Art in all its forms carries a synoptic uniqueness to stir human emotions and feelings, which causes introspection among the individuals. The inherent formats, topics, styles and performers the industry has thrown up to the world stage is incredible in all sorts. One amongst those was a peculiar industry which not just survived but thrived and prospered continuously along with its big brother known as ‘Bollywood’. The range and depth of the genres it offered were stupendous, the attempt to showcase the realness of performance by its actors were prodigious. And the ethnicity of makers and technicians spoke volumes of the ‘work of art’ in the film format. The portmanteau of its backyard ‘Kodambakkam’ and ‘Hollywood’ came to be colloquially referred as ‘Kollywood’.
Tamil cinema was viewed upon by most of the Indians as dark skinned moustached artists with just weird accents. But it was uncanny even for a super star like Shahrukh Khan for being part of the whimsical victimization of the tamil heroes often clinging on to the non-existent words such as ‘rascalla’. Neither Shahrukh’s portrayal nor the rest of India’s satire mattered much as it often revealed their own dogmatic understanding of a region and its people. Possessing fair skin or six packs were just one of those add-ons and never a requisite for the audience down south, unlike its counterpart. A skinny Dhanush’s performance in Pudhupettai as a gangster is a testimony to this fact, bringing his grandiose acting to perfection.
That’s what inheritance does, ain’t it? It is not just the recent times, the industry is blessed with impressive talents. It goes back as early as 1950’s when the acting prodigy entered the scenes of tamil cinema with his colossal performance in ‘Parasakthi’. Sivaji Ganesan brought a new aura to the film fraternity through his sheer brilliance in dialogue delivery, body language and a resounding voice. Be it a blind man or a physically handicapped person, a traitor or a murderer, through his versatility of roles, he imparted a gripping realism to film acting. No wonder he was referred as the ‘Marlon Brando’ of Indian cinema. While MG Ramachandran and MR Radha flourished in their own styles and fame, the baton from Sivaji Ganesan’s was in wait to be passed on to the right hands.
And the legacy was promptly carried on, by none other than, the four times national award winner Kamal Hassan. Making futuristic movies often is the perpetual criticism the actor receives and it just goes on to show the quintessential benchmark he sets for himself. The man might have deserved a better audience, but in my blunt prejudiced opinion, he got the best out of the choice. The next paradigm shift in tamil cinema happened in the 1980’s through Mani Ratnam, a man with midas touch who combed brilliant story lines and turned stars into actors. He crafted enduring pieces of art which stayed relevant to the reality of those times and for future as well. ‘Bombay’ is one such classical fusion of love, caste, religion and the violence which erupts out of it, is pertinent even today in India. The apt placing of songs in his movies, just showed how liberating music can be for a movie through celebration, be it joy, sorrow or any emotion for that matter. And I rue the ignorance of Hollywood to adapt to our way of film making. Now whose loss it is?
M.S Viswanathan’s songs gave hope, while Illayaraja poisoned us with his lullabies and then came the magician who made us all celebrate music, ‘The Mozart of Madras’ – AR Rahman. And then it was just the beginning of unleashing talents from Vikram, Madhavan, Dhanush and many more. In between all this, the captains of the ships K. Balachander, Balu Mahendra, Mahendran, Bala, Bharathi Raja, and Shankar played pivotal roles in bringing the stardom to personalities like Rajinikanth, Kamal Hassan, Vijay and Ajith. Not to forget the world class technicians in the name of Santosh Sivan, P.C.Sreeram, Anthony who gave new life to scenes through their camera work and editing.
The fashioning of geniuses
“Movies penetrate the deep corners of one’s soul”. There is not an iota of doubt over the framing of the phrase. And there has always been more substance over spectacle in this part of the movie making world. There ain’t a genre left untouched by the industry, not surely something that I can think of. Baasha secured the tag of superstar prominently for Rajinikanth. Kamal Hassan is a genius who had given dozens of classics from Nayagan, Indian, Anbe Sivam and many more. Despite being a social animal, Vikram portrayed the intricacies of an unsocial animal through his autistic performance via Pithamagan and Sethu. The excitement does not die over the proud past.
Indeed it is the new talents who are riding the trend in Kollywood that mocks their counterparts loudly. Thiyagarajan Kumararaja directed his only movie “Aaranya Kaandam” which was released in 2011. It was the first neo-noir tamil film. Although it bombed at the box office, the movie developed a cult following, similar to that of Quentin Tarantino’s films. It was raw, real and a classic. Nalan Kumarasamy’s “Soodhu Kavvum”, Karthik Subbaraj’s “Jigarthanda” had already made it to the list of top 50 tamil movies of all time. These are happy times for the tamil audience, as they are bestowed with the luxury of genres from the newcomers. And how unselfish it would be, to not give credit to the audience who made movies successful by accepting new genres, avatars and struck thick and thin with their beloved stars.
Political drama and controversies brews repeatedly before every big release in this part of the world. Religious outfits disrupt the release of movies often blaming the title or accusing the film to raise religious and caste tensions among the people, even before watching the movie. Big stars has often been on the receiving end, when many of their movies were stalled just before the day of release. Kamal Hassan being called up to be part of the censor board committee gives hope to the artists that their efforts don’t vanish in vain abruptly. The spread of tamil diaspora across the world has given plenty of opportunities for filmmakers to market their product overseas and across India. And the fact that Bollywood is taking inspiration from tamil movies is a supplement to reach out to a wider audience.
‘Everything I learned, I learned from the movies” – Audrey Hepburn
It’s so true that our whole life is just like watching a film. The unexpected plot that lies ahead brings the exquisite passion we behold in leading our lives. Movies instill the desire to dream, the emotions to feel lively and a collective reconciliation in the form of happiness. For the last four and half decades actors have gone on to become the chief ministers of Tamilnadu. Movies might be far from reality, but in this part of the world, it gives hope for realism. Hoping the new era of filmmakers bring more delight and rapture to the audience and the industry.
As Orson Welles quoted, “If you want a happy ending that depends, ofcourse, on where you stop your story”.