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Celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema

The charge of the Tamil brigade


G DHANANJAYAN | New Delhi, June 22, 2012 15:12
Tags : Tamil cinema |Manmohan Singh |

The charge of the Tamil brigadeWhen you see the knowledge explosion in Bangalore, the entrepreneurial vibrancy of Gujarat, the creativity of Tamil cinema, the awakening of a new India, you feel proud to say you are a person of Indian origin, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a speech while inaugurating the 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in New Delhi on January 8, 2011.

The above speech by the Prime Minister is the best way to define contemporary Tamil cinema, which is becoming known more for its creativity than any other aspect. The fact that today many super hit films in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and other key languages are remakes of Tamil films and several top technicians in Hindi, Telugu  and Kannada film industries are from Tamil films testify to the pre-eminence that Tamil film industry enjoys across all languages in the country. The recent Hindi blockbuster Housefull 2 is a remake of the Tamil film Bandha Paramasivam, which failed at the box office, illustrates how even a not so successful Tamil film becomes successful content for Hindi cinema.

Cinema is a religion in India especially Tamil Nadu, the most loved medium, and assumes great importance in the lives of people. Cinema has an enduring influence among all sections of people and plays a key role in defining the moral values and behaviour of contemporary society. Cinema has touched everyone’s life by narrating their stories on the screen, both in realistic and mass commercial formats. In fact, one can confidently state that there is hardly a topic of human life which Tamil Cinema has not touched so far.

In the last five decades, Tamil Cinema has gone beyond all the above and started playing a significant role in politics, both at State and Central levels in India, with several film personalities making it to the top of Indian politics and occupying important positions. Among all the language cinemas in India, Cinema plays a bigger role in politics in Tamil Nadu, with five Chief Ministers of the State from a cinema background (C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran, V.N. Janaki and J. Jayalalithaa) and more film stars aspiring for a career in politics. For Tamil speaking people, a common point of discussion always remains films and film personalities, wherever they are in the globe.

Tamil Cinema, which began its journey on October 31, 1931 with the first talkie Kalidas, has contributed significantly to Indian Cinema and remains one of the pioneering film industries among all languages in India. Today, though the Hindi film industry dominates in terms of box office revenue and market size, it is the Tamil film industry which is setting the trend in terms of creativity, content quality, artistes’ and technicians’ calibre and adapting to technological changes. No wonder A.R. Rahman, the first Indian to win an Oscar for music, is from the Tamil film industry.

Tamil Cinema is different and unique; it cannot be compared with films in any other language in the world. It is deep rooted in culture and realism, which is difficult for films of other languages to easily replicate and follow. Tamil Cinema today is largely made by script writers themselves compared to other languages, where the script writer and the filmmaker (director) are generally two different people. The Tamil film audience expects quality, innovation, change and freshness in content continuously and, beyond a point, do not get satisfied easily with ordinary, run-of-the-mill movies.

The sensibilities and the preferences of the audience have also changed drastically over the years keeping the filmmakers on their toes to deliver quality products. Tamil film audiences are much more passionate about films and their knowledge on filmmaking is such that it is imperative to respect them with intelligent subjects. And they always welcome new concepts and fresh experimentations with enthusiasm resulting in evolution of this industry.

Tamil cinema in its 81 years of existence moved from the domination of mythological and historical films to social genre in 1940s and ever since,there is no looking back. Several sub-categories of social films have emerged from 1950s, which can be broadly classified as Realistic and Formulistic Commercial films. While the realistic films gone through a metamorphosis of  being shot in studios to real life locations and with real life people, the mainstream commercial films have moved up in terms of budget, scale and reach today.

Clearly, the Tamil film industry operates on two different formats;one being focused on mass (formulistic) commercial films, which are expanding the market every year dramatically with films of similar genre attracting the youth and people from global markets. The other format, focusing on story telling in a realistic manner continues to impress the critics, global film festival juries and the niche audience.

These contrasting forms dominate the industry every year and hence while Superstar Rajinikanth in director Sankar’s Enthiran is able to expand the Tamil film market to over 24 countries and achieve gross revenue of over Rs.300 crore, Vetrimaran’s Aadukalam, a beautiful and realistic portrayal ends up winning 6 national awards, in addition to becoming a commercial success.

While many films under the context of being commercial films bring out absurd themes on screen, many filmmakers assume that realistic films mean violent stories to stimulate and attract the audience, post the super success of Ameer’s Paruthiveeran and M. Sasikumar’s Subramaniapuram. Some of the new filmmakers have misunderstood the success of these two films and assume that a realistic portrayal must necessarily end in a wreck, almost assuming that realism equals tragedy.

At the same time, what most commercial filmmakers do not understand is even a commercial formulistic film needs to be well researched, smartly scripted and artfully directed (e.g. Enthiran, Dasavatharam, Ayan, Singham, Mankatha, Velayudham, Deivathirumagal, Ko etc.) to achieve big success at the box office.

Cinema being an entertainment medium has the primary objective to entertain the audience, which is largely achieved through the commercial films, while the realistic films serve the purpose of stimulating the audience to think, ponder and introspect on the futility of prevailing practices and customs in the society, which are largely created by the divide among the people on the basis of caste, creed and economic status. While commercial films stop at entertaining and engaging the audience, it is the realistic films, which at times trigger societal changes.

While most complain that commercial films are far removed from reality and in most cases take the audience for granted and deliver sub-standard content,some realistic films become too realistic (at times a documentary of the life) that it does not offer even a base level entertainment value to the audience, who come to theatres to relieve themselves of the hard reality in their own lives.

The business of cinema has changed dramatically in the last couple of years to such an extent that a mere three to four weeks box office domination can itself make a Tamil film a humongous hit. Hence to deliver a film that would completely engage and entertain the audiences from the start till the end and makes the audience to feel that the film is worth the money they paid is the need of the hour, whether the film is a mass commercial entertainer or a realistic portrayal.

 An ideal content offering to the modern day audience preferring fast food would be to offer films which integrates pace and entertainment of a mainstream commercial film without any excessive formulistic elements coupled with the sensitivity of a realistic film without its over-indulgences of artiness (or documentary feel). Contemporary Tamil cinema, which is running on its two strong legs (commercial film and realistic films) is witnessing vibrant revolution with every passing year and continues to be full of talent, freshness and creativity with a solid future.

(The writer is the author of The Best of Tamil Cinema: 1931 to 2010 and the southern film business head of UTV Motion Pictures)

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017