There was a vacuum in the production of Malayalam cinema after Marthanda Varma. It was broken by A. Sundaram Pillai, a native of a southern village in Thiruvananthapuram, when he started the production of a talkie.
After his graduation from Royal College, Thiruvananthapuram, he went to Colombo and joined a shipping company as a clerk. By then Asia had entered the production of talkies. Film studios in the continent had acquired the knowledge and capacity to make talkies and there was one such studio in Colombo also.
Sundaram Pillai’s office was located near it and the studio’s electric atmosphere during shooting was enough to capture his attention. Without delay, he became a frequent visitor to the studio.
Having been lured by the glitter of the silver screen, Sundaram Pillai quit his job and joined the studio as an assistant director. The experience of working as an assistant director in four films planted in his mind the idea of making a talkie in Malayalam.
During his time off at the studio, he began writing a script for the Malayalam talkie. Sundaram Pillai chose a story by Charles Dickens as the base of the script. He titled the script Vidhiyum Mrs. Nairum, and cast some Ceylon Malayalis to act in it. He also planned to shoot the film in Colombo.
Sundaram Pillai wrote to his relatives in Thiruvananthapuram seeking financial aid for the project. In the letter he sent them, Sundaram Pillai briefed them on the profits to be gained from a debut Malayalam talkie. But no one responded positively. He directly approached them and once again explained the profit feasibility, but Sundaram Pillai failed to overcome their reluctance to his plan. Subsequently he left for Madras instead of Colombo.
He avoided Colombo because of the ridicule he would incur from the Ceylon Malayalis who were selected as stars. In Madras he rented the upper floor of a double-storied building on Pai Cross Road. To met daily expenses, Sundaram Pillai formed an organisation named ‘Malayali Association’ and put a board in front of his room, becoming the self-proclaimed President of the outfit. The membership fee for Malayalis who joined the organisation was his source of income.
Meeting producers to raise money for his Malayalam project was also in vain. However, he was determined to overcome the challenge and put out an advertisement in ‘The Hindu’ seeking stars and entrepreneurs. The advertisement caught the eye of T.R. Sundaram, the owner of Modern Theatres at Salem and a producer in the Tamil film industry.
Sundaram was a believer in the potential of the first Malayalam talkie and but was in a financial crisis at the time following consecutive failures of two of his Tamil films.
Sundaram hoped that a Malayalam talkie would give him back the lost money, and directed his manager, P.S. Iyyer, to go to Madras in order to consult with Sundaram Pillai. This meeting paved the way for the birth of the first talkie in Malayalam, Balan.