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Friday, 20 November 2015

The Current Cinema - Adrienne McKibbins reports on Vedalam and on Tamil Cinema

Some Background on Tamil Cinema
Although in the West we tend to hear and see more of Hindi cinema (aka Bollywood), Tamil cinema (originating from Chennai, formally Madras) has an industry as big as the cinema that comes out of Mumbai. Its output this year is likely to be over 220 films.

Tamil cinema, like Hindi cinema, has a long history.  The first film studio was established in Madras in 1916.  Keechaka Vadham (1918) was the first silent film made in South India. Kalidas was the first Tamil talkie film made in 1931. The industry has progressed over the years, and at times has produced more films than any other industry in India.

The Chennai film industry produced the first nationally distributed film across India in 1948 with Chandralekha. Tamil cinema has one of the widest overseas distribution networks for Indian cinema, although Australia has not been part of it in the past.

There is crossover and interaction between the Hindi and Tamil cinemas, many hit Tamil films are remade in Hindi, from time to time Tamil actors and even more actresses move between the two industries. Many technicians especially cameramen work in both industries. Probably the most famous Tamil director and one of India's greatest directors Mani Ratnam has worked in both industries, and Tamil musician A R Rahman, who started his career with Ratnam, and is now on the world stage, composes for both Hindi and Tamil cinema.

Tamil films are widely distributed outside India, in South Africa, Singapore and parts of South East Asia, but until very recently the only Tamil (& Telegu) films screened in Australia were 4 walled by sections of the Indian community. (Prints were usually unsubtitled)  While we still don't get as many Tamil films as Hindi releases, this seems to be changing, with a selection of films being screened nationally. This year we have seen at least half a dozen get release, some doing extremely well. But like most Hindi cinema they arrive with no pre-publicity or advertising. Of course, the Indian audience will know.

Like Hindi cinema, Tamil cinema is a predominantly star based cinema, perhaps to an even greater degree. Tamil stars have in the past formed their own political parties on the basis of their fan followings

Fortunately subtitled quality DVDs are now more accessible for Tamil cinema and, like Hindi cinema, pirated DVDs become available very quickly once a film is released.

Tamil cinema is not unlike Hindi cinema in many ways, star driven with elaborate musical numbers, films made as a mass entertainment. Tamil cinema also makes a lot of gritty police/crime sagas that can have a level of violence stronger than that seen in other areas of Indian cinema.

Since globalisation became a fashionable word we have seen an enormous number of books published on Hindi cinema...usually with Global in the title-- although many of these books tend to focus on a limited number of famous Hindi films, the fact is that now there is considerable information Hindi cinema. So we have an access to its history and how the industry works.

There have been fewer books in English on Tamil cinema, but this is also changing. Hopefully with more Tamil films being released and included in Indian Film Festivals audiences will be able to get greater insight to this prolific cinema.

Vedalam
The current Tamil release Vedalam (Phantom) stars Arjith Kumar, so famous he is usually just referred to as Arjith. It also stars Shruti Hassan (daughter of another famous actor/director/producer Kamal Hassan).  This film like Prem Ratan Dhan Payo  is the big Diwali release for Tamil cinema.


Critically the film has been generally well received and in India it's certainly a blockbuster. Although a formulaic film it uses the formula well, Arjith is a star who can be a one man show, he has a very strong presence, but is also a very versatile actor.

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