Hollywood films like Ten Commandments (1956), King of Kings (1961), The Bible – in the beginning… (1966) etc. were all box office hits in Kerala. Stories from the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ were a favourite subject for Malayalam plays.Life of Christ, presented as a musical opera (Sangeetha Natakam) in 1940’s by the Sanmarga Vilasam Natana Sabha, under the leadership of Artist P.J. Cherian, was staged throughout the State. In South Indian cinema, probably the song sequence in the Tamil film Gnanasoundari (1948) was the first attempt to present the life of Christ on screen. The song Nenjame nee anjaathey nam andavarey…. sung by P.G. Venkateshan was visualised with scenes from the life of Christ.
Malayalam films like Snapaka Yohannan (1963) also had the story of Jesus Christ as a sub-plot. The first film that exclusively featured the life of Christ in Malayalam was Jesus, released on December 21, 1973, just before Christmas. The film was a huge hit. The Tamil version was also a success.
Produced and directed by P.A. Thomas under the banner of Universal Pictures, the film was shot in colour at Gemini Studios. P.A. Thomas also wrote the script and dialogues. Editing by U. Rajagopal and cinematography by N. Karthikeyan was impressive. The film had music by four composers – M.S. Viswanathan, K.J. Yesudas, Alleppey Ranganath and Joseph Krishna.
Popular artistes like Thikkkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Jose Prakash, K.P. Ummer, Vincent, Rani Chandra, Khadeeja, Ushakumari from Malayalam and Gemini Ganeshan, Major Sundararajan, OAK Thevar , M.N. Nambiar , V.K. Ramaswami from Tamil essayed important roles. This was Jayalalitha’s debut Malayalam film and her dance sequence was a sensation.
The film looked at the life of Jesus Christ, from birth to resurrection, in a very concise manner. The special effects used in some of the scenes like Jesus (Murali Das) defeating the Satan (OAK Thevar), Snapaka Yohannan or John the Baptist (Gemini Ganeshan) baptising Jesus Christ; Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread; a leper being cured by the touch of Jesus; a dumb girl getting her power of speech, crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ were striking.
Murali Das as Jesus Christ, Gemini Ganeshan as John the Baptist, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair as King Herod, K. P. Ummer as Antipas excelled in their roles. Jayalalitha (Salomi), Usha Kumari (Mary Magdalene), Prameela (Martha), Jayabharathi (Veronica), M.N. Nambiar (Judas), Jose Prakash (Annas), Major Sundararajan (Pilathos), Vincent ( John the Apostle ), V.K. Ramaswami (Saint Peter), S.V. Ramadas ( Joseph), G.K. Pillai (Caiaphas) starred in significant roles.
The lyrics were penned by Vayalar Rama Varna, Bharanikkavu Sivakumar, Sreekumaran Thampi, P.Bhaskaran and Augustine Vanchimala. Some of the popular songs were Gagultha malakaley…(Bharanikkavu Sivakumar-music-singer K.J. Yesudas), Ente munthirichaarino… (P.Bhaskaran, music-M.S. Viswanathan, L.R. Easwari), and Osana Osana…(Lyrics-Augustine Vanchimala, music- Alleppey Ranganath, P. Jayachandran and K.P. Brahmanandan)
Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film on life of Jesus Christ, as the only Malayalam in which Jayalalitha acted, and for the music,especially for the song Gagultha malakaley