Tamil Cinema History - The Early Days

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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 third part of this ongoing series on the evolution of tamil cinema.


The Indian National Army, hit by desertions and disease, surrenders and several members were publically tried.  With this struggle by Indian National Army going on, many war publicity movies came out this year. The movies include Burma Rani, Manasamrakshanam and En Magan.  In Burma Rani, three Indian airmen were forced to land in Burma and eventually free the country from Japanease occupation with the help of Indian resistance movement in the state. M. S. Subbulakshmi in MeeraThe plot revolves around a Rani (an Indian girl in Burma) who helps the airmen. T.R.Sundaram played the role of a Japanese commander made-up to look like Hitler.

A saint film about the life of Meera a.k.a Meerabai came out this year. The film features the great M.S.Subbulakshmi. Kalki wrote the songs for this movie (katrinile varum geetham). Originally a Tamil hit, the movie was a very big hit in Hindi as well. In the Hindi version, Sarojini-Naidy introduced Subbulakshmi to the North Indian audience.  Srivalli paring T.R.Mahalingam and Rukmani came out. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and N.S.Krishnan were arrested on murder charges and imprisoned.

M.G.R and Malini acted in Sri Murugan (a Jupitor picture). P.U.Chinnappa and T.R.Rajakumari paired in Vikata Yogi, a comedy movie.

1000 Thalai Vangiya Aboorva Chintamani was released this year. This movie is  based on a famous novel.  R.Sundaram directed this movie.  Gemini pictures had a full length comedy in Miss Malini.  Pushpavalli was the heroine and Kottha Mangalam Subbu played the characteristic role of M.S.Sampath. Along with this movie, a cartoon movie was also shown.

Naam Iruvar, a successful stage play was made into a movie. A.V.M.Meyyappa Chettiar produced the movie. Neelakantan debut in this movie as scenarist and assistant director. The film is replete with national symbols. The movie begins with Bharathi's anniversary and ends with Gandhi's 77th birthday celebrations, characters greetings each other with the 'Jai Hind' salute. The folklore movie, Rajakumari starring M.G.R came out. A.S.A.Samy directed the movie.

M. K. Radha and Rajakumari in ChandralekhaGemini studio released Chandralekha. This is the first Tamil movie, in which more than 30 lakhs of rupees were spent and Gemini was the first Tamil studio to attempt an all-India distribution. The production of this movie took very long time. The movie was a huge success throughout India (the first Madras production to become an all-india hit). S.S.Vasan did the direction, Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu wrote the lyrics and the music was by Saluri Rajeswara Rao. The leading players in this movie include T.R.Rajakumari, M.K.Radha, N.S.Krishnan, Ranjan, Sundarabai, V.Janaki, T.A.Mathuram. The movie was famous for its spectacular dance sequences.

T.R.Rajakumari and Ranjan acted in the movie M.K.Radha. S.S.Vasan directed this movie also. This movie came in Hindi too. This movie was released in foreign countries with English sub-titles.

Gemini released Apoorva Sagodharargal (S.S.Vasan's sequel to the hit movie Chandralekha) in three languages (Tamil, Telugu and Hindi).   M.K.Radha and Banumathi had acted in this movie.  M.K.Radha plays a double role in the movie. Velaikkari's Storywrite Annadurai seen here with Nadigar ThilagamThe Hindi version was less successful than the Tamil one, which broke several records.

Nallathambi starring the comedy pair N.S.Krishnan and Maduram came out. C.N.Annadurai (who founded D.M.K the same year) wrote the story and dialogue. The movie was a propoganda for D.M.K.  Velaikkari was another propoganda movie from C.N.Annadurai. Dialogues were the main features in these propoganda movies. The films expounds the anit-caste and anti-clerical populist ideology with long monologues and flowery languages. They were box office hits. Panju directed the movie Krishnan, which depicts social reforms. A.V.M had a trilingual movie in Vaazhkkai. Vyjayanthimala became an all India star in this movie.

Digambara Saamiyar, released in 1950, is based on a novel by Vaduvoor Doraisamy Iyengar. This Modern Theatres movie was directed by T.R.Sundaram.  M. N. Nambiyar acted as hero in different disguises. Nagaiah had his best performance in the movie Ezhai Padum Padu.  K.Ramnoth, a connoisseur in story telling, screen play, photography and editing directed this movie also. Dancers Lalitha and Padmini were introduced as actresses in this movie. The visual effect was extended by Elangovan's dialogues.

One of the most popular Tamil films of the decade, Manthiri Kumari came out. Karunanidhi wrote the dialogue and M.G.R and Padmini acted in this movie.  A. Marudakasi wrote the lyrics and the music director was G. Ramanathan. The movie was shot near Salem in the hill resort of Yercaud, the film is based on an 8th-C. Tamil literary epic.The movie introduced one of the most famous tamil screen villains, Nambiar. Madhuri Devi provides the best performance as a sword-wielding independently minded heroine, rare in films of this period.

Samsaram was a big box office hit in Telugu (N.T.Rama Rao and Nageshwara Rao teamed up). S.S.Vasan produced the movie in Tamil and Hindi. M.K.Radha acted in this movie. The movie was a success in Hindi also. Marmayogi starring M.G.R was released this year. Uncharacteristically for the genre, the film received an Adults Only censor certificate. Another Telugu box office success, Patala Bhairavi was remade in Tamil and Hindi. N.T.R was the hero and Ranga Rao was the villain. 

Parasakthi heros: Sivaji and KarunanidhiParasakthi introduced Sivaji Ganesan to the Tamil film world. The movie was produced by National Picture's Perumal Mudaliar and directed by Krishnan-Panju.  Karunanidhi wrote the dialogue.  Sivaji Ganesan had a spectacular debut in this movie. The dialogue was scripted in line with the party politics. The movie was one of the most elaborately plotted melodramas in the Indian cinema and glorifies the Dravidian heritage, contrasted with the pitiable state of contemporary Tamil Nadu. Almost banned, heavily censored for the temple scene, it was a spectacular commercial hit. Ganesan became the dominant icon of the DMK, replacing Ramasamy who had achieved that status through Annadurai's film Velaikkari.

Avvaiyar, a long time production of Gemini came out this year. The movie was a hagiography of the legendary Tamil saint poetess of the Sangam period. Of her 59 surviving lyrics, 33 are in the Puram mode, addressing wordly matters, wars and politics; and 26 in the Akam mode, addressing the inner world, often of female desire. Kushala Kumari played as a young girl and K.B.Sundarambal played as as adult and G.Pattu Iyer takes the part of Tirunvalluvar. The movie was famous for Sundarambal's classical musical performance. Avvaiyar remains her best-known screen performance, putting her among Vishnupant Pagnis (Marathi) and Chittor V. Nagaiah (Telugu) as actors linked with the saint film genre.

Gemini studio's boss S.S.Vasan and his close collaborator, the poet Subbu extended Gemini's reputation with this movie and Chandralekha. It is the culmination of the 40s Tamil films portraying major folk legend figures in the context of Tamil Nadu's political/cultural revivalism.

(to be continued...)


Raw data, Original article provided by: Film News Anandan
Elaborated by: Srini Raman
Other source of information: Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema

Original Photographs: Thanks to Film News Anandan Information Center and Cinema Express
Photographs scanned & restored by: Krishna Sivaramapuram