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Chakravarthy, Kamal Hassan, Jyothika and Madhavan

The leads in Satya and Abhay, the heroine of Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, and the Romeo of Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein all have one thing in common: they're better known as Tamil film stars.

The Tamil film industry, based in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, enjoys the widest visibility of any regional South Asian cinema. Though in the past few years, the Bombay "masala" formula has started to shape storylines, the films still embrace a greater degree of realism than most of their Bollywood counterparts. Relatively large budgets and high production values also distinguish the movies, making it natural that many of Bollywood's biggest stars -- including composer A.R. Rahman and actress Aishwarya Rai -- have gone to Bombay after making their debuts in this industry (in the films Roja and Iruvar, respectively).

While Bollywood's international audiences and higher salaries make it the ultimate destination for Indian actors, the reputation of the Tamil industry ensures that the flow is still reciprocal: Hindi film stars like Tabu, Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala regularly go south to work with some of India's most esteemed directors. Director Mani Ratnam is perhaps most familiar to Bollywood fans; his "terrorist trilogy" -- Roja, Bombay, and the Hindi-language Dil Se -- have become instant classics for all South Asian film fans.

VijiIn 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.

   Next came the demise of up-and-coming actress Pratyusha, who was found dead in a Pratyushacar 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   Finally, 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 ghost. Meanwhile, 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.

   Many 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 to answer.

Simran    Other, 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, 2/25/02)

Obviously 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...

how 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.

We 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.

Many 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

Films 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 of production.

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 Se.

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:




is my new favorite listening site. They have Tamil audio and video and one of the best list of Tamil links.

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.

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!

Stsrinivasan.tripod.com 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.


- all sorts of news, chat, reviews, you name it

- ditto

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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!


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