Keechaka Vadham

Last updated

Keechaka Vadham
Directed by R. Nataraja Mudaliar
Written byC. Rangavadivelu
Produced byR. Nataraja Mudaliar
  • Raju Mudaliar
  • Jeevarathnam
CinematographyR. Nataraja Mudaliar
Edited byR. Nataraja Mudaliar
India Film Company
Release date
1917–1918 [lower-alpha 1]
Budget 35,000 [3]
Box office50,000 [4]

Keechaka Vadham (transl.The Extermination of Keechaka) [5] is an Indian silent film produced, directed, filmed and edited by R. Nataraja Mudaliar. The first film to have been made in South India, it was shot in five weeks at Nataraja Mudaliar's production house, India Film Company. As the members of the cast were Tamils, Keechaka Vadham is considered to be the first Tamil film. No print of it is known to have survived, making it a lost film.


The screenplay, written by C. Rangavadivelu, is based on an episode from the Virata Parva segment of the Hindu epic Mahabharata , focusing on Keechaka's attempts to woo Draupadi. The film stars Raju Mudaliar and Jeevarathnam as the central characters.

Released in the late 1910s, Keechaka Vadham was commercially successful and received positive critical feedback. The film's success prompted Nataraja Mudaliar to make a series of similar historical films, which laid the foundation for the South Indian cinema industry and led to his being recognised as "the father of Tamil cinema." Nataraja Mudaliar's works were an inspiration to other filmmakers including Raghupathi Surya Prakasa and J. C. Daniel.


Keechaka, the commander of King Virata's forces, attempts to woo and marry Draupadi by any means necessary; he even tries to molest Draupadi, prompting her to tell Bhima, her husband and one of the Pandava brothers, about it. Later, when Keechaka meets Draupadi, she requests him to rendezvous with her at a secret hiding place. He arrives there, only to find Bhima instead of Draupadi; Bhima kills him. [6]




Painting of Keechaka and Draupadi by Raja Ravi Varma Raja Ravi Varma, Keechaka and Sairandhri, 1890.jpg
Painting of Keechaka and Draupadi by Raja Ravi Varma

R. Nataraja Mudaliar, a car dealer who was based in Madras, [lower-alpha 2] developed an interest in motion pictures after watching Dadasaheb Phalke's 1913 mythological film, Raja Harishchandra at the Gaiety theatre in Madras. [8] The former then learned the basics of photography and filmmaking from Stewart Smith, a Poona-based British cinematographer who had worked on a documentary that chronicled the viceroyship of Lord Curzon (1899–1905). [9] Nataraja Mudaliar bought a Williamson 35 mm camera and printer from Mooppanar, a wealthy landowner based in Thanjavur, for 1,800. [10] [lower-alpha 3] In 1915, he established the India Film Company, which was South India's first production company. He then set up a film studio on Miller's Road in Purasawalkam with the help of business associates who invested in his production house. [12] [lower-alpha 4]

Nataraja Mudaliar sought advice from his friend, theatrical artist Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, who suggested that he depict the story of Draupadi and Keechaka from the Virata Parva segment of the Hindu epic Mahabharata . [3] Some of Nataraja Mudaliar's relatives objected, feeling that it was an inappropriate story for his debut venture, but Sambandha Mudaliar persuaded him to proceed with making the film as audiences were familiar with the story. [14] Attorney C. Rangavadivelu, a close friend of Nataraja Mudaliar, assisted him in writing the screenplay as the latter was not a writer by profession. [15] The paintings of Raja Ravi Varma provided Nataraja Mudaliar with a source of inspiration for recreating the story on celluloid. [16] Nataraja Mudaliar cast stage actors Raju Mudaliar and Jeevarathnam as Keechaka and Draupadi, respectively. [15]


Keechaka Vadham was filmed on a budget of 35,000 (about $2,700 in 1917), [lower-alpha 3] which was quite expensive at the time. [15] Principal photography began in 1916–1917, and the film was shot over 35–37 days. [lower-alpha 5] Nataraja Mudaliar imported the film stock from London with the help of an Englishman named Carpenter, who worked for the Bombay division of the photographic technology company, Kodak. [19] Film historian Randor Guy noted in his 1997 book Starlight Starbright: The Early Tamil Cinema that a thin white piece of cloth was used as a ceiling for filming and sunlight was filtered through it onto the floor. [20] Rangavadivelu was also experienced in playing female roles on stage for the Suguna Vilasa Sabha, and coached the artists on set. [21] The film's production, cinematography and editing were handled by Nataraja Mudaliar himself. [22]

The film was shot with a speed of 16 frames per second, which was the standard rate for a silent film, at the India Film Company, with intertitles in English, Tamil and Hindi. The Tamil and Hindi intertitles were written by Sambandha Mudaliar and Devdas Gandhi respectively, while Nataraja Mudaliar wrote the English intertitles himself with the assistance of Guruswami Mudaliar and Thiruvengada Mudaliar, a professor from Pachaiyappa's College. [23]

Keechaka Vadham was the first film made in South India; as the cast was Tamil, it is also the first Tamil film. [24] According to Guy, Nataraja Mudaliar established a laboratory in Bangalore to process the film negatives since there was no film laboratory in Madras. Nataraja Mudaliar believed that Bangalore's colder climate "would be kind to his exposed film stock"; he processed the film negatives there each weekend and returned on Monday morning to resume filming. [25] The film's final reel length was 6,000 ft (1,800 m). [26]

Release, reception and legacy

According to Muthiah, Keechaka Vadham was first released at the Elphinstone Theatre in Madras; [4] the film netted 50,000 (about $3,850 in 1917) [lower-alpha 3] after being screened in India, Burma, Ceylon, the Federated Malay States and Singapore. The film yielded 15,000 (about $1,155 in 1917), [lower-alpha 3] which Muthiah noted to be a "tidy profit in those days." [4] Writer Firoze Rangoonwalla notes that a reviewer for The Mail praised the film: "It has been prepared with great care and is drawing full houses". [27] Guy pointed out that with the film's critical and commercial success, Nataraja Mudaliar had "created history". [28] Since no print is known to have survived, it appears to be a lost film. [29]

Keechaka Vadham's success inspired Nataraja Mudaliar to make a series of films based on Hindu mythology: Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (1918), Lava Kusa (1919), Shiva Leela (1919), Rukmini Satyabhama (1922) and Mahi Ravana (1923). [30] He retired from filmmaking in 1923 after a fire killed his son and destroyed his production house. [31] Nataraja Mudaliar is widely regarded as "the father of Tamil cinema," and his films helped lay the foundation for the South Indian cinema industry; his works inspired Raghupathi Surya Prakasa, the son of Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu, and J. C. Daniel. [32]

See also


  1. While film historians Suresh Chabria and Film News Anandan said the film was released in 1917, [1] film historians Randor Guy, S. Muthiah and history professor Knut A. Jacobsen asserted the film was released in 1918. [2]
  2. The city was renamed Chennai in 1996. [7]
  3. 1 2 3 4 The average exchange rate in 1917 was 13 Indian rupees () per 1 US dollar (US$). [11]
  4. According to Baskaran and Tamil feminist writer C. S. Lakshmi, the place where Nataraja Mudaliar founded the India Film Company was previously known as Tower House. [13]
  5. While historian S. Muthiah wrote that principal photography began in 1917 and took five weeks (35 days) to complete, Pradeep Madhavan of Hindu Tamil Thisai estimated that Keechaka Vadham was shot over the course of 37 days. [17] Nataraja Mudaliar said he began shooting the film c.the end of 1916. [18]

Related Research Articles

Tamil cinema India-based Tamil-language film industry

Tamil cinema, also known as Kollywood, is the Indian filmmaking industry of Tamil-language motion pictures. It is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in the Kodambakkam neighbourhood, leading to the industry's nickname Kollywood, the word being a portmanteau of Kodambakkam and Hollywood.

<i>Nartanasala</i> 1962 film by Kamalakara Kameshwara Rao

Nartanasala is a 1963 Indian Telugu-language Hindu mythological film directed by Kamalakara Kameswara Rao. The film was produced by an actress C. Lakshmi Rajyam and her husband C. Sridhar Rao under the Rajyam Pictures banner. It stars N. T. Rama Rao, Savitri, S. V. Ranga Rao, and Relangi while Mukkamala, Mikkilineni and Dandamudi Rajagopal play supporting roles among others. Susarla Dakshinamurthi composed the film's soundtrack and background score. M. A. Rahman and S. P. S. Veerappa served as the cinematographer and editor respectively. T. V. S. Sarma was the film's art director.

<i>Parasakthi</i> (film) 1952 film by Krishnan-Panju

Parasakthi is a 1952 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by Krishnan–Panju and written by M. Karunanidhi. The film stars Sivaji Ganesan, S. V. Sahasranamam, S. S. Rajendran, Sriranjani Jr., and Pandari Bai. It is the cinematic acting debut of Ganesan and Rajendran. Based on Pavalar Balasundaram's play of the same name, Parasakthi narrates the misfortunes that befall the members of a Tamil family during World War II.

<i>Chandralekha</i> (1948 film) 1948 film by S. S. Vasan

Chandralekha is a 1948 Indian historical adventure film produced and directed by S. S. Vasan of Gemini Studios. Starring T. R. Rajakumari, M. K. Radha and Ranjan, the film follows two brothers who fight over ruling their father's kingdom and marrying the village dancer, Chandralekha.

<i>Haridas</i> (1944 film) 1944 Indian film

Haridas is a 1944 Tamil language film directed by Sundar Rao Nadkarni and starring M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, T. R. Rajakumari and N. C. Vasanthakokilam.

<i>Andha Naal</i> 1954 film by Sundaram Balachander

Andha Naal is a 1954 Indian Tamil-language mystery-thriller film, produced by A. V. Meiyappan and directed by S. Balachander. It is the first film noir in Tamil cinema, and the first Tamil film to be made without songs, dance, or stunt sequences. Set in the milieu of World War II, the story is about the killing of a radio engineer Rajan. The suspects are Rajan's wife Usha, the neighbour Chinnaiya Pillai, Rajan's brother Pattabi, Rajan's sister-in-law Hema (Menaka), and Rajan's mistress Ambujam (Suryakala). Each one's account of the incident points to a new suspect.

P. K. Raja Sandow

Raja Sandow was an Indian film actor, film director and producer. He began his career as an actor in silent films and later became a prominent actor and director in Tamil and Hindi films of the 1930s. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of early Indian cinema.

Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar

Pammal Vijayarangam Sambandham Mudaliar (1873–1964), who has been described as "the founding father of modern Tamil theatre", was a playwright, director, producer and actor of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries. He was a recipient of the civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan.

<i>Kalidas</i> (film) 1931 film by H. M. Reddy

Kalidas is a 1931 Indian Tamil- and Telugu-language biographical film directed by H. M. Reddy and produced by Ardeshir Irani. It is notable for being the first sound film in the Tamil and Telugu languages, and the first sound film to be made in a language from South India. It was based on the life of the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa; it featured P. G. Venkatesan in the title role and T. P. Rajalakshmi as the female lead, with L. V. Prasad, Thevaram Rajambal, T. Susheela Devi, J. Sushila, and M. S. Santhanalakshmi in supporting roles.

<i>Sathi Leelavathi</i> (1936 film) 1936 film by Ellis R. Dungan

Sathi Leelavathi is a 1936 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by Ellis R. Dungan and written by Madras Kandaswamy Mudaliar. It is based on S. S. Vasan's novel of the same name, which had been serialised in 1934. M. K. Radha stars as Krishnamurthy, a man from Madras, who is lured into drinking alcohol by an acquaintance. Believing he murdered his friend in a drunken stupor, Krishnamurthy flees to Ceylon while his wife and daughter, played by M. R. Gnanambal and M. K. Mani respectively, are reduced to poverty. T. S. Balaiah, M. G. Ramachandran, M. V. Mani and P. Nammalvar appear in supporting roles.

<i>Velaikari</i> 1949 film by A. S. A. Sami

Velaikari is a 1949 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by A. S. A. Sami and produced by M. Somasundaram under Jupiter Pictures. It was based on the play of the same name written by C. N. Annadurai, while incorporating plot details from the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo (1844). The film stars K. R. Ramasamy, V. N. Janaki and M. V. Rajamma. It was released on 25 February 1949 and became a success. The film was remade in Telugu as Santhosham (1955), in Hindi as Naya Aadmi (1956), and in Kannada as Malli Maduve (1963).

<i>Mathru Bhoomi</i> 1939 Indian film

Mathru Bhoomi is a 1939 Indian Tamil-language film directed by H. M. Reddy. It was an adaptation of the Bengali stage play Chandragupta by Dwijendralal Ray.

Cinema of South India Southern Indian cinema industries

The Cinema of South India is used to refer collectively the four distinct film industries of Southern region of India – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada film industries – as a single entity.

R. Nataraja Mudaliar Indian film director

Rangaswamy Nataraja Mudaliar (1885–1972), was an Indian film director. Popularly known as the father of Tamil cinema, he was a pioneer in the production of silent films. Starting his career as an automobile spare parts merchant, he started the "Indian Film Company Limited" in Madras. In 1917, Mudaliar made Keechaka Vadham, South India's first silent film. Upon critical success of the film, he went on to produce films like Draupadhi Vastrapaharanam (1918), Lava Kusa (1919), Rukmini Satyabhama and Mayil Ravana. After the death of his son in a fire accident in 1923, Mudaliar retired from films.

Draupadi is a 1931 sound film from Indian cinema. The film was a big-budget mythological production from Ardeshir Irani's Imperial Film Company following their release of the first talkie in India, Alam Ara (1931). It was directed by Bhagwati Prasad Mishra, who had made a name for himself as a photographer and painter and had worked with Irani in his Star, Majestic, Royal and Imperial Studios. The story adaptation from Vyasa's Mahabharata and the screenplay, were by Mishra. The star cast included Prithviraj Kapoor who played the role of Arjuna, with Ermeline as Draupadi, and Khalil as Krishna. The rest of cast included Hadi, Elizer, Rustom Irani and Jilloobai. The cinematographer was Adi Irani.

<i>Vedhala Ulagam</i> 1948 Tamil film by A. V. Meiyappan

Vedhala Ulagam is a 1948 Indian Tamil-language fantasy film directed and produced by A. V. Meiyappan, and written by P. Neelakantan. Adapted from the play of the same name by Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the film stars T. R. Mahalingam, K. Sarangapani, Mangalam, K. R. Chellam and C. T. Rajakantham. It was released on 11 August 1948 and became a commercial success.

<i>Menaka</i> (1935 film) 1935 film by P. K. Raja Sandow

Menaka is a 1935 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by P. K. Rajasandow and produced by Sri Shanmuganandha Talkie Company. The film stars T. K. Shanmugam and T. K. Bhagavathi with N. S. Krishnan, S. V. Sahasranamam, K. R. Ramasamy and T. K. Muthusamy in supporting roles. The film is about two lovers who get separated because of the designs of some envious persons and their reunion after much anguish and anxiety.

Pathi Bhakthi is a 1936 Indian Tamil-language drama film directed by P. Y. Altekar. It is based on the Madurai Original Boy's Company (MOBC) theatre troupe's play of the same name. The film stars K. P. Kesavan, Radha Bai and Kali N. Ratnam.

<i>Sri Aandal</i> 1948 Indian film

Sri Aandal is a 1948 Indian Tamil-language Hindu devotional film directed by Velsamy Kavi. Based on Andal, it stars U. R. Jeevarathnam as the title character and P. S. Govindan. The film was reasonably successful, but no print of it is known to survive, making it a lost film.