On his way to Madras from Salem by train, P.S. Iyyer, T.R. Sundaram’s manager, had an occasion to meet a young man named Xavier Vincent. During their talk Xavier Vincent told Iyyer that he was going to Madras in search of a job. When Iyyer came to know that Vincent was the brother of noted drama artiste Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar, and impressed by the way the young man spoke Malayalam, Iyyer felt that this man would be useful to them during the shoot of the planned Malayalam talkie. He promised Vincent that he would help find him some employment.

Iyyer was on his way to meet A. Sundaram Pillai, the man behind, the talkie project. The story of this film Vidhiyum Mrs. Nayarum was authored by Sundaram Pillai. Iyyer and Vincent met Sundaram Pillai and they had a discussion on the film. Later, Sundaram Pillai, along with Iyyer and Vincent, travelled to Salem to meet T.R. Sundaram. After another round of discussion it was decided that Sundaram Pillai would write the script for the film.

Shooting for the film began on August 17, 1937, at the Modern Studio. A fortnight passed and the shoot had not gained momentum. Sundaram Pillai, who was in love with Malathi Varasiar, the heroine of the film, was rather callous in his job. Sundaram came to hear of this and decided to ring in changes. He chalked out an alternative plan to prevent the shooting from coming to a virtual halt. Sundaram Pillai, who sensed that he was going to be thrown out, eloped from the sets with Malathi.

Sundaram took charge of the project. He decided to reconstruct the script and sent Vincent to Alleppey to seek the services of Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai. Accepting the suggestions from Sundaram, Muthukulam changed the script and titled the film Balan. Besides the script, Muthukulam also penned the songs. K. K. Aroor and M. K. Kamalam were roped in to play the lead roles. Assistant director Shewakaram Nottani, a Parsi from Bombay, was promoted as director. All the technicians who worked for Balan, except for its editor, Varghese, who hailed from Chengannur, were non-Malayalis.

Vincent who came to Madras seeking a job also found a role in the film. He was re-christened Alleppey Vincent and had the honour of delivering the first dialogue, ‘good luck, everybody,’ in Malayalam cinema. Ironically, Malayalam cinema made its entry into the sound era with an English dialogue recorded in Vincent’s voice. Balan was completed in six months time and released on January 19, 1938, in Kerala. The film went on to become a financial success.

This column features people and moments that redefined Indian cinema