Catholic propaganda film produced and written by the Irish lay-priest Thomas Gavan Duffy together with Bruce Gordon as a fund raiser for the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Pondicherry. Although there was a village called Kil-Arni nearby, the film was shot in March and April l923 in the village of Sattiamangalam inhabited by Catholic Untouchables to avoid problems of caste and religious dissent. The plot tells of a reprobate called Ram who is converted to Catholicism by the exemplary conduct of the local priest (Duffy himself) during an epidemic. The main interest of the film resides in its location footage showing the landscapes and farming practices in the district. The non-professional cast was recruited locally. The film was processed in Boston where it was premiered on 25 October 1923.
Suresh Chabria writes: ‘This Catholic propaganda film produced and written by the Irish missionary T. Gavan Duffy was made at the suggestion of Mgr. McGlinchey of Boston. Duffy had accompanied McGlinchey on a tour of Ceylon and India in December 1922 and January 1923. To supplement their resources for missionary work McGlinchey proposed the making of a film which could be used for raising funds among the faithful in the US and Ireland.
Duffy states, ‘All over India Mgr. McGlinchey kept looking for an enterprising missioner who would venture into movie land but found nobody willing and able to accept. Finally I made up my mind to throw aside my regular work for a few weeks and to become the movie-star of the Far East!’ His adventures and experiences during the production of the film in March and April 1923 make for amusing reading. For ‘professional’ help he turned to Raghupati Surya Prakash, the pioneer director and cinematographer from Madras. However, he seems to have valued the assistance of a Catholic layman, Bruce Gordon, more.
The plot is about the conversion of a one-time thief called Ram. During an epidemic he is inspired by a missionary–played by Duðy himself–to become a model Christian and a catechist. Although the film was shot in the village of Sattiamangalam, the name of a nearby village, Kil-Arni, was used because it sounded Irish. Sattiamangalam was also chosen because the village already had a population of Catholic converts who were untouchables, thus avoiding the problem of caste taboos which could have hampered the making of the film elsewhere.
The film produced the desired results abroad and some highly exaggerated reviews. It was screened in India but was criticised for showing Indians in a negative light. With its open contempt for India’s ‘pagan’ culture, the film does have several offensive portions, and today its main interest perhaps lies in the documentary style footage of agricultural practices in the district of Velantangal’, From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 47.
R.S. Prakash (Director, Cinematographer) – Show Filmography
Raghupati Surya Prakash (1901-56) Full name: Raghupati Surya Prakasha Rao. South Indian pioneer director and cinematographer. Worked in Tamil and Telugu. Born in Madras, son of Raghupathi Venkaiah, a wealthy Andhra businessman and photographer who started film exhibition in South India around 1910 and built the first cinema in Madras (1914). Educated by Christian missionaries in Vepery. Sent overseas to learn film-making, he went to London and joined Barkers Motion Photography in Ealing (1918), then went to Germany (where he saw Murnau at work) and to Hollywood. He travelled to various European countries, bringing a 35mm camera home to Madras (1920). The faulty camera ruined his first feature, Meenakshi Kalyanam. Set up Star of the East Studio, known as the Glass Studio, in Purasawalkam, Madras (1921), owned by his father R. Venkaiah, where he made Bhishma Pratigya. A. Narayanan, C. Pullaiah and other pioneers worked with him there. The films were distributed throughout the subcontinent with intertitles in various languages. Probably directed the Catholic propaganda film, The Catechist of Kil-Arni, produced and written by the Irish priest Thomas Gavin Duffy together with Bruce Gordon as a fund-raiser for the Paris Foreign Mission Society in Pondicherry. Operated as distributor (1924-5) and founded Guarantee Pics (1926) with backing from the merchant-landlord Moti Narayana Rao, but it also went bankrupt. Helped Narayanan to set up the famous General Pics (for which he made the hit Leila the Star of Mingrelia) and Srinivasa Cinetone Studio (1928-39). Started a laboratory (1930). Separated from Narayanan in the mid-30s and joined Sundaram Sound Studio. Worked with Govardhan Film Distributors, owning 3 cinemas in Madras. Shot, developed and edited all his early films. Known as a brilliant technician: in Draupadi Vastrapaharanam he managed to make one actor appear in 5 places within one image, apparently without resorting to optical effects. Freelance director from mid-30s. Influenced Y.V. Rao who acted in his Gajendra Moksham. Associated mostly with mythologicals, often shot at the Gingee Fort near Madras. His Tamil reformist social, Anadhai Penn, is an early instance of nationalist propaganda just before WW2. There is contradictory evidence about some of Prakash’s early Tamil sound films, which some sources ascribe to Prakash and others to his collaborator Narayanan; e.g. Draupadi Vastrapaharanam, Krishna Arjuna, Indrasabha and Rajasekharan. We have credited them to both film-makers. Also, the Telugu film Bondam Pelli (1940), made at the Madras United Artists and officially credited to H.M. Reddy, is at times credited to Prakash.
Producer: Thomas Gavan Duffy; Writer: Thomas Gavan Duffy, Bruce Gordon; Cinematographer: R.S. Prakash
Cast: Thomas Gavan Duffy