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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Missing reel

The south is largely absent from the centenary celebrations of Indian cinema

Written by Sushila Ravindranath | May 29, 2013 1:45:40 am

The south is largely absent from the centenary celebrations of Indian cinema

“As per a Deloitte report,the south Indian film industry is worth Rs. 21,190 crore. South Indian films account for 65-70 percent of total films produced in India”,said actor Kamal Hasan,chairman of FICCI’s Media and Entertainment Business Conclave,last year. But there is collective dismay in the south that its film industry is being given short shrift in the orgy of celebrations for 100 years of Indian cinema. In any list of 100 best Indian movies,the south gets a couple of mandatory mentions. The Cannes film festival seems to have celebrated Bollywood rather than Indian cinema. The president of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC),C Kalyan,has voiced his feelings strongly in the Chamber’s journal. He has said that the SIFCC was not invited for the centenary celebration of Indian cinema,which was kickstarted in April at Delhi’s Siri Fort.

Many pioneering efforts were made in the south in the early days of Indian cinema,most of which are barely acknowledged today. For instance,according to actor and film historian Mohan Raman,a few years after Dadasaheb Phalke produced Raja Harishchandra in 1913,Nataraja Mudaliar,a young businessman from Chennai went to Pune,trained under an English cameraman. He returned to the city in 1917,and set up a studio. He made his first film,Keechaka Vadam,in a bungalow in Madras. T.P. Rajalakshmi produced ,directed,wrote and acted in a film way back in 1936,the first woman to do so. Only sketchy details of these early stalwarts exist.

Madras was the home for the Malayalam,Kannada,Telugu and Tamil film industries. The early Sinhala films were also shot in the studios of Madras. By the 1970’s,Andhra,Kerala and Karnataka had set up their own studios. There has not been any friction between the four industries. The south Indian film industry remains pan Indian and has not been chauvinistic at all. Hasan proudly points out that national cinema resides in the south”,filmmakers are not restricted to one language. Filmmakers like D. Ramanaidu have made films in 13 languages.

After the silent era died out,many technicians moved from Bombay and Calcutta to Madras. Producers such as S.S. Vasan and A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar made films in Hindi and introduced heroines Vyjayanthimala and Padmini to the Bombay film world. The exchange continues and southern films are full of heroines,villains and character actors from Bollywood. Technicians and directors from the south are firmly entrenched in Mumbai. Aamir Khan’s super hit Ghajini was made in Tamil first.

In spite of this,the south Indian industry,particularly the Tamil film industry,which is the largest there,has not got its due. There are many reasons for this. It is not as media savvy as its Mumbai counterpart. Nobody has written books on the man who made the first Tamil film or its first woman director. It has never cultivated the mainstream English media. Producers do not bother with subtitling or dubbing to attract a larger audience. Instead of feeling sorry for itself,why doesn’t the industry go ahead and organise its own celebrations,project its achievements?

The Tamil film industry,unlike any other in the country,has had a major impact on politics and social changes in the state. The Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu used theatre and the cinema to propagate its ideologies and has never looked back. In the 1950’s,all the top heroes,M.G. Ramachandran,Sivaji Ganesan,K.R. Ramaswamy and others,belonged to the DMK. The party founder,C.N. Annadurai,and senior leader Karunanidhi were dialogue writers who sent out strong rationalist and anti-Congress messages through their films. Throughout the 1960’s,MGR was projected as the saviour of the poor and the downtrodden. When he broke away from the DMK and launched his party,the AIADMK,nobody could take him on till his death. His image still lingers in Tamil minds. Since 1967,the DMK and the AIADMK have taken turns in power in the state. All the chief ministers from 1967 have been from the film industry,including the current one,Jayalalithaa. Vijayakanth,leader of the opposition and founder of DMDK,was a popular hero till he entered politics.

The Tamil film industry,which continues to have strong political ties,is firmly divided into camps along party lines. Unfortunately,Jayalalithaa and the DMK chief cannot abide each other. They never attend functions together and never share platforms. Apparently,southern industry representatives met the chief minister recently to invite her for centenary celebrations. If the CM attends the function,Karunanidhi and his family ( most of them in the entertainment industry) may not be present. It is not likely that they will come together for the cause of cinema. This may be the major reason why the industry has dragged its feet on doing anything for the 100 years of Indian cinema.

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