TO trace the colourful trail of Malaysian made Indian movies, we must go back to the 1960s. One could consider Rathapei (Bloody Lust) as the first Indian film made by a local production as it had been done by a dance troupe who recorded their performance on stage while touring India.
Two more projects would follow suit in the 1970s. One was by Felix Anthony, a producer from Ipoh with Thun Bangal Urangu Vathillai (Worries Don’t Stop) and Anbe En Anbe (My Love).
One was a disaster. The other two never saw light of day due to lack of funding.
So, credit for the first locally-made Indian movie to become a success has to go to Panchacharam Nalliah, better known as Pansha, who directed Naan Oru Malaysian (I Am Malaysian) in 1991.
Pansha, an established film distributor who then shot to fame in Adutha Veedu, a TV3 Tamil drama about hostile neighbours in 1984, recalls what spurred him on.
“During the 80s, many production houses from India did their filming in Malaysia. Every time they came, there was a lot of talk about collaborations with Malaysian artistes to encourage the film industry. But as soon as they finished production, these people went back and nothing more was heard. So, I decided to do something about it by making my own film,” says Pansha who wrote, directed and played the hero in the movie.
Naan Oru Malaysian made its run in three locations and raked in RM150,000. Pansha recollects that it played to full house in Kuala Lumpur’s Federal Cinema during its week-long run and even reckoned that it would have done better if not for the turmoil between two bickering political parties who had forced the authorities to cordon off the town area which affected attendance at the Coliseum Theatre in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, KL. But in all, the man has no regrets.
In 2005, Deepak Menon made Chemman Chaalai (The Gravel Road), a Tamil film with English subtitles. The film was shown at a number of film festivals across the world including the International Film Festival Rotterdam, San Francisco International Film Festival, Pusan International Film Festival, Korea, Nantes Festival 3 Continents, France and the Fukuoka International Film Festival in Japan. A few years later, he released another film, Chalanggai (Dancing Bells). These were not your average Tamil movies, but rather stories portraying the daily life of people as humanly and realistically as possible, and met with a promising reception. However because they were made in digital format (which is not yet a recognised medium), the movies were not classified as locally made films. although locally-made Indian movies are not a dime a dozen, there have been inroads made into the scene.
What made Naan Oru Malaysian different for Deepak’s films was that it was shot on 35mm film. According to Pansha, the director and producer of Naan Oru Malaysian from Berjaya Film Production, shooting on film is a giant step for the industry in terms of cost as it requires a huge budget. A can of film which has a screening time of five minutes can cost RM500. So, a full length movie spanning two and half hours can take up to 100 cans. In truth, this means that last year’s produc- tion of Appalam was indeed only the second Malaysian-made Indian movie after Naan Oru Malaysian to be shot on 35mm film.
Malay director Afdlin Shauki’s Appalam was produced by Tayangan Unggul, a sister company of Astro, and released with much hype