This column features people and moments that redefined the history of Indian cinema
It was a summer evening in 1906. A crowd of hardly 25 at the Muthalakkulam Ground, Calicut, were enjoying the music of a band that wafted from a small tent. Watching intently was a pot-bellied, fat man with a prominent moustache. Soon men who played in the band, dressed in white trousers, shirts and white hats began to collect money from the queue that had formed outside the tent allowing them to enter.
A few minutes later the fat man stepped into the tent. He began to rotate an iron bar fixed on a wooden box. As he did so the white screen in front lit up with moving images. This man who proudly continued turning the iron bar creating magic on screen was Paul Vincent.
It was a historic day in the history of Malayalam cinema. Paul Vincent was the first man who exhibited moving images on screen and those people in Calicut were the very first movie viewers of the State. News of this event spread and the next day more people thronged to watch this magic. Muthalakkulam Ground thus became the first venue for movies in the State.
The growth of a plant, a horse race and a man sitting on a bench were the very first images to have been exhibited. It was a 30-minute show that cost the viewer a quarter anna per head.
At the centre of the tent, similar to a circus tent, stood Paul Vincent behind his Moto Photoscope Machine, a primitive form of the film projector The machine glowed in the limelight. The companies that supplied films to Paul Vincent also gave him detailed directions on the speed at which he had to operate the machine. In fact, Paul Vincent had acquainted himself on the operational techniques of the machine when he went to get one from Bombay.
His shows in Calicut lasted till the end of summer. Paul Vincent became an instant celebrity. People arranged dinners in his honour. He then moved on to Mangalore. The people of Calicut gave him a tearful farewell.
History records show that Paul Vincent never came back to Kerala, perhaps the setting up of permanent theatres had ended his adventure with cinema.