Tamil Film (or) Tamil Cinema (also known as the Tamil film industry, the Cinema of Tamil Nadu or the Chennai film industry) is a film industry based in Chennai, India, which produces feature films in the Tamil language. Also referred to as Kollywood, a portmanteau of Hollywood and Kodambakkam – the Chennai neighbourhood where most movie studios are located, Tamil cinema is India’s second largest film industry in terms of films produced, as per the Central Board of Film Certification report of 2011. Moving pictures have been exhibited in Chennai from 1892 onwards. The first silent movie in Tamil, Keechaka Vadham was made by R. Nataraja Mudaliar in 1901. The first talkie was a multi-lingual Kalidas which released on 31 October 1931, barely 7 months after India’s first talking picture Alam Ara By the end of the 1930s, the legislature of the State of Madras passed the Entertainment Tax Act of 1939. Tamil cinema later had a profound effect on other filmmaking industries of India, establishing Chennai as a secondary hub for Telugu cinema, Malayalam cinema, Kannada cinema, and Hindi cinema. In its modern era, Tamil films from Chennai have been distributed to various overseas theatres in Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malaysia, Japan, Oceania, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. The industry also inspired filmmaking in Tamil diaspora populations in other regions, such as in Europe and Canada.
Tamil cinema is often referred to as Kollywood, a portmanteau of the words Kodambakkam, an area of Chennai, where Tamil language feature films are produced, and Hollywood. The term Kollywood dates back to the 1940-80s when the term began to be widely used for describing Tamil cinema, the age when the term Bollywood was also starting to be used widely.
History – Early exhibitors
In 1897, a European exhibitor first screened a selection of silent short films at the Victoria Public Hall in Madras. The films all featured non-fictional subjects; they were mostly photographed records of day-to-day events. In Madras (present-day Chennai), the Electric Theatre was established for the screening of silent films. It was a favourite haunt of the British community in Madras. The theatre was shut down after a few years. This building is now part of a post office complex on Anna Salai (Mount Road). The Lyric Theatre was also built in the Mount Road area. This venue boasted a variety of events, including plays in English, Western classical music concerts, and ballroom dances. Silent films were also screened as an additional attraction. Swamikannu Vincent, an employee of the South Indian Railways in Trichy, purchased a film projector and silent films from the Frenchman Du Pont and set up a business as film exhibitor. He erected tents for screening films. His tent cinema became popular and he travelled all over the state with his mobile unit. In later years, he produced talkies and also built a cinema in Coimbatore. To celebrate the event of King George V’s visit in 1909, a grand exhibition was organised in Madras. Its major attraction was the screening of short films accompanied by sound. A British company imported a Crone megaphone, made up of a film projector to which a gramophone with a disc containing prerecorded sound was linked, and both were run in unison, producing picture and sound simultaneously. However, there was no synched dialogue. Raghupathy Venkiah Naidu, a successful photographer, took over the equipment after the exhibition and set up a tent cinema near the Madras High Court. R.Venkiah, flush with funds, built in 1912 a permanent cinema in the Mount Road area named Gaiety Theatre. It was the first in Madras to screen films on a full-time basis. The theatre later closed for commercial developments. Samikannu Vincent, who had built the first cinema of South India in Coimbatore, introduced the concept of “Tent Cinema” in which a tent was erected on a stretch of open land close to a town or village to screen the films. The first of its kind was established in Madras, called “Edison’s Grand Cinemamegaphone”. This was due to the fact that electric carbons were used for motion picture projectors.
History – Influences
The main impacts of the early cinema were the cultural influences of the country. The Tamil language was the medium in which many plays and stories were written since the ages as early as the Cholas. They were highly stylized and nature of the spectacle was one which could attract the people. Along with this, music and dance were one of the main entertainment sources. The Bharata Natyam, a classical dance was the oldest performed dance form of India and so impacted the cultural heritage to a very great extent. Usually the kings sitting in the court were seen admiring dancers, and enjoying the music and dance along with the courtiers. These kind of themes were commonly found in the movies. The theory of rasa dating back to ancient Sanskrit drama is believed to be one of the most fundamental features that differentiate Indian cinema. Along with the music and dance of ancient India, the novels and books written by many authors were used for making the movies and sometimes, the entire story was adopted from the book alone and made into films. The ancient Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana which have exerted a profound influence on the thought and imagination of popular Indian cinema, particularly in its narratives. Examples of this influence include the techniques of a side story, back-story and story within a story. Indian popular films often have plots which branch off into sub-plots which were common in the early Tamil cinema. There is a strong Indian tradition of narrating mythology, history, fairy tales and so on through song and dance. Whereas Hollywood filmmakers strove to conceal the constructed nature of their work so that the realistic narrative was wholly dominant, Indian filmmakers made no attempt to conceal the fact that what was shown on the screen was a creation, an illusion, a fiction. However, they demonstrated how this creation intersected with people’s day to day lives in complex ways. By the end of the 1930s, the State of Madras legislature passed the Entertainment Tax Act 1939.
History – Studios
The year 1916 marked the birth of Tamil cinema with the first Madras production and South Indian film release Keechaka Vaadham produced and directed by R. Nataraja, who established the India Film Company Limited.(English: The Destruction of Keechaka). During the 1920s, silent film were shot at makeshift locations in and around Chennai, and for technical processing, they were sent to Pune or Calcutta. Later, some films featuring M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were shot in those cities as well.In 1935, A Ramaiah from Thanjavur established the first studio, Star Combines, in Kodambakkam. In the 1930s AVM set up its makeshift studioIndependent Tamil film production in places outside of India, including Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, and Europe, took prominence over the late-20th century. The history of filmmaking of Tamil language films in Canada dates back to the early 1990s. It is primarily based in the metropolitan region of the Greater Toronto Area in Southern Ontario. Tamil films are also made in Sri Lanka where Tamil is one of the official languages since the ancient times. The film My Magic directed by Singaporean Eric Khoo became Singapore’s first film to be nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Some of these films have involved one or more film personalities from the Chennai industry as well. in the town of Karaikudi, and during the same decade, full-fledged Movie studios were built in Salem (Modern Theatres Studio) and Coimbatore (Central Studios, Neptune, and Pakshiraja). By the mid-1940s, Chennai became the hub of studio activity with two more movie studios built in Chennai, Vijaya Vauhini Studios and Gemini Studios. Later, AVM Studios shifted its operations to Chennai. Thus, with the undivided Madras Presidency being the Capital to most of South India, Chennai became the center for Tamil- and Telugu-language films. Also, most of the pre-independence era drama and stage actors joined the film industry from the 1940s, and Chennai became the hub for South Indian–language film production and the cinema of Sri Lanka before independence.
Kalidas was the first Tamil talkie film made in 1931. It was produced on the sets of Alam Ara by Ardeshir Irani. The director was Irani’s former assistant H.M. Reddy. The film had dialogues and songs in Tamil and Telugu. The cast includes P.G.Venkatesan, T.P.Rajalakshmi, L.V.Prasad, Thevaram Rajambal, J.Sushila, Sushila Devi and M.R.Santhanalakshmi.