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.
A few days back, I was flipping through a back edition of a popular weekly info-tainment magazine, when i saw the advertisement of a published book, which supposedly had chronicled the history of Thamizh cinema’s hundred years. The promo advert for the book claims that Keechaka-Vatham, Thamizh cinema’s first film (Silent) was released in the year – 2018. I have not read that book, so i cannot make an opinion on that statement.
A few months ago, I was having a conversation with someone on Social media. The person claimed that Keechaka-Vatham was released in the year 2017. She pointed out to a reputed Film Historian, who had made that claim.
Sadly, none of us know know the exact date or year of release of Keechaka-Vatham. Not that it would matter, in my opinion, since no one would do it anyways – simply, because Mudaliar’s descendants unfortunately do not have a ‘political’, ‘artistic’ or ‘cinematic’ legacy to carry forward. So, no one needs to bother. This inference is underlined by a grouse raised by D.V.Balakrishnan, who claimed that no one from the State Government of Thamizhnadu celebrated M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s centenary, in the year 2012.
But, apparently, some attempts are being made to continuously extend star Actor-Politician M.G.R and legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan’s legacy. Would these stars continue to be remembered if either Ganesan’s family was still not in the cine-business or if MGR had not floated his own party? I don’t think so. But sadly, that is the way, things are in Thamizh nadu.
PC – http://www.agamudayarotrumai.com/t/nataraja-mudaliar
With regard to when Keechaka-vatham was released? The closest guess is the year ‘1916’. Nataraja Mudaliar, the maker of Keechaka-Vatham himself mentions this date in an interview to Chitralaya Magazine in the 1970’s. So, for all practical purposes, and until a more concrete primary source of some form emerges, 1916 will continue to be the date of release of Keechaka-Vatham- Thamizh Cinema’s first Film.