Have you ever wondered how and when cinema started in Chennai – Madras? Did you want to know the history of Kollywood (Kodambakkam Tamil film industry) in Chennai? In this post you’ll find some interesting tidbits about the history of Tamil film industry, especially during the initial days.
- The first cinema show (spread over three days) in Madras was held in December 1896 by T. Stevenson who owned Madras Photographic Store at Mount Road.
- The first permanent cinema theater in Madras was called, “The Broadway Bioscope” and was built by Mrs. Klug.
- The first theater built by an Indian was Gaiety Theater. It was commissioned by Raghupathy Venkaiah Naidu in 1914.
- During the initial years, there was no speech in the movies. There was only visuals shown through projection of film reels. These visuals were from Europe or US and hence not very interesting to the South Indian audience.
- In order to get more South Indian audience, and to fill up the gap while changing over from one reel to another, theater owners arranged four performances: Comedians/clowns (humour), Songs (music), Narrator (to dramatize the happenings on the screen) and Boxing (fight), just outside the theater.
- It seems, more Indian people came to watch these performances than to watch English movies. Over time, these four elements were taken from outside the theater to inside – they became a part of the movie itself!
- Other Indians also started building theaters in Chennai like “Crown Theater” which was setup by Venkaiah Naidu in Mint Street.
- Once cinema started becoming popular, certain British authorities tried to monopolize the theater business/make it exclusive to the British, and cancelled the licences for theaters owned by Indians. But this was later overruled by the Court.
- R. Nataraja Mudaliyar setup the first film studio for making movies in Madras.
- “Keechaka Vadam” was the first South Indian (silent) film made by local people, shown in the Madras Presidency.
- R. Narayanan, through his GPC Studios, made more than 24 (Tamil) Silent movies.
- “Vishnu Leela” was the last Silent film made in Madras.
- The first Indian talkie (visual scenes along with speech) was made in 1931 by H.M. Reddy. The movie was called “Alam Ara” and contained some 38 songs!
- The first South Indian talkie was “Kalidasa” made in 1932, in Madras. Since both Tamil and Telugu people were predominant here, the movie was a bi-lingual talkie with some dialogues in Tamil and some in Telugu.
- In the year 1935 alone, 35 talkies were made in Madras.
- Gemini Studios, started by Vasan, who also started the Tamil weekly “Ananda Vikadan”, was the first major film studio to come up in Madras.
- “Chandralekha” (1948) and “Avvaiyar” (1953) were two super hit Tamil movies of those days.
- A.V.Meyappan (AVM) initially started his studio in Karaikudi as electricity was easily available there.
- Vijaya-Vahuni Studios in Kodambakkam was the largest film studio in Asia.
- Kodambakkam was earlier known as “Ghoda bakkam” as it was a horse stable belonging to the Arcot of Nawab.
- After the ’60s and ’70s studios declined in popularity because outdoor shooting picked up.
- L.V. Prasad Studios, where this heritage walk – movie discussion was held, has processed more than 20,000 movies across India.
Thanks to Mr. Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Regional Director of L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, who invited us to visit their studio premises and gave us such an informative account of the history of Tamil cinema.
Note: This article presents only some highlights of the presentation that was more exhaustive. Also, there is a chance that I may have made a few errors while noting down.