Celebrating Kollywood

Celebrating Kollywood

Chennai has just celebrated the centenary of Indian cinema. A grand four-day fête organised by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC) saw the presence of President Pranab Mukherjee, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, her Kerala counterpart Oommen Chandy, Karnataka minister Santosh Lad and others.

But why SIFCC, which covers all the four southern language industries (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam) chose Chennai as the destination to celebrate the 100th year of Indian cinema, when there are cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore and
Thiruvananthapuram?

It is not without reason, since Chennai was once considered the ‘seat’ of south Indian film industry. Known as Madras those days, the capital city of Tamil Nadu has a rich legacy and its contribution to southern cinema is vast and unique.

“As Indian cinema has entered into its 100th year, it is time to revisit the legacy of southern cinema, which started its journey from Kodambakkam, the heart of Chennai,” recalls ‘Film News’ Anandan, a well-known film historian.

Anandan, who has got a huge collection of movie data (in his mind as memories, and in his home as photos, documents and articles), says, “Madras was the capital of south Indian film industry and Kodambakkam was the most happening place. If cinema in this part of the country is called Kollywood, it is a conflation of Kodambakkam with the American film industry capital of Hollywood.”

Legend has it that years ago, Kodambakkam was part of the fiefdom of the Prince of Arcot and housed his stables. The unpaved roads were often described as a garden of horses or ghoda bagh, and hence the name Kodambakkam.

Actor and management trainer Mohan Ram says, “After the establishment of the first film studio, Star Combines, by A Ramaiah in 1946, the following decade saw the advent of many studios and a sea change in Kodambakkam, from an undeveloped area to a major hub for tinsel town. Soon came shops hiring wigs, costumes et al.”

Kodambakkam comprised Vadapalani then. Though the Murugan temple was the major landmark then, the area became more popular after studios like AVM and Vijaya Vauhini among others came into being, he adds.

“The pace at which T Nagar developed into a busy commercial hub deserves credit to Kodambakkam. Initially, almost all film personalities lived in Royapettah or Eldams Road.

And after south cinema found its seat in Kodambakkam, they all preferred to settle in T Nagar, located close to Kodambakkam,” Mohan Ram says, adding, “The likes of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, NTR, Nageswara Rao, Gemini Ganesan and Savithiri among others lived here.”

“In 1950s and 60s, there were over 30 studios with 70 floors. There was hectic activity and cinema was thriving here,” he further points out.

According to hearsay, the Power House at Kodambakkam was generating excess power after the World War II, as the army barracks here were moved out. It was utilised by the film industry and thus Kodambakkam became the seat of south Indian cinema.

It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that Telugu cinema slowly shifted its base from Chennai to Hyderabad, Kannada cinema to Bangalore and Malayalam cinema to Thiruvananthapuram. So it is no surprise that many second generation stars of other industries have fond memories of Chennai.

Says Allu Sirish, the scion of the influential Allu family of Telugu cinema who made his acting debut with Tamil-Telugu bilingual Gauravam recently,  “I was born and brought up in Chennai. I had my primary schooling in Chennai and those days were still green in my memory. Only after that we moved to Hyderabad.”

Even now, actors like Chiranjeevi, Mammootty, Mohanlal and Jayaram own properties in Chennai and have close professional and personal links with the city. “I love Chennai. This city is one of the best places in the world to live,” says Jayaram, who is a top star in Mollywood.

However, the centenary celebrations, which concluded recently, have once again shifted the focus back to Chennai. Adding more to it is technological development, which has blurred the border lines.

As against the partition that took place in the early 1980s, during which the regional language industries shifted their base to their respective states, the latest trend is to make bilingual, trilingual or even multilinguals in south Indian languages.

And that’s not all. “Mammootty and Jayaram are popular actors in Tamil cinema too, while Mohanlal is currently playing a crucial role in Vijay-starrer Jilla. On the other hand, films of Vijay and Allu Arjun run successfully in Kerala. Most of the Telugu films these days either have a Tamil version, or at least dubbed in Tamil. Kollywood heroes like Suriya, Vijay and Ajith demand a huge fan base in Andhra. Likewise, Kannada actors like Sudeep have carved a niche for themselves in Kollywood and Tollywood,” says C Shyam Sundar, who tracks the industry. The names of top heroines are almost the same in all the four southern industries, he adds.

Though divided they are in terms of languages, the film industries of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam are united in terms of talent, content and technology. And Chennai aka Kollywood will always be the connecting point.

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