Article written by R.Nataraja Mudaliar in the late 1930’s

R.Nataraja Mudaliar made Keechaka Vatham, the first film to be produced in South India in the year, 1916. Unfortunately, barring a couple of interviews, one which was published in Mail Magazine in the 1930’s ( which I have not seen) and one in the early 1970’s in Chitralaya Magazine ( can be seen at the Roja Muthiah Research Library), not much primary material about Mudaliar is available, or known to have survived.

During my trip to the N.F.A.I, early this year, I chanced to find this article which Mudaliar has written in the late 1930’s. It should be noted here, that by this period, Mudaliar had long left the film industry (in the Silent Era period), and now the Talkies were in place.

This article was written at a time, when the Talkie industry was on the verge of collapse. Film Studios like ‘Andhra Cinetone’ had collapsed and the iconic M.P.P.C Studios (K.Subrahmanyam/later Gemini Studios) was on financially weak ground. Its demise would happen the following year.

While the article is not very informative per-se, and does not go into details ( possibly since Mudaliar was out-of-touch with the realities of film making, by this time), it holds a lot of historical value, given that it is written by someone who made the first Thamizh film.

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The Dilemma of Private Collectors.. 

People tend to preserve things that they ‘treasure’ personally or which they believe, ‘will have the potential to return a windfall in the future’. From a social perspective, institutions like ‘Libraries’ and ‘Research Centres’ preserved material in the interests of the society, all though some ‘private ones’ were driven by ‘motives of profit’ as well.

But within this framework lay a sort of power – ‘the power to hold information.’ It enhanced the value of the ‘individual’ or the ‘organisation’ immensely. It meant that ‘individuals’ desiring in accessing this information were at the behest of the former. The ‘former’ could cut off ‘access to information’ at any time.

Since the material was in physical form, either in paper – ‘magazines’, ‘newspaper clippings’, ‘books’ ‘pamphlets’; film – ’35mm’, ’16mm’, ‘8mm’, ‘VHS Tapes’ or ‘microfilm formats’, the ownership lay in entirety with the current possesioner of the material.

Since the ‘individual’ would in all respect, have paid both ‘access and maintenance costs’ ( or obtained donor copies from someone else), they held absolute rights to the material. The holding of such rare material was almost like ‘access to private property’, and the owner could prevent access to any ‘trespasser’ at any point in time.

Another factor that needs to be mentioned in this is that the ‘borrower’ who wished to access such materials in this case, in most cases, did not have the infrastructure for ‘duplication’ or to ‘store and preserve material even if duplicated’ in most cases, especially if it dealt with film material.

With the advent of digital technology however, the power of ‘reproduction of any material in any form’ and its ‘subsequent storage’ of such digitized content has passed to anyone, almost like the air, that we breathe. This has brought a sea change in the attitude of some ‘individuals’ and ‘organisations’.

The fear that their content may be reproduced in digital form and taken out into the world, fears them.If that happened, no longer would they have absolute ownership of the material, in real world terms.

Some of these owners, have rare material, whose copyright have long expired. An attempt at monetization in any form today, will invariably lead to duplication. ( I refrain from using the word ‘piracy’, unless the owner is the ‘copyright holder’ of the ‘material in posession’). Should such content be ‘duplicated’ and ‘disseminated’ during the process of monetization, The owner can do nothing . So, they tighten ‘access’ even further.

It is agreed that many of them have invested heavily in acquiring such ‘rare’ priceless material, but with the ecosystem having changed, there is nothing that can be done to further, their cause. Either, they continue to ‘hoard’ material, without it being of benefit to no one, or they take the better stance in common sense, of allowing ‘desiring individuals’ access to information, for the benefit of enhancing the societies common knowledge.
Some instances where I have encountered such behavioral patterns, i cite below :-

( In the third case, I must humbly admit that the grudge in this case is extremely trivial and was mentioned to just complete a blog post. Compared to the small inconvenience of lack of reproduction, the larger importance is ‘Right of Access’. The immense benefits that the institution has given me through direct access to material for Reference. Thank you very much. )

  1. D.V. Balakrishnan, fan of M.K.ThyagarajaBhagavathar (and father of Suresh Balakrishnan, author of a biography on M.K.T), a person whom I have interviewed extensively tells me of a popular cinema celebrity of having a copy of ‘Rajamukthi’.  He tells me that the celebrity’s father himself has confirmed this information to D.V.Balakrishnan. There is no known film company of ‘Rajamukthi’ which is believed to have survived or any print known to be in circulation. ( Thanks to D.V.balakrishnan, i was able to trace a family in Madurai, which held one of the rare copies of this film, but which eventually decayed and went into garbage. It is a sad story indeed.)
  2. While Speaking with Shivangini Tandon, a researcher who is working on Director Jyotish Sinha, she tells me of a person who she had met in Sri Lanka, who has copies of the Sri Lanka film ‘Kapati Arakshakaya’ made by K.Subhramanyam ( Co directed by Jyotish Sinha), but is hesitant in letting out prints. The same person has uploaded a couples of the movie on YouTube.
  3. This is my own experience that I have of a ‘public Research centre, owned by private backing’. Without doubt, it does have the best facilities and is easily accessible for a layman without any hassles. The support staff are also very helpful in bringing out any content for Reference. Thank God! But when it comes to ‘reproduction’, they take a back seat. Some of the old magazines are breaking ( turned brittle) and filled with Termite holes. I asked them a xerox copy of some pictures from one such magazine, which they refused me. Fair enough.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             But can content not be shared without causing further physical damage, if one resorted to Digital methods? It most definitely can, if one possessed the right attitude.  Another instance of ‘reproduction’ turned down was when I requested for xerox of a couple of pictures of a magazine printed two years ago, was turned down. I was refused denial plainly and I was told that if I desired it ( since I was desperate!!!), i would have to Contact the publisher directly 😦 ( This was in stark contrast to my experience at the NFAI. The library staff there are way ‘too sweet’. Sounds cheesy maybe ,but no other adjectives fit them better!!!).