Have we lost the last Vestiges of Silent Tamil Cinema?

Most of contemporary Research around Tamil cinema, typically starts with the Talkies.. i.e Kalidas. This is understandable, since there are hardly any Silent Indian Films, and none of them, Tamil at all. Infact, there is only one known surviving print of a South Indian Film – Raja Marthanda Varma.

So, Most researchers inevitably have to fall back on Print material to make their assessments. Moreover, these material, which in itself must be 80-100 years old, must already have started decaying.

Very recently, I came across a print of a Research paper done by one Dr.Joseph Bernard Percy. The paper had been written in the year 1999. It is still available on the Internet here.

In one of the chapters, Dr.Percy mentions that the films Dharmapathini(1929) by A.Narayan and Anadhai Penn* ( Raja Sandow) had been preserved in the ‘University of California, Los Angeles’, although the print quality had deteriorated terribly.

16 Years have passed since then. I raised this issue with Dr.Krishnaswamy, Film Researcher ( Incidentally, the Son of Dr.K.Subhramanyam) during my conversation with him. He said he had no knowledge of this information, and would take this up when he next went to the U.S

Since then, I have tried to contact Dr.Joseph Percy, but unfortunately, have not been able to. So, I decided to send an email directly to the University of California, LA itself.

I am amazed at their response speed. I first spoke with a Chat support Librarian, who guided me in a day to contact the library directly, with the apt-URL. The next day, I sent an email directly to UCLA asking the status and making the citation done by Dr.Joseph Percy.

With the advent of Film Restoration technology over the years, I was hoping against hope, that these films or atleast, part of it, could have been saved. But, this was the information that i received.

Dear Es Chris,

I am afraid that we do not have record of these films in the collection at UCLA.

Mark Quigley
Manager, Archive Research & Study Center (ARSC)
UCLA Film & Television Archive

*Director K.Subhramanyam who was assisting Raja Sandow during the making of this film, wrote the story. The film was produced by Associated Pictures – Padmanabhan and was one of the last main stream Silent Films, before the Talkies broke through. 


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