`The Lost Life,' a 21-minute film, traces the life and times of J.C. Daniel.

It was the pioneering efforts of J.C. Daniel that inspired me to make a documentary on the filmmaker. R. Gopalakrishnan

The celluloid has been an awe-inspiring presence in the lives of the early entrants to the field. Drawn as they were like the proverbial moth to the flame, some of them left the scene unrecognised, unsung, while others had a more lasting influence and created a niche for themselves.J.C. Daniel who made `Vigathakumaran,' the first silent film, is one name that comes to mind when one traces the history of Malayalam cinema. While the exact year of the film remains controversial, R. Gopalakrishnan's research has led him to conclude that `Vigathakumaran' was made in 1930. He relies on the news report that appeared in the Deepika of 23 October 1930, covering the release of the film."It was the pioneering efforts of J.C. Daniel that drew me to the idea of a documentary on the filmmaker. He left for Madras and then moved to Bombay to learn filmmaking. He set up his own production facility to make `Vigathakumaran,'" says Gopalakrishnan.

Daniel's life

`The Lost Life,' a 21-minute film on J.C. Daniel pieces together fragments of Daniel's life from available documents and memories of the immediate family. Daniel's passion for films began soon after his schooling. It was a single-handed effort, as he handed all aspects of production himself, says Gopalakrishnan who believes that J.C. Daniel never got the recognition he deserved. The Kerala State Chalachitra Academy's prestigious J.C. Daniel Award was the first step in the right direction, he adds.When Harris Daniel, the filmmaker's son speaks about his father and his seminal work, one realises that few realised the worth of the film. For the family that bore the brunt of the penury that befell them because of the father's adventures in filmmaking, the film in the can held little value. "It is claimed that the present office of the Public Service Commission office in Thiruvananthapuram is where Daniel's studio once was. That it was `Sarada Vilas' in the same area that functioned as his studio is proved from a letterhead that carries the filmmaker's signature," he claims. Agasteeswaram, a sleepy hamlet in Tamil Nadu, is where J.C. Daniel spent the last years of his life. Born the son of a medical practitioner, Daniel trained as a dentist after his career in films failed to take off. Despite the 28 years he devoted to dentistry, Daniel continued his forays into filmmaking, trying to inch his way back to his first love, the world of moving images.Early efforts to recognize J.C. Daniel's position in the history of Malayalam Cinema were stymied. The film recreates phases of J.C. Daniel's life and career with documents of archival value and voices of those who knew him on a very personal level, thereby giving more credence and continuity to what has so far been a fragmented description. The film's evocative narration is by Suseela who has also produced the film.