The period between 1913 and 1928 was the time of evolution for Indian cinema. Dadasaheb Phalke had produced the first movie Raja Harischandra from Bombay in 1913. Almost at the same time, cinema took its first strides in Calcutta. Immediately after World War I, Jamshedji Framji Madan started a couple of bioscope halls in Calcutta that exhibited movies imported from abroad. Later, he started Madan Theatres and produced silent movies. India’s first permanent theatre, Elphinstone Theatre, founded by Madan was established.
Madan purchased films from producers including Phalke and distributed it to bioscope halls in Calcutta and other parts of Bengal. In fact, producers began to bring their works directly to be shown in the bioscope halls. Madan also began to supply films and bioscope machines on rent to exhibitors.
In those early days film distributors or suppliers had the power to decide the percentage of the total collection. It used to be 80 per cent of the total and the exhibitors got 20 per cent. This system proved to be advantageous to the distributor because very often exhibitions were disrupted following non-availability of films. This forced the exhibitors to repeatedly screen the same film, audience numbers dwindled, but the distributor still remained safe. In later years Madan’s business tactic was adopted in Calcutta and Bombay.
This system was introduced in Kerala by Lakshmana Iyer, a landlord from Nenmara, Palakkad district. He was popular as Nenmara Swami among exhibitors here. He started a distribution firm at Nenmara way back in 1928. He also bought a bioscope, met Phalke, and acquired a print of the silent film Kaliyamardan, which was the first film he distributed in Kerala.
Cinema for Malayalis, in those days was ‘Mayadeepa Pradarsanam’ or a magic lantern show. Nenmara Swami used to send his trusted lieutenant, Kuttikrishnan Nair, with a letter authorising him as his representative to collect the money from the exhibitors. Nair would wait and return with the film and the machine which the exhibitor had taken on a specified rent.
The distributors who came after Swami also followed this system. The people sent by the distributors with the film and to collect the money were called ‘film representatives’. Perhaps, Kuttikrishnan Nair was the State’s first ever ‘film representative’.
Swami’s distribution company was a huge success. Later, he diversified from this business and went on to establish a permanent theatre at Nenmara.
This column features people and moments that redeﬁned Indian cinema.