This column features people and moments that redefined Indian cinema.
Unlike other kings of provincial countries under British Raj, the kings of Travancore liked to stand with the change of time. They were courageous enough to cross oceans and defy religious barriers. They were not hesitant to learn about scientific achievements and new thoughts that appeared in Europe were rays of knowledge for them. The last king of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal, was keen to implement such developments in his kingdom too.
During that time cinema was not very popular, although J.C. Daniel and Sundar Raj had already started the film culture in Thiruvananthapuram with Vigathakumaran and Marthanda Varma respectively.
The royal family of Travancore were admirers of cinema and screenings of silent movies by outside exhibitors were frequent incidents at Kowdiar Palace. Regent Sethu Lakshmi Bayi Thampuratti, mother of Sree Chithira Thirunal, was an art lover who also had an interest in cinema. She gave all kinds of encouragement to cinema in Travancore. She ordered police security for P.K. Rosy when she was targeted by assailants for acting in Vigathakumaran. At the request of Sundar Raj for his venture Marthanda Varma, the second film in Malayalam, the Regent even offered financial aid. However, Sundar Raj put forward only one prayer before the ruler - that he be granted the opportunity to perform the pooja of the film box of Marthanda Varma at Sree Padmanabha Swami temple.
The Regent not only sanctioned it, but assigned a portion of the cavalry to escort the film box, which was carried by an elephant to the Capitol theatre after the pooja. The Regent also appreciated the performance of Andy from Malabar as Marthanda Varma in the film. She also presented a sword with the royal emblem to Andy. Incidentally, this was the very first award in Malayalam cinema.
Her interest in cinema paved the way for the birth of the third Malayalam talkie Prahlada. One day, she was watching the dance of a girl named Lakshmi at Kowdiar Palace. Lakshmi was the daughter of A. Chidambaram, the Private Secretary to then Diwan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, and a disciple of the court dancer, Guru Gopinath.
Her performance delighted the Regent and she offered full financial assistance to produce a film featuring Lakshmi. The Regent’s offer accelerated the later steps of Prahlada. Obeying the direction of the Regent, C.P. Ramaswami Iyer had all the work done in Madras. He selected K.Subrahmaniam as the director. He was the nephew of Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer and also a Law graduate. N.P. Chellappan Nair penned the script while Kilimanoor Madhavan Nair took over the role of lyricist. Noted cinematographer Cooper was the operator of camera.
The film was shot at Gemini and Newton Studios. Guru Gopinath portrayed Hiranya, while his wife Thankamani Gopinath was his wife in the film as well. Lakshmi essayed the role of Prahlada. The other actors that in the film were Baby Vinodini, N.P. Chellappan Nair, etc.
The film was produced under the banner of United Movies and Mahalakshmi Pictures at Kottayam gained the distribution rights with the help of C.P. Ramaswami Iyer. For the royal family, the name of the Regent appearing as producer in advertisements was considered shameful. So C.P. Ramaswami Iyer suggested using the name of P. Subramaniam instead. At the time he was not a film producer. He was a merchant in Thiruvananthapuram and was closely associated with the Kowdiar Palace. The film was produced in 1941. Later, P. Subramaniam went on to become a stalwart in the history of Malayalam cinema as Merryland Subramaniam.