The pioneers of Indian cinema faced many obstacles peculiar to the subcontinent. Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu overcame unreliable electricity supply by building a glass studio. Dadasaheb Phalke cast males in the female roles because Indian women considered acting too degrading. J.C. Daniel also had trouble finding the female lead for his first movie, Vigathakumaran. After his initial leading lady from Bombay proved too demanding, Daniel employed a local woman. In doing so he opened himself up to another obstacle unique to Indian film makers - caste prejudice.
Determined to make the first Malayalam feature film in cinema history, J.C. Daniel consults with Phalke and R. Nataraja Mudaliar before selling off his land holdings to finance its production. Unlike the popular fantasies of Indian cinema, Daniel decides to write, direct and star in a social drama, casting his family and friends in most of the roles. Sharing his enthusiasm is P.K. Rosy, whose dreams of escaping her lower-caste status is encouraged by the favourable treatment she receives on set. After filming of her scenes complete, Celluloid flashes forward almost forty years where a journalist discovers Daniel eking out a meagre existence. The movie’s well-timed interval precedes an explanation as to how this came to be.
This biopic’s PG rated approach to the important subject of India’s caste system often works against its good intentions. Scenes depicting Rosy’s hesitancy in being seated while having makeup applied or joining the rest of the crew at the dinner table is affectingly portrayed, yet have an air of condescension when followed by the Daniel family chuckling at her ‘silliness’. More successful are scenes without this sitcom coda, particularly Rosy’s concern that earrings she has been lent will be unwanted once they have pierced her skin. Even the obligatory musical interlude is put to good use in capturing Rosy’s dreams of a better life.
Prithviraj Sukumaran provides a fine leading man and is ably supported by Mamta Mohandas as his wife Janet. Sreenivasan’s performance as journalist Chelangad Gopalakrishnan strengthens the film’s second half, which contains some of the worst use of rear projection seen since Beau James. As for Chandini, let's just say that her inexperience in front of the camera is well suited to her part as the film’s tragic heroine Rosy.
In a nice touch, Nandu Madhav reprises his role from Harishchandrachi Factory as Dadasaheb Phalke.
Though the movie features a scene in which J.C. Daniel advises Rosy that it is not her role to wash up after the crew, there are reports that she was required to do this after each day’s filming.
No scene recreations as Vigathakumaran is now lost. Biopic does feature some representations of what may have been, including the setup of the film's one remaining still.