The temple festivals in erstwhile Malabar were glittering affairs and drew huge crowds. The Thrissur Pooram has always been one such event. The vast grounds around the famous Vadakkumnatha Temple has claims to a vital role in the history of Malayalam cinema. Two people who used this vast space and the Pooram crowds to popularise cinema were Maulana and Kashmikandi Kunjiraman.
Maulana organised a primitive sort of movie exhibition. The period of this show is not marked though film historians place it much before Paul Vincent introduced moving pictures to the people of Kerala.
The pictures the Maulana showed could not be strictly called movies. He used a four-legged self-made wooden box with lens fixed on it. It was through this lens that people watched the scenes. Flexible films were wound by a cotton ribbon on a cylinder.
Sitting on a chair before the box the viewer peered through the lens. Maulana rotated the handle on the cylinder shifting the scenes. The mesmerised viewers queued up in large numbers to have a glimpse of these scenes.
A tall man with an unkempt long beard usually dressed in a flowing robe and turban Maulana was a regular for a few years at the Thrissur Pooram. It is said that he hailed from Tamil Nadu because as the scenes changed he used to sing Tamil songs with a pronounced dialect. There is evidence that Maulana and his film exhibition was held at various other temple festivals in the Malabar.
In the early 1930s, the Thrissur Pooram ground witnessed another touring exhibition of films. A young man from Kozhikode, Kashmikandi Kunjiraman, bought films from Bombay, set up the Crown Touring Company and travelled across the Malabar showing films.
He used a bioscope imported from England. Most of the films he exhibited were English movies and sometimes scenes from Dada Phalke’s films. When he, Kunjiraman, heard that talkies had been introduced in Bombay he acquired a new machine hoping to introduce this new invention.
With the directions given to him by the manufacturers of the machine Kunjiraman decided to experiment with it. He made announcements that for the first time people could watch films with sound.
Kunjiraman’s experiment was successful and his temporary ‘theatre’ was houseful for all shows. It was a new beginning in the history of Malayalam cinema.
Another man who followed in the footsteps of Kunjiraman was Kunko, also from Kozhikode. Starting his career as a clerk in a theatre, Kunko went on to start a touring theatre.
But by the time he had settled down to this business permanent theatres had come up in various parts of the state. Kunko went on to work as a theatre manager at Coronation Theatre, Kozhikode, till his death. Kunko is widely regarded as a mentor in theatre management.
He brought changes in ticket distribution, system of labour, working conditions etc. in theatres.