Director: R.S. Prakash, Thomas Gavan Duffy; Writer: Thomas Gavan Duffy, Bruce Gordon; Producer: Thomas Gavan Duffy; Cinematographer: R.S. Prakash; Cast: Thomas Gavan Duffy
Duration: 00:41:38; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 185.876; Saturation: 0.003; Lightness: 0.501; Volume: 0.065; Cuts per Minute: 19.788
Summary: 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.