an era where all other regional industries are floundering before the
triple threat of cable television, pirated videos, and Bollywood's domination
of the global Indian cinema scene, Tamil cinema remains relatively strong. But
in the last year, the industry has been rocked by the mysterious deaths of three
well-known actresses. First came the suicide of actress Viji in late 2001.
A veteran of over forty films, she was allegedly distressed that her lover,
a Tamil television director, reneged on his promise to marry her.
came the demise of up-and-coming actress Pratyusha, who was found dead in a
next to her unconscious boyfriend. Initially the media reported the death as
the outcome of a suicide pact between the two; later a forensics team ruled
that she had been raped and then murdered through the forced ingestion of pesticide.
The revelation triggered a media frenzy. In March 2002, the All India Democratic
Women's Association entered the fray, alleging that the government was impeding
the investigation in order to protect the son of a cabinet minister. However,
despite persistent rumors that the actress was murdered by her lover's parent,
her death was ruled a suicide in August, and the case was closed. (TollywoodHQ.com)
Monal, a promising newcomer with three major hits (Badri, Charlie Chaplin, and
Sumduram) under her belt, hanged herself at her aunt's home on April 14, 2002.
Monal had caused much speculation recently by moving out of the home of her
sister, Tamil superstar Simran. In the wake of her death, tabloids jumped to
document Simran's reaction, and were pleasantly titillated by the actress's
failure to show at her sister's funeral (allegedly Simran received the news
after disembarking in Toronto from a twenty hour flight, and chose to stay in
Canada to fulfill her shooting schedule). Also commented upon was the eerie
coincidence that in Monal's final, unfinished film, she played the role of a
the president of the South Indian Film Artistes Association vowed to call a
conference to announce to the industry's actresses that suicide was not a valid
solution to one's problems.
would argue that his concern is not exaggerated: Monal and Viji join a long
list of southern actresses who have killed themselves, including "Kalpana,
Lakshmisree, Vijayasree, Kumari Padmini, Phataphat Jayalakshmi, Jayalakshmi
and Silk Smita." (www.my-tamil.com) Telegu
actress Gajala survived a suicide attempt earlier this year. For industries
that pride themselves on being kinder and gentler training grounds than Mumbai,
the pattern raises uncomfortable questions that insiders are still struggling
milder scandals include the upheavals in the love-life of superstar Kamal Hassan.
Hassan left his first wife, Vani Ganapathy, fifteen years ago for actress Sarika,
whom he later married after the birth of their second child. In March 2002,
the couple formally split, and Hassan, by all reports, immediately took up with
actress Simran, prompting Ganapthy to break her decade-long silence to warn
Simran away unless she is willing, like Hassan, to be "smart and calculating."
(Kumudam Magazine) The press is busy charting the
romance, no doubt to Sarika and Vani's dismay. Simran, however, is riding both
a personal and professional high: she was recently chosen to be Fanta's Southern
Indian spokeswoman, beating out the likely favorite, fellow actress Jyothika.
Regional marketing manager Pushkar Chaudhari rubbed it in when he announced,
"Our market research says that Simran is the only female star down south
who can create as big an impact as the male stars." (my-tamil.com,
in terms of scandal, Bollywood has nothing on the Tamil industry. But why should
any Hindi film fan, already struggling to keep up with loads of new releases,
cast her eyes south for more? Read on and judge for yourself...
one woman defected from bollywood to tamil films
by Donna Iannapollo, BollyWHAT? contributor
It is said that the culture of the ancient Tamils is as sweet and beautiful
as flowers. One need only study the poetry of the Cankam (pronounced "Sangam")
period to realize that this is true. Nature and culture combined effectively
to give ancient Tamil culture its individuality. The guardians of Tamil culture
are its poets. After reading translations of the Cankam poets and Bharahti,
I am attempting to learn the beautiful, complex and fascinating language of
the Tamil people. My journey has been a complete joy.
discovered Tamil films through the music of A. R. Rahman. The first Tamil films
we saw were Padiyappa and Muthu, both starring Rajnikanth. Kandukondain Kandukondain
(starring Tabu and Aishwarya Rai) afforded my first opportunity to read Tamil
lyrics translated into English. The
lyrics to the songs are by the much loved poet Vairamuthu, and this same film
also sparked my interest in Tamil poetry because the famous poet and national
hero Bharathi was featured as a subject in the film. (Note that in the song
'Konjum Mynakkaley' Aishwarya dances with some male dancers dressed in white,
wearing masks of a man with a moustache and white turban - this is Bharathi).
I have a sincere love and deep feeling of affection for the genre. I now prefer
the film music of the south to that of the north. The song "Minsara Poovea"
from Padiyappa, composed by A. R. Rahman, was the key that opened the door.
Then I heard the songs from Sangamam ("Varaaga Nathi" especially)
and there was no turning back! There are so many more music directors to discover!
The more Tamil music I hear, the more I want to hear.
of the playback singers in Tamil cinema are already well-known to BollyWHAT?
fans. Shankar Mahadevan, Srinivas, Chitra, and Hariharan are all from the south.
Some recent discoveries of mine include Thavasi and Poovellam Un Vasam by Vidyasagar
and Nahdhaa by Yuvan Shankar Raja. S. A. Rajkumar's Anandham is wonderful, too,
especially the song "Pallangkuzhiyin". Links to excellent Tamil music
sites follow at the end of this article.
a brief introduction to tamil cinema
by Donna Iannapollo
have been shown in India since 1896 when the Lumiere brothers introduced their
cinematograph, six months after its first appearance in Paris. The first Indian
feature film was made by D. G. Phalke in 1912. Films came to south India a year
after they were introduced in Bombay.
R. Nataraja Mudaliar is credited with the first
silent Tamil film in 1917, Keechakra Vadham. Previous to this, Tamil films were
limited to filmed stage plays and "short" subjects.
When sound films began being produced in Bombay
and Calcutta, there was no sound production or sound studio in Madras, the center
of the Tamil film industry. In 1932 and 1933, Tamil films were produced in Bombay,
Calcutta and Poona.
The first Tamil sound film, Pavalakkodi, was
made in 1934 and contained 50 songs. The success of early Tamil sound
films led to the construction of up-to-date studios in the South during 1935-1936.
Producers in the Madras area began to take charge of Tamil production, gradually
taking over production for the nearby Telegu area as well as the Kannada and
Malayalam language groups. In the 1950s, Madras would pass Bombay in volume
The first Tamil film to be successful in both Tamil and Hindi versions
was Chandralekha. Made on a budget of Rs. 3,000,000 it was released in 1948.
The director, S. S. Vasan, and producer, A. K. Sekar, designed a huge production
campaign so successful that Chandralekha grossed Rs. 10,000,000.
One of the most unique features of Tamil cinema is the way the medium has
been used and intelligently exploited to make political commentary and win
political elections. Screenwriter C. N. Annadurai and actors M. G. Ramachandran
and Sivaji Ganesan utilized their films to move into political office in
the 1940s and 1950s. Films with political themes continue to be made into
the present day with some recent examples such as S. Shankar's Kadhalan
and Muthalvan and Mani Ratnam's "trilogy" Roja, Bombay and Dil
In the 1960s, director K. Balachander created movies with bold themes in
cinematic styles and gave birth to such "all-India" stars as Kamal
Hasan, Rajnikanth and Sridevi. For more recent history, see the links below!
Links for further research:
www.thenisai.com is my new favorite listening site. They have Tamil
audio and video and one of the best list of Tamil links.
www.shrimatis.com is my favorite online source for purchasing Tamil
films with English subtitles. They have a large selection of films, you
can search by Tamil as a keyword and they tell you if the film has English
subtitles. They also have a large selection of CDs. They are also in California
and the staff is very helpful.
www.geocities.com/subashworld is one of my most important finds! It
is one of the best for Tamil song lyrics translated into English. I have
also found his film and music reviews very helpful and accurate!
is a fairly new discovery. This is a website maintained by one gentleman
who has a great deal of knowledge. He features many older songs and will
help you if you are looking for something specific such as Tamil folk music
which can be quite amazing, especially if you love percussion as much as
I do. He told me that my western brain needs percussion to wake it up and
prepare it for something new.
www.tfmpage.com.home - all sorts of news, chat, reviews, you name it
www.cinesouth.com - ditto
Three sites for the Master/Maestro of Tamil film music, Illayaraja:
You could literally spend years of your life exploring the music of this
man and have a smile on your face the whole time!