ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Sound Cinema, Language, and Regionality: The Making of a Malayali Audience


N Anagha - English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Film Studies, Hyderabad, India


49 – Public Knowledge: Audiences in South Asian Media and Screen Studies


 Produced and largely circulated in the South Indian state of Kerala, Malayalam cinema has, in its almost-century-long history, played a key role in the social and cultural integration of the people of the state. Although the first sound film in Malayalam (Balan) came out in 1938, sound films in other languages such as Tamil and Telugu have been in circulation in Kerala from the early 1930s, engendering a demand from the audience for talkies talking their language. The question of language and identity, thus, was inextricably tethered to the emergence of sound cinema in Malayalam. This relation was also furthered by the fact that the early decades of sound cinema was the period when debates around the linguistic unification of the state of Kerala were rife. Cinema, in the political process of state formation, served as a medium to forge a kind of unified socio-cultural identity through the creation of a collective audience from a Malayali- speaking population spread across two princely states and a state province. Archival materials like early film posters, reviews, and film magazines show that the evolution of sound cinema in Kerala is a dialogical process that aided the construction of a distinct Malayali audience which, in turn, determined the cultural identity of Malayalam cinema as well. This paper, therefore, endeavors to historicize the emergence of a Malayali audience in this context.

Keywords: Audience; sound cinema; Malayalam; regionality; state formation