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A commercial movie has to have everything. Just like a complete south Indian meal that must have everything right from sambhar, rasam, curd and the desserts, not to forget the favorite of many, the kara kozhambu. A meal is not complete without any of these and so is the commercial cinema. Unless there is action, comedy, romance, sentiments and glamour, a film doesn’t qualify to be called a commercial potboiler. There might be people who say that commercial cinema is just trash and that ‘good’ cinema should be provided to the people. Well, we do not mean to pull down this so called ‘good’ cinema but one must remember and understand that making pure commercial entertainers requires a lot of skill and is an art in itself. All the elements have to be finely mixed in the right proportion to give a product that does not appear too sedate or too crude. In short, it must please the sense without hurting the sensitivities. Of all the elements of commercial cinema, glamour is perhaps the most subtle to handle. As we have said once before, the line between glamour and obscenity is a very thin one and can be easily blurred. Even the most skilled of directors has to be very careful in handling this part of his/her movie.
There was a time in Tamil cinema when most of the heroine characters were akin to ice maidens – they would never as much as look at the face of a man other than their husband, brother or father. They would get up early in the morning, have a bath, light the lamp, worship the Gods and wake their husband with a cup of coffee. It was indeed impossible to infuse glamour into such a setting. But then someone had a brainwave, this idea has not been officially credited to anyone and no records exist as to where this idea originated from. The idea was simple: if the heroine can’t provide the glamour, bring in someone else who can; and the vamp or the item girl was born and the rest, as they say, is history. We will take you through the lanes these item girls have traveled.

The first known item girl was T.R.Rajakumari; though glamour was non-existent during her era, she was still considered sexy by the prevailing standards of that time. And for a while there were no big names that gained popularity, till three voluptuous ladies popped up from nowhere to daze the fans. They were Jyothilakshmi, Jaya malini, and Anuradha. Their existence was known to be the period in Tamil cinema when the item girl was just as important as the main cast. They were primarily in the movies for an item song or as a side kick to the dreaded villains. The famous trio’s legacy got passed on to another trio of ‘Silk’ Smitha, ‘Disco’ Shanthi and Kuyili who went on to become as famous or if not more than the lead heroines of those days. Here again, the primary responsibility of these girls were the item numbers. Even the big directors had to relent to include one such number in their otherwise realistic movies, whether it dealt with the relationship between a man and a girl suffering from amnesia (Moondram Pirai) or a turbulent story about an ordinary man rising to become Nayagan of the population. There was no escaping the item girl till the early nineties when a change came around.

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