acted as Prahlada in the film. This was her first and last film. Her father Chidambaram was Private Secretary to the Dewan. The star cast included several artistes from stage and dance schools in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, like P. R. Rajagopala Iyer, T. V. Krishna Sarma, N. Krishna Pillai, C. V. Ramachandran, N. P. Chellappan Nair, Sarada Bai etc. The Tamil film ‘Prahlada' (1939) directed by B. N. Rao under the banner of Salem Sankar Films was a super hit and created box office records. The singing sensation of later years T. R. Mahalingam acted as Prahlada in the film. The storyline and the dialogues of this film were closely followed for the Malayalam version. The script and dialogues of this film was adapted for Malayalam by N. P. Chellappan Nair.
The episode from Vishnu Purana, a holy text of Hindus, tells the story of Prahlada (Kumari Lakshmi) who worships Lord Vishnu against the orders of his father Hiranyakashipu (Guru Gopinath). All the attempts of the demon king and his wife Kayadhu (Thankamani Gopinath) to change their son's mind fail. The Lord comes to Prahlada's rescue every time he is tortured by Hiranyakashipu. And then, finally, the Lord appears as Narasimha (a man-lion avatar) to kill Hiranyakashipu.
The main attraction of the film was a dance by Guru Gopinath as Yama, the god of death. Apart from acting as Hiranyakashipu, the dance sequences of the dancer and his wife stood out. N. P. Chellappan Nair also acted in an important role in the film. Master Sadasivam provided the mandatory comedy relief. Kumari Lakshmi impressed as Prahlada and the songs sung by her also became hits. But then the performance of the actors and actresses of the film could not in any way be compared to that of the Tamil film. R. Balasubramaniam as Hiranyakashipu, M. R. Santhalakshmi as Kayadhu and Master T. R. Mahalingam as Prahlada were simply superb in acting and singing.
The 19 songs written by Kilimanoor Madhava Varier, a Malayalam poet and Sanskrit scholar, were set to tune by V. S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. Some of the songs like ‘Gurukulamathil angekandathil…' a chorus led by Kumari Lakshmi, ‘Narayanam bhaje…' (Kumari Lakshmi) and ‘Ennomal thankame…' (Thankamani Gopinath) were popular.
Will be remembered: As the first mythological film in Malayalam. The debut Malayalam film of director-producer K. Subrahmaniam, debut of actor T. K. Balachandran and music director V. S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. It was also the debut film of Guru Gopinath and Thankamani Gopinath. The film will also be remembered for some of its songs like ‘Gurukulamathil…'