Tamil Film Industry: Fallen Between the Cracks

Stanley Kubrick had once said “The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed.” This always makes one realize how deeply we are attached to Cinema. Cinema, according to many is the finest of all fine arts. It is always believed that art should never be judged on the basis of its background but should be gauged on the grounds of the artistic pleasure it renders to the audience. Yet, today for many, Bollywood, the popular name given to the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, defines Indian cinema. The idea of Indian cinema is majorly, perceived through the lens of Bollywood owing to its huge commercial success both in India and around the world. This is evident from the events, festivals and the recognition given to Bollywood. The cultural dominance of Bollywood within the realm of Indian film industry utterly overlooks the other cultural and cinematic representations in Indian Cinema. The Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Assamese, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil language film industries, often referred to as regional cinema, are left out of view. South India, the Tamil film industry based in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu which is one of the largest producers of films in India, is hardly ever acknowledged.

Going back to the history, the Tamil film industry begins about the same time as the Hindi and Bengali cinema in the second decade of the twentieth century. The idea of moving pictures was conceived from 1882 onwards in the Tamil film industry. The first silent film ‘Keechaka Vadham’ was made in 1916 while the first talkie, Kalidas was made in 1931. As a matter of fact it was made just after 7 months after India’s first talking picture ‘Alam Ara’.  It is a rapidly growing industry within the Indian cinema. Kollywood, as it is commonly known is located in the Chennai district of Kodambakkam. Over the seventy nine years of its existence it has consistently worked to make a place for itself in the world of cinema. But, even today, it is not considered as a part of Indian Cinema and is still viewed as regional Cinema.  There is a need to recognize Tamil cinema as Indian cinema or at least as a part of Indian cinema, keeping in mind its contribution to Indian cinema and the social role it has played in changing the face of Indian Cinema.

A scene from the Tamil movie Chandralekha (1948)

A scene from the Tamil movie Chandralekha (1948)

Tamil cinema covers a wide range of films and brings forward and array of issues from Tamil society and portrays life of common man through cinema.  They are the reflection of their society, culture, norms, beliefs and largely their politics.  They produce the most realistic and critically acclaimed films depicting India by means of cinema. It has given birth to manifold stereotypical images of a Tamilian culture, ranging from politics to women to the rural life.

Tamil Cinema has always aptly portrayed ideal Indian women. The chaste Indian women are portrayed as brilliantly as the evil and dominative women. It has successfully defined as to how a woman is and how she isn’t. Tamil films, in a true sense recognize Indian women and the variety of roles they play in our society. Tamil Cinema has gone out of the way to inspire women and to reach out to the section left out in this chauvinist world.

Religious films have had a really long existence in Indian Film industry. But, the contribution of Tamil cinema to the genre of religious film has been monumental. More than two hundred religious films covering mythologies and Hindu epic changed the phase of Tamil Cinema. Films dedicated to Murugan (the second son of Shiva) and Amman (an incarnation of Shakti) became extremely popular among the Tamil populous. These films brought the idea of God to life. These films, which portrayed God punishing the evil, evoked a sense of hope and social justice among the masses. In reality, these films brought an individual closer to cinema.

Son of Shiva Murugan and Goddess Amman

Son of Shiva, Murugan and Goddess Amman

Just like the religious idea there was another idea that strongly influenced Tamil Cinema and it was the Politics of Tamil Nadu. The role played by Tamil Cinema in the state politics was phenomenal. The tradition of Film stars getting into the politics of the state began with this industry and has grown today to an extent where the industry witnesses maximum of the Tamil stars into politics. The late MGR became immortal for his fans whereas Jayalalitha became one of the most dominant personalities ever.

Cinema has had such a great influence on the Tamil audience that it has managed to achieve a place equivalent to that of God. People worshiping film stars became a very common trend among the Tamil Cinema Fans. Actors like MGR, Shivaji Ganesan, Rajnikanth etc reached a place equivalent to that of God. Tamil Cinema became an inseparable part of the Tamilians. It is really overwhelming to see the fans watch a film more than 30 times, just to see their favorite stars again and again.

Rajinikanth fans pouring milk to his cutout.

Rajinikanth fans pouring milk to his cutout.

One should never forget the role played by the rural populous to the development of the Tamil industry. Many films which reached the zenith were centred on the rural people. The Tamil film truly inspired the rural people and gave them a sense of independence and identity. As the Tamil cinema acknowledged the rural class so much, their contribution to the industry became monumental.

We often discuss factors that inspire Tamil Cinema and all the factors that contribute to its growth.  But, there is something that has always been left out and that is the contribution of the Tamil industry to the other industries, especially to that of Hindi film industry. “There’s a whole new wave in Tamil cinema. They’ve made the most extraordinary films in the last two years, and at the national level people don’t even know about it. ” says filmmaker, Anurag Kashyap. At International level Tamil Cinema is seldom acknowledged as it is often mistaken to be a part of Bollywood. It always fails to get an individualistic place at international level. One can never turn a blind eye to the contribution of the Tamil Industry to Indian Cinema. Over the past five years, the Tamil Industry has produced more than half of the total of the Indian Cinema. Tamil cinema has truly inspired Bollywood and over the past five years Tamil remakes like, ‘Ghajini’, ‘Wanted’, ‘ Ready’, ‘Rowdy Rathore’, ‘Bodyguard’, ‘Singham’ etc. have totally changed the outlook of Bollywood films.

Singam - Poster

Singam – Poster

Bollywood’s top three movies of the previous year were Tamil remakes. Actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn are showing greater interest in remaking of Tamil Films as remakes of Tamil Cinema have turned out to be a sure way to a blockbuster hit. As Bollywood seems to shift its focus to international themes, the true essence of our country’s culture is getting lost somewhere and at this point, Tamil Cinema takes the responsibility to keep the culture going. One can consider this to be a reason for the better recognition a Tamil remake in Bollywood as compared to that of a Hollywood remake.

Aha Kalyanam (Band Baaja Baarat - Remake) by YRF Tamil.

Aha Kalyanam (Band Baaja Baarat – Remake) by YRF Tamil.

There is no doubt that Tamil Film Industry delivers the best of Indian Culture through cinema. But, the very original and creative Tamil Industry is squandered amidst the gloat and glory of Bollywood. One can surely say that the industry that was once considered an underdog has surpassed all horizons to transform into the biggest competitor of Bollywood.  If not today, very soon the blurred demarcation between Bollywood and Kollywood would be resolved and Kollywood will emerge as the defining component of Indian Films.

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