A decade of Tamil cinema
AR Rahman  

A New Year has dawned. But it is not just a New Year it is also the dawn of a new decade. The first ten years of the new millennium have passed and that leaves us with a lot of memories, reflections and thoughts going forward into 2011. Tamil cinema is looking vibrant and full of energy, poised to go on to greater heights, to take flight. An industry that has completed its platinum jubilee might not be called young, but that is how Tamil cinema looks at the moment; younger and eager to march forth into greatness that awaits and the last decade has pushed us strongly in the right direction.

For a measure of how much Tamil cinema has grown over the decade, look at where we were in 2001. A big budget film was one that was made on a double digit ‘crore’ figure. Now, we are looking at cinema that is being made at 3 digit ‘crore’ figures. The growth has not been arithmetic or exponential; it has been almost a giant quantum leap that Tamil cinema has taken in terms of the investment and generated revenue. Now, I do not know too much about

world cinema economy, but I feel safe to say that nowhere in the world would a film industry have recorded such growth over this decade. That alone is reason to be proud.

But, economics is not everything to an industry; especially cinema which is all about creativity and artistic perfection. Yes, it is cinema that generates the money and vice versa. So, has the Tamil industry grown only the big bucks or are we really rubbing shoulders with the best in world cinema? There is no reason to believe that we are not! Tamil cinema’s moment of the decade (also one of the proudest moments in 75 years of Tamil cinema) is certainly Rahman holding aloft the Oscar statuette on that night of 2009. World cinema’s biggest honor had been brought home. There were other moments of pride too when Raam won honors at Cyprus, Paruthiveeran was applauded at Berlin, Mani Ratnam’s achievements recognized at Venice, Sivaji breaking into the UK and South African Top 10, Dasavatharam featuring in the International Top 10 and many more such moments to cherish for everyone who takes pride in the richness of Tamil cinema. Of course, this has not been the first decade when Tamil cinema has been able to go beyond borders. Legends like Sivaji Ganesan had already made the world take notice. But, this is the decade where going beyond boundaries has become more a rule than an exception. Today, Indian cinema does not mean just Bollywood (though Peepli Live is still going to the Oscars)!

This has also been a decade that has seen a complete cycle of commercialism and realism come to pass. The earlier part of the decade threatened to push Tamil cinema into the commercial-populist mould of cinema with action packed entertainers and superhero stuff being the preferred menu over anything else. Those were the years of Dhool, Thirumalai, Saamy, Ghilli, Baba, Thiruppachi, Sivakasi, Thirupathi etc. Though there was the odd gem in the form of Anbe Sivam or the rare braveheart attempt in the form of Pithamagan, it was the commercial juggernaut that always walked away with the big bucks. But, the final three years of the decade took an unexpected and pleasant twist (almost inexplicable, as if people suddenly grew tired of all that ‘over the top’ heroism on screen) with blatant commercialism receiving an emphatic kick from the audience. Yes, the new generation audience was born and so were a new breed of film makers. Tamil cinema was finding new heroes (behind the camera). One thing has not changed though, people still love to see Rajnikanth play the unconquerable superhero; and that, is going to be the same forever.

The decade will thus be remembered for ushering in some courageous and fantastic film makers and technicians who will shoulder the industry for years to come: hopefully! It was decade that introduced Ameer, Gautham Menon, Sasikumar, Venkat Prabhu and a few other directors; Harris Jeyaraj and G.V Prakash on the music front while banners like S Pictures kept proving good cinema always finds support within the industry. There was also a proud moment for the industry when Gautham Menon’s Photon Kathaas became the first south Indian production house to be listed in an International Stock Exchange.

Yes, it has been a decade of growth and great hope for the years that lie ahead. But, there were also moments of loss and grief that still linger on. This was the decade when one of the biggest names in the history of Tamil cinema departed – Sivaji Ganesan; peerless. Perhaps, he was the Bradman of Tamil cinema. Gemini Ganesan, another giant from the same era too departed this decade and it was as if an entire era finally closed on us when the inimitable Nagesh breathed his last. Shocking was the loss of Jeeva; the spring that could not blossom. Sujatha’s departure too leaves a big void in Tamil cinema in writing and it is sad that he was not around to see one of his biggest dreams Endhiran make huge waves all over the world. The intense expressions of Raghuvaran too remain only a memory and so will be Murali’s demise as we move on to the next decade.

It was a decade where many dreams came true, many dreams realized, many new names born and embraced while some legends took their final bow. As we look back at all that we have been offered since 2001, there is nothing but applause that we can offer this industry and its brave men who keep coming up with ways of entertaining us. Brave, not because they do superhuman things on screen, but for the sheer fact that they soldier on with their efforts and experiments without any assurance of what might happen in return. There have been times when we have been scalding and even dismissive in our criticisms, but that has not deterred them from doing what they believe in. Looking forward to another great decade of Tamil cinema! Wishing you a Happy New Year Kollywood!

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