Suresh Chabria writes: ‘Unlike Phalke’s Kaliya Mardan which also focuses on the subject of Krishna’s childhood, Muralivala introduces the character of Radha in the narrative. In fact, the Radha-Krishna theme that is absent in the Bhagavata Purana and in Phalke’s film, dominates Muralivala. In this it follows the later Gita Govinda and Vaishnavite traditions in which she figures as an older, married woman who neglects her husband and household duties to answer the ‘summons’ of Krishna.
Muralivala opens with the iconic sequence of the child Krishna playing the flute surrounded by cows and cowherds and is followed by his numerous pranks which torment the gopis and Radha’s mother-in-law. However, these sequences are brief interludes serving as the background to the larger philosophical debate about the nature of Radha’s love for Krishna. Is it merely a physical attraction? Or is it the spiritual longing of a devotee to merge with the divine principle or ‘incarnation of the Almighty’?
In one key episode, Krishna appears before Radha and urges her to look at him, ‘with the eye of wisdom. You will attain me when you know me to be Omnipresent.... So unless you learn to realise me in your husband Raman, you will not attain eternal happiness,’ he says. Raman (in an exceptionally nuanced performance by V. Shantaram) and his mother are the other two participants in this theological discussion which is a core Vaishnava belief. While the child-god Krishna playfully torments the mother, Raman is torn by jealousy and all too human doubts about Radha’s fidelity and love for him.
In the extraordinary climax following Radha’s vision of Krishna-as-Raman and Raman-as-Krishna and Raman’s realisation of Krishna’s divine nature Krishna descends in a dream like movement into Kaliya’s poisoned lake and underwater palace. He then reappears triumphantly after quelling the serpent-king, and Radha, Raman, along with the entire village receive the classical theophanic vision of Krishna fluting on Kaliya’s hood. These sequences are more elaborately staged than in the ending of Kaliya Mardan as Kaliya is shown in both his asura and reptilian forms, and Krishna is briefly envisioned holding the emblems of conch, discus, lotus and mace in his four arms. Finally, Raman prostrates himself before Krishna and the cosmic and human drama comes to a close.
The surviving reels were found in an advanced state of decay, but this has not completely marred the beauty of Painter’s pictorial style. The pastoral landscape and the evocation of a rural paradise with its daily routine enlivened by Krishna’s enchanting antics are beautifully captured by Painter’s camera and seamless editing. But above all, the mystical theme of divine and physical love which is the basis of the Radha cult and bhakti poetry gives Muralivala a unique position among the surviving mythologicals of the silent period and in the history of the genre as a whole.’. From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 92-94.