Chennai, which was once hailed as the nerve centre of south Indian film industry, the hub of all regional films-Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada-and even some Hindi films, today boasts of only a handful of studios.
Studios in Chennai provided livelihood for thousands of workers who were dependent on films made here. Kodambakkam, which was the hub, was dotted with studios and other allied companies.
Today, the few existing studios are not even fully functional. These studios which were the perfect launching pad for many heroes and heroines and that gave four chief ministers to the State are now almost extinct.
Birth of film studios
The first studio of the State came up in Purasaivakkam. The founder of the studio, India Film Company, was Nataraja Mudaliyar who made the first silent film of the State-Keechaka Vadham. Studios that followed, including Srinivasa Cinetone and Imperial Movietone, all came up in and around Purasaivakkam area.
According to film producer, story and scriptwriter Kalaignanam, the first studio in Kodambakkam was Star Combines that came up in 1930. The founder of the studio, A Ramaiah, bar-at-law was educated in London. Then came B Nagi Reddy’s Vijaya-Vauhini Studio followed by A V Meiyappan’s AVM Studios. These three studios were instrumental in making Kodambakkam a film hub during the 1950s and 60s.
The origin of Kodambakkam
The actual name of Kodambakkam was Thirupuliyur and it was basically an agricultural land with fields, coconut farms, gardens and grazing lands. During the British rule, this place was used as a horse stable. The place was used for fixing shoes on horses.
The Nawabs of Karnataka who sold these horses to the British called this place ‘Ghoda Bagh’ (Garden of Horses). It was later called as Kodambakkam and thus Kollywood-to mark Tamil tinsel world-came into being.
Golden period of Tamil films
Till the 1980s, there were around 30 film studios in Chennai alone. More than 300 films were made here in different languages. It was the heartland and performing ground for many stalwarts, including MGR, Sivaji, N T Rama Rao, Nageswara Rao, Rajkumar and Prem Nazir. Now and then, Bollywood stars, including Dilip Kumar and Dharmendra, also came down to honour their film commitments.
S S Vasan’s Gemini Studios stood majestically under the Anna flyover. It caught the attention of film buffs all over the country with its production Chandralekha.
AVM, too, produced a lot of other language films, including Hindi. Nagi Reddy’s Vijaya-Vauhini Studio tasted tremendous success simultaneously producing Tamil and Telugu films.
Some popular studios that gave life to artistes include L V Prasad’s Prasad Studio, actor Bhanumathi’s Bharani Studio, Director K S Gopalakrishnan’s Karpagam Studio, A K Velan’s Arunachalam Studio, Cinematographer V S Ranga’s Vikram Studio , Vasu Menon’s Vasu Studio , Joseph Thaliath’s Citadel Studio in Kellys, Saradha Studio, Golden Studio , MGR’s Sathya Studio in Adyar, Sivaji’s Ramavaram Sivaji Garden, Newtone Studios, Mylapore Pragathi Studio, Narasus Studio in Guindy, Rohini Studio, Shyamala Studio, Majestic Studio, actors Ambika’s and Radha’s ARS Garden, Venus Studio , T R Garden, Mohan Studio, Senthil Studio, Revathi Studio and Prakash Studio. These studios were hailed as temples of art. Tinseltown also gave life to companies involved in film-based business, including those that erected big sets, costumes and ornaments, sofas, tables and chairs renting companies.
It should not be misconstrued that Chennai was the only base for Tamil films. Meiyappa Chettiar opened a studio in the 1930s in Karaikudi. Later, he moved to Kodambakkam.
Like Chennai, Salem was also in the limelight of film business because of Modern Theatres. T R Sundaram founded the studio in 1937. It functioned till 1982.
The studio provided the platform for many creative minds, including Puratchi Kavignar Bharathidasan, Kalaignar Karunanidhi and Kannadasan. Sundaram produced films in various languages, including English, Sinhalese and Hindi.
Tamil film industry’s first colour film Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum was produced here. They had another studio in Chennai by the name ‘Neptune’ which was later bought by MGR and its name changed to Sathya which has now been converted into a women’s college.
In the 1940s, there were two popular film studios in Coimbatore. Rangasamy Naidu’s Central Studio and Sriramulu Naidu’s Pakshiraja Studio. Jupiter Pictures later bought Central Studio and produced popular films. For Pakshiraja Studio, the last film they produced was Sivaji starrer Naan Petra Selvam in 1956.
Though such popular film studios downed their shutters in 1980s, Chitrakala Studio came up in Madurai during the same period. Only a few films were made here and because of the burgeoning overheads, the studio had to close.
Why studios had to close
During the later part of 1970s, a new trend of shooting outdoors for a realistic portrayal emerged. Directors Bharathiraja, Mahendran, Balu Mahendra, Rudraiah, Devaraj Mohan, Bhagyaraj and Durai had liberal ideas and came out of the confines of film studios and popularised outdoor shooting.
Film crews travelled extensively to exotic locations in Pollachi, Gobichettipalayam, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Theni and some foreign destinations.
It has reduced the necessity for shooting in a studio. After 2000, with the advent of digital technology, these studios are now being used only for post-production works.
MGR Film City
Tamil Nadu government opened J J Film City in 1994 and later the name was changed to MGR Film City. The 70-acre sprawling space has all the infrastructural facilities for making films. Different permanent sets-from a court structure to police station, temple, church, mosque and post office-have been erected. Several films are made here.
Ramoji Rao Film City
After the creation of this facility in 1996 in Hyderabad, most of the Telugu films that were made in Chennai shifted base to this new facility. It is the country’s biggest film facility. There are several natural landscapes, including hills, forests, rivers, streams, roads and gardens in this film city. Like MGR and Ramoji Rao Film Cities that represent south Indian filmdom, Mumbai and Noida Film Cities are being used by the filmmakers of north India.
Inevitable End Of An Era
Kalaignanam (Scriptwriter and Producer): I am active in the field for the past 70 years. I have been to most of the studios. About 30 to 40 film shoots happened in a day. But today, technological advancement has turned the film-making process upside down. The cameras, films, lighting equipment and laboratories of those days have become obsolete. It is a digital world with new technicians and a new set of sophisticated gadgets. Small studios to cater to the needs of such filmmakers have come up. Operating studios on a large scale is not feasible today. Hence, old studios have now become residential and shopping complexes, and hospitals. A small portion of AVM and Prasad studios are being used for film-making.
S P Muthuraman (Legendary director): I was closely associated with AVM for 60 years. At one time, all the 13 floors of AVM would be buzzing with activity. It would resemble a carnival with MGR, Sivaji and N T Rama Rao all busy with their film schedules in the studio. But today, except a few television serial shooting, nothing happens. We have to accept that change is inevitable. Just to protect the legacy and tradition, AVM Saravanan has been maintaining the studio and providing jobs to numerous workers.
- News Research Department