Tamil Cinema history

Tamil Cinema (Also referred to as the cinema of Tamil Nadu, the Tamil film industry, or Chennai film industry) is the Tamil language filmmaking industry.Tamil cinema is known for being India's second largest film industry after Hindi cinema in terms of revenue and worldwide distribution.


Silent movies were produced in Chennai since 1916 and the era of talkies dawned in 1931 with the film Kalidas. By the end of the 1930s, the State of Madras legislature passed the Entertainment Tax Act 1939. Tamil Nadu cinema has had a profound effect on the film making industries of India, with Chennai becoming a hub for the filmmaking industries of other languages, including Telugu cinema, Malayalam cinema, Kannada cinema, Hindi cinema, Sinhalese cinema and Sri Lankan Tamil cinema in the 1900s, which makes it a legal claim to be the real Indian film capital, ahead of Mumbai.Tamil–language films are further made in other countries. Today, Tamil films are distributed to various overseas theatres in South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia; East Asia, including Japan and South Korea; as well as Oceania, Southern Africa, Western Europe, North America, and other significant Tamil diaspora regions.

Early exhibitors

In Madras (now known as Chennai), the Electric Theatre was established for the screening of silent films. It was a favourite haunt of the British community in Madras. The theatre was shut down after a few years. The Lyric Theatre was also built in the Mount Road area.

To celebrate the event of King George V's visit in 1909, a grand exhibition was organised in Madras. Its major attraction was the screening of short films accompanied by sound. A British company imported a Cronemegaphone, made up of a film projector to which a gramophone with a disc containing prerecorded sound was linked, and both were run in unison, producing picture and sound simultaneously. However, there was no synched dialogue. Raghupathy Venkiah Naidu, a successful photographer, took over the equipment after the exhibition and set up a tent cinema near the Madras High Court. R. Venkiah, flush with funds, built in 1912 a permanent cinema in the Mount Road area named Gaiety Theatre. It was the first in Madras to screen films on a full-time basis. This theatre is still functioning, although under different ownership.

In tent cinemas, there were usually three classes of tickets: the floor, bench and, chair. The floor-ticket purchaser sat on sand to watch the movie, but he enjoyed certain advantages that other patrons did not. He could sit as he pleased, or he could turn over and take a short nap when the narrative was particularly dull and roll back again when the action was again to his liking—luxuries in which the upper class could never indulge.

Film studios

1916 marked the birth of Tamil cinema with the first Madras production and South Indian film release Keechaka Vaadham (The Destruction of Keechaka). During the 1920s, silent Tamil-language movies were shot at makeshift locations in and around Chennai, and for technical processing, they were sent to Pune or Calcutta. Later some movies featuring M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were shot in Pune and Calcutta. In the 1930s AVM set up its makeshift studio in the town of Karaikudi, and during the same decade, full-fledged Movie studios were built in Salem (Modern Theatres Studio) and Coimbatore (Central Studios, Neptune, and Pakshiraja). By the mid 1940s, Chennai became the hub of Studio activity with two more movie Studios built in Chennai, Vijaya Vauhini Studios and Gemini Studios. Later, AVM Studios shifted its operations to Chennai. Thus, with the undivided Madras Presidency being the Capital to most of South India, Chennai became the center for Tamil- and notable Telugu-language movies. Also, most of the pre-independence era drama and stage actors joined the movie industry from the 1940s, and Chennai became the hub for South Indian–language film production and Sri Lankan cinema before independence.

Film music

Ilayaraaja and AR Rahman are music directors from the Chennai film industry and have an international following. Other prominent Tamil film score and soundtrack composers in the industry include Yuvan Shankar Raja, Harris Jayaraj, Karthik Raja and Vidyasagar. Several international composers have used Chennai's studios to record music for projects, as have composers from other film industries. S. Rajeswara Rao was based in Chennai from the 1940s. During the 2000s film composer MS Viswanathan was popular, with interest in Tamil film songs being re-ignited with the audio revolution.


Tamil films constitute India's most popular films along with Hindi films. They have one of the widest overseas distribution, with large audience turnout from the Tamil diaspora alongside Hindi films. The Chennai film industry produced the first nationally distributed film across India in 1948 with Chandralekha.

Tamil films have enjoyed consistent popularity among populations in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, South Africa, Canada and Malaysia. They have recently become popular in Japan.Ayngaran International and BIG Cinemas have emerged as the top distributors for Tamil films in the UK and US markets respectively.

Many Tamil-language films have premiered or have been selected as special presentations at various prestigious film festivals across the world, such as Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal, Veyyil and Ameer Sultan's Paruthiveeran. More recently, Kanchivaram, directed by Priyadarshan, was selected to be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Films like Thevar Magan, Indian and Jeans had been selected by India for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards.

Tamil films enjoy significant patronage in neighbouring Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala and Karnataka the films are directly released in Tamil but in Andhra Pradesh they are generally dubbed into Telugu. Many successful Tamil films have been remade by the Hindi and Telugu film industries.

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