Nirmala, The First-Ever Malayalam Film, Completes 75 Years of Release

The first-ever Malayalam-language film, Nirmala, recently completed 75 years since its big-screen debut. Produced by late actor-producer PJ Cherian, Nirmala is cherished by film critics and audiences alike for its spectacular storytelling. This 1948 drama flick was known to have freed Malayalam cinema from the grips of Tamil influence in terms of movies, music, and theatres. Nirmala was the first Malayalam movie to have an ensemble cast of only Malayalee actors, and it was set against the backdrop of a Keralan setting.

On the occasion of Nirmala’s 75th anniversary, the Chavara Cultural Center in Kochi hosted a program on November 19 to honour the talented producer PJ Cherian. Nirmala was inspired by a novel named Neela Sari, written by Jacob Munjappali.

Cherian, a famous cultural activist and artist, was the first person who dared to open his own production house in 1945. Cherian named the company Kerala Talkies. The production house bankrolled the first-ever Malayalam film. Besides being the first Malayalam film, the industry’s first pre-recorded playback song was also a part of Nirmala. While playback singers C Sarojini Amma and Govinda Rao made their debut with Nirmala, renowned poet G Sankara Kurup penned fifteen songs for the 1948 film.

Coming to the cast of Nirmala, the lead roles in the film were played by Cherian’s son, Joseph, and his wife, Baby. Apart from them, actors like PJ Varkey, Kamalamma, SJ Dev, and many other theatre artists from the ‘Sanmarga Vilasam Nadaka Samithi’ group essayed crucial roles in the film. Cherian’s two daughters also played pivotal roles in the film, directed by PV Krishna Iyer.

In an interview with Times of India, PJ Cherian’s grandson spoke about the film. “The decision to produce a movie spending around Rs 1.75 lakh during that period was a bold step. Cherian’s experience as a theatre artist and activist was a major inspiration to produce a movie. He managed to collect the money for the movie production as shares from different personalities in the city, including members of the Cochin Royal family,” shared PJ Cherian junior.

The 75th-anniversary event of Nirmala was inaugurated by Kerala’s cultural minister, VN Vasavan. Apart from him, the event also marked the presence of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Sibi Malayil, Lal Jose, Madhupal and MK Sanu, among others. PJ Cherian’s portrait unveiling ceremony was conducted by filmmaker Sibi Malayil.

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