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The biopic on J. C. Daniel, 'Celluloid' bears a definitive Kamal signature. Replete with heart-rending moments, the movie takes you through the history of Malayalam cinema, to a milieu where caste-ism colours everything. The setting complements the reality of the times in the most realistic of manners with the dust roads, pull carts and old homesteads. The documentation of the tragic life of J. C. Daniel is replete with light and comic moments which elevates the movie. What stands out is the slang of the Neyyattinkara-Nagarcoil area, a Malayalam mixed with Tamil which the majority of the characters in the movie speaks to perfection.
'Celluloid' tells the tale of J. C. Daniel (Prithviraj) and his love for cinema. He goes to great lengths to get the equipment required to make a movie, writing numerous letters, visiting places and meeting Phalke-the man who brought cinema to India. Getting a female artiste to act in his movie was a tough task. It is decided that Rosamma, rechristened later as Rosie (Chandini), will essay the lead role in J. C. Daniel's revolutionary 'motion picture' venture, 'Vigathakumaran', the story of which J. C. Daniel himself conceived. He sells everything to make his dream a reality, further borrowing money to meet the expenses.
When finally 'Vigathakumaran' is screened at capitol, a 'cinemapura', the upper cast members of the audience creates a ruckus over a lower cast girl acting as a Nair lady. Rosie, hunted by the Madambis leaves town never to be seen again. Years later, the shrivelled, poverty ridden Daniel, with only his wife Janet (Mamta) by his side, is leading a life far removed from what he had envisaged. Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan's (Sreenivasan's) interest in Daniel's life, his efforts to give him his due and the flashbacks to the incidents in Daniel's life after 'Vigathakumaran' form the rest of the movie.
'Celluloid' opens with a mass of reel and ends with an apology to the legendary J. C. Daniel for the injustice done to him during his lifetime. The movie is a fitting tribute to cinema, J. C. Daniel-Malayalam's first filmmaker and Rosie- Malayalam's first heroine. It reinforces the message that cinema should be free of all social hierarchy and condemns the age old practice of caste-ism.
Prithviraj does an outstanding work, performing 3 different time frames to the hilt. The young and old J. C. Daniel equally impresses. The double role as J. C. Daniel's son in the end is also aptly done. Chandini finds her groove as Rosy easily, never once betraying that she is making her debut. Mamta as Janet impresses occasionally, especially in the first half. The supporting cast stands out with brilliant acting including the child artistes. The feeling that there is more to their lives, and another equally powerful story underlying the surface gets conveyed. Among the supporting cast Sreejith Ravi and T. G. Ravi as the young and old Sundararajan respectively have performed remarkably well.
Cinematography by Venu is another highlight. The magic and dream of cinema is captured in its full essence. The sequences that show Prithviraj waiting outside the production room like an expectant father, and the dying scene where the shadows of the leaves on the wall plays out like a cinema are all brilliant sequences. Editing by K. Rajagopal has technically elevated the movie, setting the milieu through the sepia tones and flawlessly binding the scenes. Music is again conceived to perfection. The old world charm is intact in all the songs. Music by M. Jayachandran and lyrics by Rafeeq Ahamed proves their versatility.
'Celluloid' is made rich with tragedy, comedy, satire, social message and sensuousness. With its long overdue tribute to cinema, 'Celluloid' is a must watch for any Malayali. CELLULOID Review By Rajeevan.