Kollywood: the Tamil Movie Industry

Less known outside of India than its famous Mumbai cousin Bollywood, South India’s Tamil movie industry has a large following in India and in Tamil communities around the world.

The home of the Tamil language film industry is the South Indian city of Chennai (formerly Madras), a city that has been producing movies from the year 1916. Tamil cinema industry is also called Kollywood, as many films are produced in district of Kodambakkam in Chennai. Tamil films have become popular not only in Tamil Nadu but also in other parts of the world where there are large Tamil populations, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. Directors from other parts of South India have also started to make films in Chennai in a variety of local languages, including Telugu and Kannada.

The History of Tamil Movies

The first Tamil movie to be produced in Madras (now Chennai) was Keechaka Vaadham or “The Destruction of Keechaka” in 1916. The first films were silent, but the 1931 movie Kalidas changed everything, and soon talking movies were being made at an increasing pace. The Electric Theatre in Chennai started to show silent movies, and soon the Lyric Theatre was showing silent films as well. In the early days, movies were often shown in tent cinemas. However, the first cinema to show movies full time in the city was the Gaiety cinema that was built in 1912 and can still be found on Mount Road in Chennai.

Short silent movies were shot around Chennai in the 1920’s, and in 1930’s studios were being set up in around South India. In the early films, the stories and characters were inspired by traditional folk music. In the 1940s, however, Chennai was becoming the centre of film studios in South India. The Gemini and the Vijaya Vauhini Studios appeared and the famous AVM Studios moved to Chennai. The city was now the centre of the emerging Tamil language movie industry.

The first film that gained commercial success around the country was the 1948 film Chandralekha. This is still seen as one of the most important movies in the local film industry.

Tamil Cinema Today

Together with Bollywood cinema, Tamil-language film industry makes some of the most popular movies in India. Recent Tamil hit movies include the 2007 film Sivaji: The Boss. This movie was hugely popular not just in India, but also abroad including the UK. The film Kanchivaram has been seen at the Toronto International Film Festival and other films that have gained appreciation and popularity abroad include Thevar Magan and Nayagan. During the 20th century alone, it is estimated that five thousand Tamil movies were produced, and the amount is growing. The Telugu and the Hindi movie industries also remake some of the most successful Tamil films.

Some of the most famous actors from the early days were P.U. Chinnappa and M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandaran became very successful between the 1950s and the 1970s, and today some of the brightest stars in Tamil-language cinema are Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth. New stars are also appearing in the Chennai film industry.

In 2007, the increasingly productive Tamil movie industry released a total of 108 films. Budgets for the films are growing, however the most expensive film the Chennai film industry has ever produced was the 1948 movie Chandralekha. Tamil film music is also very popular and interest in film music has increased in the recent years. Some of the most famous music directors in Tamil films are A.R. Rahman and Ilayaraaja. The cinema industry is also linked to local politics in many ways. Some film directors and scriptwriters, as well as actors and actresses, have made it into politics