J C Daniel (Prithviraj) was born in Nagercoil and he succeeded in making the first film in Malayalam, Vigathakumaran or The Lost Child in 1928. He had learnt the techniques in filmmaking from the legendary filmmaker and the father of Indian films, Dada Saheb Phalke.
He made Vigathakumaran, a social drama, which had an ordinary worker named P K Rosy (Chandni) as its heroine. But the orthodox society didn't approve of all these and the showing of Daniel's film were disrupted. Rosy had to flee from the place and later no one knew what happened to her.
Though Daniel recovered from the financial crisis that followed by becoming a dentist, he lost all that he had once again, when he attempted to make another film. He died in poverty, without being acknowledged by any. His wife Janet (Mamta Mohandas) was the only person who stood by him, all along, like a pillar of support.
There is an inherent nobility in making a film on this genius. Based on writer Chelangad Gopalakrishnan's (played in the film by Sreenivasan) efforts that brought the story of Daniel to the world and also on Vinu Abraham's book titled 'Nashta naayika' on Rosy, Kamal has put in sincere efforts to remind this golden lesson to all movie buffs here. This is history in the making and salute to all those involved in this venture.
Still, the question is how much is this engaging as a film? The answer is, to a certain extent for sure, mainly due to the fact that Daniel's life has perhaps been more intriguing than a mystery thriller. But the whole story has been narrated like a conventional documentary.
Then there is the question of authenticity of facts as well. There has been an effort to put the whole blame of not giving the due for Daniel during his lifetime, on a bureaucrat. But then the question arises that even the film industry failed to acknowledge Daniel even though he died only in 1975. There are some casual mentions about some of the popular names but all that lacks enough clarity or relevance. The absence of proper research and a lazy narrative style is evident at times.
When Daniel's son is alive even now it is not clear why he has not been included in this biopic (the role has also been done by Prithviraj). The function where Daniel's son has been presented too is not really convincing and it is not clear whether some of the celebrities who are shown there were actually present during the original event.
Prithviraj has played the role in his usual style, but the surprise here is singer Chandni, who played P K Rosy. Mamta is fine, at best. Venu's visuals and M Jayachandran's music is top notch.
In an era when spectacular biopics like 'Lincoln' are being made, 'Celluloid' is a “commercialized and half hearted” attempt, at best. Remember, Malayalam cinema has seen a classic film like Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback made three decades ago, based on the controversial life of an actress. Celluloid is nowhere near, in its brilliance as a film.
However, Celluloid needs to be appreciated for bringing the life of a legend on screen, which was unbelievably tragic. If you are there to experience that feeling alone, the film will work for you. This is one story that every Malayali who loves movies, should be aware about.
Even then, almost a century after he made the first film in Malayalam, J C Daniel certainly deserved a better tribute than this one.