is no doubt that the home of Tamil cinema is Madras
or Chennai, as you like it; much like Lords is
called the Mecca of cricket. Kodambakkam, the
haloed AVM Studios, the Adyar Film Institute are
all major parts of Tamil cinema’s history.
The role that Madras and its various elements
played in the growth of Tamil cinema can be a
separate subject of study in itself; it is the
home of all the big production houses, the big
stars and what not. But that is not the subject
of discussion here. When I called Madras the ‘Home
of Tamil cinema’, it was for another reason,
it being the fact that a vast majority of Tamil
films are set within the boundaries of Chennai.
This statement is not based on any concrete statistic
over any period of time. It is just that the odds
that a film one watches will be set in Chennai
are greater than any other place. Skimming through
the recollections of recent films that one has
seen reaffirms the thought. Yes, Chennai is indeed
the backdrop of most Tamil films made. That takes
us to the next question, why? Chennai is one place
everyone in Tamil Nadu is familiar with, if not
first hand, at least through
hearsay. What made it so familiar? Apart from political
and economical reasons, one has to say that cinema has
played a part in making Chennai familiar to almost every
Tamilian. That would make the entire matter like the
proverbial ‘chicken or egg’ question. Does
cinema depend on Chennai to instantly connect to the
audience or does Chennai need cinema to cast it in a
fascinating light? Let’s examine.
When a film is set in Chennai, there are some intrinsic
elements that come with it which the director doesn’t
have to take time or trouble explaining. The hustling
crowds, the jam-packed green buses, the all pervading
presence of police, the cosmopolitan population etc.
Then, there are Chennai’s own landmarks that have
been so often used in Tamil cinema, like the Chennai
Central and the LIC building (right from the 60s) and
in more recent times, the ever increasing number of
flyovers. These characteristics of Chennai have become
so integral to Tamil cinema that Chennai itself has
become a character. And, film makers have also given
a few of their own additions to Chennai’s character.
Corruption, water scarcity, crime are some of them.
There are umpteen numbers of times when such traits
have been used in films, at many times for comic relief.
Chennai is an easy and abiding backdrop against which
all these and more elements can be portrayed without
much trouble because this city is a heterogeneous mix
of people of all kinds from all parts of India. There
are so many schools of thought, so many influences and
so many opportunities that one gets the feeling that
anything is possible and it is this infinite scope that
makes it a fertile ground for film makers.
is integral to many a Tamil film, but that is only for
those that are set in a city. What about those which
are set in a rural backdrop? They certainly cannot use
Chennai, where do they go? While there is no dearth
of choices when it comes to rural areas in Tamil Nadu,
each of them with a different flavor, a different feel
and most importantly a different type of Tamil, Madurai
seems to be the favored destination of many film makers.
There might be people who refute this, especially those
who belong to Coimbatore and Tirunelveli. Yes, films
have been set in these parts of Tamil Nadu too and an
even larger number of films have taken advantage of
the distinct and instantly recognizable dialects. But
looking at the recent years, one has to give Madurai
the honor of being Tamil cinema’s second Madras,
or the rural home of Tamil cinema.
Paruthiveeran, Subramaniapuram are two films set in
Madurai that have been hugely successful in the recent
past, there are a few others too. Then there is the
upcoming Aadukalam and Pasanga. What is common between
these films apart from the fact that they are set in
Madurai? To put it bluntly, the answer is the sickle.
I don’t know about Aadukalam or Pasanga, but Paruthiveeran
and Subramaniapuram definitely had a place for the sickle.
And, having seen the trailer and stills of the upcoming
films, there is no reason to believe that violence will
not be a major factor in either of them too. Not knowing
Madurai too well myself, it is not easy to tell why
it is being liked so much by film makers. But it is
a very obvious thing that films set in Madurai have
certain elements in common. Violence is not the only
thing. In fact violence is a part of almost all Tamil
movies irrespective of whether they are set in Madurai,
Madras or anywhere else. More than violence, blood and
sickle might be the right terms to use. Apart from that,
Madurai’s characteristic and unmistakable slang
has been used with great success by our film makers.
It has been applied so well that one gets the feeling
that this is the type of Tamil that is best used for
what we call ‘nakkal’ or ‘nayyandi’
or any other name. Close competition comes from the
‘vaale, pole…’ slang of Tirunelveli.
It is just a guess that it is the rustic setting and
the highly enjoyable slang that has made Madurai a favorite.
But, is Madurai only about the sickle and the sarcasm.
Films of late have shown only these two aspects of the
land. Madras has been far luckier. All its facets, right
from the modern BPOs, infinite job opportunities to
the dark lanes and the crimes have been depicted. But
Madurai’s depiction remains two dimensional. One
cannot recollect any movie of the recent past where
the youth have been shown as doing anything for their
livelihood, except of course being henchmen. While this
might not be entirely false, it is also not the entire
picture. Subramaniapuram showed the Madurai in the 1980s.
But movies showing contemporary Madurai too depict almost
the same thing, except that the overgrown hair and the
bell bottoms are missing. It is as if the stereotype
of the unemployed youth with a sickle in hand has endured
over two decades.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that most of the films
mentioned above, set in Madurai are highly entertaining
and I am in no way trying to criticize them or their
makers. It is just that one gets the feeling that Madurai
can be depicted in its totality, not just as one cross
section which shows just mindless violence and non-stop
sarcasm. The land that has the historical ‘Meenakshi
Amman’ temple deserves better.
Behindwoods is not responsible for the views of columnists.