Missing reel

The south is largely absent from the centenary celebrations of Indian cinema

“As per a Deloitte report, the south Indian film industry is worth Rs. 21,190 crore. South Indian films account for 65-70 percent of total films produced in India”, said actor Kamal Hasan, chairman of FICCI’s Media and Entertainment Business Conclave, last year. But there is collective dismay in the south that its film industry is being given short shrift in the orgy of celebrations for 100 years of Indian cinema. In any list of 100 best Indian movies, the south gets a couple of mandatory mentions. The Cannes film festival seems to have celebrated Bollywood rather than Indian cinema. The president of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC), C Kalyan, has voiced his feelings strongly in the Chamber’s journal. He has said that the SIFCC was not invited for the centenary celebration of Indian cinema, which was kickstarted in April at Delhi’s Siri Fort.

Many pioneering efforts were made in the south in the early days of Indian cinema, most of which are barely acknowledged today. For instance, according to actor and film historian Mohan Raman, a few years after Dadasaheb Phalke produced Raja Harishchandra in 1913, Nataraja Mudaliar, a young businessman from Chennai went to Pune, trained under an English cameraman. He returned to the city in 1917, and set up a studio. He made his first film, Keechaka Vadam, in a bungalow in Madras. T.P. Rajalakshmi produced , directed, wrote and acted in a film way back in 1936, the first woman to do so. Only sketchy details of these early stalwarts exist.

Madras was the home for the Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil film industries. The early Sinhala films were also shot in the studios of Madras. By the 1970’s, Andhra, Kerala and Karnataka had set up their own studios. There has not been any friction between the four industries. The south Indian film industry remains pan Indian and has not been chauvinistic at all. Hasan proudly points out that national cinema resides in the south”, filmmakers are not restricted to one language. Filmmakers like D. Ramanaidu have made films in 13 languages.

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