Tamil Cinema History - The Early Days.


Compiled by "Kalaimaamani" Film News Anandan.

During the past 82 years, Tamil Cinema has reached many a mile stone. In this article, 'Kalaimaamani' Sri. Film News Anandan, noted film historian and researcher, considered an walking encyclopedia on Tamil Cinema traces the growth of Tamil Cinema from the silent era to the birth of the talkies and beyond.

This is the first part of this ongoing series on the evolution of tamil cinema.

R Nataraja Mudaliar1916

The year marked the birth of the Silent Film in Tamil Nadu, the precursor to the modern day Tamil Cinema, as we know it. R.Nataraja Mudaliar (featured on the right) was the first producer, director and cinematographer in Tamil Cinema. Trained in London, he came back and made Keechaka Vadham in 1917, the first Silent feature film in Tamil.


Prakash Raghupathy Other Silent movies followed. Encouraged by the success of the medium, Prakash Raghupathy (on the left) made Bishma Pratigna. Other mythologicals and historicals followed - Sarangadhara, Bhoja Raja, Gajendra Moksham etc. Censor Boards were established in Madras in 1918.




KalidasIt was inevitable! In 1931, the talkies came to Tamil Nadu. The first Talkie with Tamil in it was Kalidas (on the right). It was directed by H.M.Reddy and produced by T. P. RajalakshmiArdeshar Irani's Imperial Movie Tone and released on 31st October. Kalidas was produced in a hurry, and was technically flawed. It was not a pure Tamil talkie, in the sense that the artistes spoke (mainly) both in Tamil and Telugu. It starred T.P.Rajalaxmi (on the left) as its heroine. She was a stage artiste who gained immense popularity as a movie actress and went on to make movies herself. Though it was a puranic story - both Thyagaraja Kirtanas and the Indian National Congress publicity songs had a place in the picture. Its curiosity factor, if anything guaranteed its success at the box-office.



Kalava (Rishi) was the first cent-percent talkie in Tamil. It was directed by P.P.Rangachari.



Veenai BalachanderIn a couple of years, many more producers and entreprueners entered moviemaking, encouraged by the success of the first few talkes. Competition heated up in the film industry; so much so that in the same year, the same stories (Prahaladha, Srivalli were being made by different people.

Prabhath Film Company made the Seetha Kalyanam around this time. The famous Veena Vidwan Balachander's (on the left) brothers and sister acted in this movie. It starred S.Rajam as Lord Rama and Jayalakshmi (his sister) as Seetha.



This year marked the creation of a Box-Office Super star in M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. (on the right) The movie Pavalakkodi which introduced the lead pair M. K. ThyagarajaMKT Bhagavatar and S. D. Subulakshmi. it was a box office success, made on a seemingly large scale. As electrical arc lights were not available then, grand sets were erected in the exterior of the studio and pictures shot with the help of sunlight.

Until 1934, Tamil movies were mostly made in Bombay and Calcutta. Srinivasa Kalyanam changed this practice, being the first tamil picture produced in Tamilnadu. It was produced by Srinivasa Cine Tone.

Lava Kusa marked the beginning of the famous Tamilnadu talkies. It was produced by S.Soundararaja Iyengar. TamilNadu talkies went on to make many such box-office successes.



Nandhanar was unique in many ways. The movie has the distinction of being remade four times in Tamil. This version had the great stage artiste, K.B.Sundramabal who was a woman playing the hero. Also, the producer gave her a renumeration of one lakh rupees, unheard of in those days!



Comedy was a recipie for box-office success. Soon many movies were released with the comedy track incorporated at the end. They were even released as double-billings, For example - Mahatma Kabirdas - Madayargal Sandhippu and Srimathi Parinayam - Manasamy.

Another trend in those days was a gimmick adopted by producers by releasing the same movie under two different names. For example, Srimathi Parinayam was also released under the title Srirama Janma Karanam, Chanda Mohan as Samooga Thondu and Bhama Parinayam under the name Samanthakaman.

Ellis DuncanThe directors Rajachandrasekar and Ellis R. Duncan (on the right) were introduced. Ellis Duncan directed S.S.Vasan's Sathi Leelavathi which went on to become a major box-office success of the year. There is an interesting story surrounding the discovery of M.K.Radha who almost did not make it!

A popular stage play, Pati Bhakthi was being picturised in 1936. M.K.Radha, who did not act in the original drama was given a contract to appear in the movie. But as luck would have it, the producers of the drama who also controlled the production of the movie stepped in and barred him from acting in the picture. He was very much disheartened. At the same time, S.S.Vasan was toying with a similar story entitled Leelavathi. Just to encourage M.K.Radha and his father Kandasamy, Vasan gave them an opportunity to act in his picture and the picture was a great success. This movie also marked the debut of T.S.Baliah. Sati Leelavathi also had a young man making his screen debut as a Policeman. That young man was none other than M.G.Ramachandran in his first credited role. The rest, as they say, is history.

KamalaT.P.Rajalakshmi marked her debut as the first lady director in Tamil Cinema with Miss Kamala (shown on the left).

Another popular movie of that time was Kuchela. (below) Lyricist Papanasam Sivan acted as Kuchela and S.D.Subbulakshmi acted as Krishna and also as Suseela, wife of Kuchela.Kuchela

Another landmark movie of the year was Pattinattar. It was Produced by Vel pictures. M.M.Dandapani Desikar played the hero. Witnessing the picture, many people took to a life of reclusion.

Another film icon, P.U.Chinnappa made his debut in Chanda Kantha, directed by Raja Sandow with the story by J.R.Rangaraju.

M.K.T was so popular that the producers tried to cash in on his image by giving the audiences a double dose in Satyaseelan. It had Bhagavatar in a double role as the king as well as the songster in the royal court.

N.S.Krishnan and his wife formed a successful on-screen comedy pair with movies like Vasantha Sena directed by Y. V. Rao.

(to be continued...)

Original Photographs: Film News Anandan Information Center.
Ellis R. Duncan's Photograph: Starlight, Starbright.
Photographs scanned & restored by:Krishna Sivaramapuram.
Photographic effects added by:Balaji Thirumalaikumara.