For old Malayalam movie buffs, Biju Ebenezer’s blog is one place they will go back to, again and again
There is something comforting about the sepia tinted ‘Old Malayalam Cinema’ (oldmalayalamcinema.wordpress.com) blog page. A screen grab of Prem Nazir and Sathyan from the film Odayil Ninnu sets the blog’s mood. And what follows is a delightful trip down Malayalam cinema’s memory lane.
A random online search for old Malayalam film posters led to the blog. The blog is a treat not just for Malayalam film history buffs but also for those interested in the beginnings of Malayalam cinema. The man behind the blog is Bengaluru-based Biju Ebenezer B. He used to work with Jet Airways but has now quit and is working on an online media start-up project.
Over a telephone chat he reveals the motive for setting out to archive Malayalam cinema history, “Old Malayalam Cinema’ was born out of frustration at the criminal intent of not having a willingness to share information about old Malayalam films.” Some of the films that are thought to be out-of-print are in the hands of private film collectors who do not want to share them. “There is very little available in print media on old Malayalam films. For instance, The Hindu’s ‘Old is Gold’ column, but such space is limited.” There is a need, he says, in people to revisit films they had seen as youngsters, “look at them from adult perspectives. Sadly, there is nothing much that is available.”
The blog is an attempt to educate a generation that there were actors who made Malayalam cinema what it is today, besides the reigning age-defying superstars. That actors like Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Madhu etc. contributed hugely to Malayalam films. “Directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan are the current favourites. Does anyone know producers like T.E. Vasudevan who made some great films? There is hardly anything on Prem Nazir online. There is practically nothing on character actors such as Philomina and Meena.”
The articles on the blog are open for comments, which is just as well because “an information chain is formed through comments.” That ‘information chain’ has led to some ‘wonderful experiences’, Biju says. For an article on Jeevithanouka he had uploaded a dance by Indira Acharya, a famous choreographer/dancer of the 50s and 60s. “Her granddaughter left a comment that she had never seen her grandmother dance and was happy to have seen her dance. Those are the times when I open my mail and feel that I am not actually wasting time.”
The blog offers an alternate point of view and reveals hitherto unwritten about facts on films and actors. Vijayasree, more famous for ‘kuli scenes’, was one of the most prolific actors of her era. “Her output was close to Jayan’s. Almost 12-14 films a year she was one of the hottest viable brands of her time. But she never got her due.” Biju got a comment from Vijayasree’s former costumier (he was an assistant then) who still ‘worships’ her and was glad that she was remembered for something else besides ‘kuli scenes’.
The articles on the blog are not just by Biju, he has developed a network of regular contributors turned friends. They contribute to the blog’s diversity of topics. He desisted from making ‘Old Malayalam Cinema’, a ‘vanilla flavoured personal blog’.
“The more people contribute there will be different flavours and people gain more from the blog.” Although the blog engages film history buffs, history is served in such a way that the content is not dry, boring facts. ‘Old Malayalam Cinema’ makes use of Facebook and Twitter too.
And it is not just with the written material, the help extends to getting photographs/publicity stills, films etc. He went looking for material not just from Noornad (where he is from), but also “scrounged all the way from Thiruvananthapuram up the coast north, visiting old cinemas ‘management offices and warehouses for old publicity material.”
Publicity material ‘is not bound by copyright issues’. What he has found, in various states of disrepair, he has scanned them in high resolution and ‘photoshopped’ them for posterity. When there are no stills available he resorts to screen shots.
Talking of preservation and posterity, there is an interesting and educative series on KPAC plays which were made into films. The series was born out of his ‘over enthusiasm’ to put KPAC’s history online, he says.
The callousness of the VCD culture appalls him. Biju says, “this form of media transference technology is redundant. Each VCD can record 80 minutes worth of film, therefore the content is edited to fit in two CDs. Plus the resolution is very poor and eventually films are lost forever. I don’t think Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha is available in DVD format.”