Tamil cinema (also known as the Tamil film industry, the Cinema of Tamil Nadu or the Chennai film industry) is a film industry based in Chennai, India, which produces feature films in the Tamil language. Most of the movie studios are located in Kodambakkam, also referred to as Kollywood, a portmanteau of Hollywood and Kodambakkam.
Moving pictures have been exhibited in Chennai from 1882[dubious ] onwards. The first silent movie in Tamil, Keechaka Vadham was made by R. Nataraja Mudaliar in 1916. The first talkie was a multi-lingual Kalidas which released on 31 October 1931, barely 7 months after India's first talking picture Alam Ara By the end of the 1930s, the legislature of the State of Madras passed the Entertainment Tax Act of 1939. Tamil cinema later had a profound effect on other filmmaking industries of India, establishing Chennai as a secondary hub for Telugu cinema, Malayalam cinema, Kannada cinema, and Hindi cinema. In its modern era, Tamil films from Chennai have been distributed to various overseas theatres in Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malaysia, Japan, Oceania, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. The industry also inspired filmmaking in Tamil diaspora populations in other regions, such as in Europe and Canada.
Film studios in Chennai are bound by legislation, such as the Cinematography Film Rules of 1948, the Cinematography Act of 1952, and the Copyright Act of 1957. In Tamil Nadu, cinema ticket prices are regulated by the government. Single screen theatres may charge a maximum of 50, while theatres with more than three screens may charge a maximum of 120 per ticket.
Tamil cinema is often referred to as Kollywood, a portmanteau of the words Kodambakkam, an area of Chennai, where Tamil language feature films are produced, and Hollywood. The term Kollywood dates back to the 1940-80s when the term began to be widely used for describing Tamil cinema, the age when the term Bollywood was also starting to be used widely.
In 1897, a European exhibitor first screened a selection of silent short films at the Victoria Public Hall in Madras. The films all featured non-fictional subjects; they were mostly photographed records of day-to-day events. In Madras (present-day Chennai), the Electric Theatre was established for the screening of silent films. It was a favourite haunt of the British community in Madras. The theatre was shut down after a few years. This building is now part of a post office complex on Anna Salai (Mount Road). The Lyric Theatre was also built in the Mount Road area. This venue boasted a variety of events, including plays in English, Western classical music concerts, and ballroom dances. Silent films were also screened as an additional attraction. Swamikannu Vincent, an employee of the South Indian Railways in Trichy, purchased a film projector and silent films from the Frenchman Du Pont and set up a business as film exhibitor. He erected tents for screening films. His tent cinema became popular and he travelled all over the state with his mobile unit. In later years, he produced talkies and also built a cinema in Coimbatore. To celebrate the event of King George V's visit in 1909, a grand exhibition was organised in Madras. Its major attraction was the screening of short films accompanied by sound. A British company imported a Crone megaphone, made up of a film projector to which a gramophone with a disc containing prerecorded sound was linked, and both were run in unison, producing picture and sound simultaneously. However, there was no synched dialogue. Raghupathy Venkiah Naidu, a successful photographer, took over the equipment after the exhibition and set up a tent cinema near the Madras High Court. R. Venkiah, flush with funds, built in 1912 a permanent cinema in the Mount Road area named Gaiety Theatre. It was the first in Madras to screen films on a full-time basis. The theatre later closed for commercial developments.
Swamikannu Vincent, who had built the first cinema of South India in Coimbatore, introduced the concept of "Tent Cinema" in which a tent was erected on a stretch of open land close to a town or village to screen the films. The first of its kind was established in Madras, called "Edison's Grand Cinemamegaphone". This was due to the fact that electric carbons were used for motion picture projectors.
The main impacts of the early cinema were the cultural influences of the country. The Tamil language was the medium in which many plays and stories were written since the ages as early as the Cholas. They were highly stylised and nature of the spectacle was one which could attract the people. Along with this, music and dance were one of the main entertainment sources.
The Bharata Natyam, a classical dance was the oldest performed dance form of India and so impacted the cultural heritage to a very great extent. Usually the kings sitting in the court were seen admiring dancers, and enjoying the music and dance along with the courtiers. These kind of themes were commonly found in the movies. The theory of rasa dating back to ancient Sanskrit drama is believed to be one of the most fundamental features that differentiate Indian cinema.
Along with the music and dance of ancient India, the novels and books written by many authors were used for making the movies and sometimes, the entire story was adopted from the book alone and made into films. The ancient Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana which have exerted a profound influence on the thought and imagination of popular Indian cinema, particularly in its narratives. Examples of this influence include the techniques of a side story, back-story and story within a story. Indian popular films often have plots which branch off into sub-plots which were common in the early Tamil cinema.
There is a strong Indian tradition of narrating mythology, history, fairy tales and so on through song and dance. Whereas Hollywood filmmakers strove to conceal the constructed nature of their work so that the realistic narrative was wholly dominant, Indian filmmakers made no attempt to conceal the fact that what was shown on the screen was a creation, an illusion, a fiction. However, they demonstrated how this creation intersected with people's day to day lives in complex ways. By the end of the 1930s, the State of Madras legislature passed the Entertainment Tax Act 1939.
The year 1916 marked the birth of Tamil cinema with the first Madras production and South Indian film release Keechaka Vaadham produced and directed by R. Nataraja, who established the India Film Company Limited.(The Destruction of Keechaka). During the 1920s, silent Tamil language film were shot at makeshift locations in and around Chennai, and for technical processing, they were sent to Pune or Calcutta. Later, some films featuring M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were shot in those cities as well.In 1935, A Ramaiah from Thanjavur established the first studio, Star Combines, in Kodambakkam. In the 1930s AVM set up its makeshift studioIndependent Tamil film production in places outside of India, including Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, and Europe, took prominence over the late-20th century. The history of filmmaking of Tamil language films in Canada dates back to the early 1990s. It is primarily based in the metropolitan region of the Greater Toronto Area in Southern Ontario.
Tamil films are also made in Sri Lanka where Tamil is one of the official languages since the ancient times. The film My Magic directed by Singaporean Eric Khoo became Singapore's first film to be nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Some of these films have involved one or more film personalities from the Chennai industry as well. in the town of Karaikudi, and during the same decade, full-fledged Movie studios were built in Salem (Modern Theatres Studio) and Coimbatore (Central Studios, Neptune, and Pakshiraja). By the mid-1940s, Chennai became the hub of studio activity with two more movie studios built in Chennai, Vijaya Vauhini Studios and Gemini Studios. Later, AVM Studios shifted its operations to Chennai. Thus, with the undivided Madras Presidency being the Capital to most of South India, Chennai became the center for Tamil- and Telugu-language films. Also, most of the pre-independence era drama and stage actors joined the film industry from the 1940s, and Chennai became the hub for South Indian–language film production and the cinema of Sri Lanka before independence.
The Chennai film industry produced the first nationally distributed film across India in 1948 with Chandralekha. They have one of the widest overseas distribution, with large audience turnout from the Tamil diaspora alongside Hindi films. They are distributed to various parts of Asia, Africa, Western Europe, North America and Oceania.
Keechaka Vadham (1918) was the first Silent film made in South India. Kalidas (1931) was the first Tamil talkie film made in 1931. Kalava was the first Full-length Talkie made entirely in Tamil. Nandanar (1935) was the first film for American film director Ellis R. Dungan Balayogini released in 1937 was considered to be first children's film of South India. Marmayogi that starred M. G. Ramachandran was the first Tamil film to receive an "Adult" certificate from the film censor board. It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films.
Tamil films have enjoyed consistent popularity among populations in South East Asia. Since Chandralekha, Muthu was the second Tamil film to be dubbed into Japanese (as Mutu: Odoru Maharaja) and grossed a record $1.6 million in 1998. In 2010, Enthiran grossed a record $4 million in North America.
Many Tamil-language films have premiered or have been selected as special presentations at various film festivals across the globe, such as Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal, Vasanthabalan's Veyyil and Ameer Sultan's Paruthiveeran. Kanchivaram (2009) was selected to be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Tamil films have been a part of films submitted by India for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language on eight occasions, next only to Hindi. Mani Ratnam's Nayagan (1987) was included in Time magazine's "All-TIME" 100 best movies list.
Tamil films enjoy significant patronage in neighbouring Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka especially Bangalore and Mysore due large Tamil speaking population and also Kannadigas do watch Tamil movies., Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Gujarat and New Delhi. In Kerala and Karnataka the films are directly released in Tamil but in Andhra Pradesh they are generally dubbed into Telugu where they have a decent market. There have been instances where dubbed films from Tamil making more profits than Telugu films; dubbed Tamil films had a significant impact over the Telugu box office in 2005 and 2011.
Many successful Tamil films have been remade by other film industries. It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films. It is not uncommon to see movies that feature dialogue studded with English words and phrases, or even whole sentences. Some movies are also simultaneously made in two or three languages (either using subtitles or several soundtracks). Chennai's film composers have popularised their highly unique, syncretic style of film music across the world. Quite often, Tamil movies feature Madras Tamil, a colloquial version of Tamil spoken in Chennai.
Independent Tamil film production in places outside of India, including Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, and Europe, took prominence over the late-20th century. The history of filmmaking of Tamil language films in Canada dates back to the early 1990s. It is primarily based in the metropolitan region of the Greater Toronto Area in Southern Ontario. Tamil films are also made in Sri Lanka where Tamil is one of the official languages since the ancient times. The film My Magic directed by Singaporean Eric Khoo became Singapore's first film to be nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Some of these films have involved one or more film personalities from the Chennai industry as well.
Average annual film output in Tamil film industry peaked in 1985. The Tamil film market accounts for approximately 0.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the state of Tamil Nadu. For the purpose of entertainment taxes, returns have to be filed by the exhibitors weekly (usually each Tuesday). Costs of production have grown exponentially from just under 40 lakhs in 1980 to over 11 crores by 2005 for a typical star-studded big-budget film. Similarly, costs of processing per print have risen from just under 2,500 in 1980 to nearly 70,000 by 2005.
The Government of Tamil Nadu made provisions for an entertainment tax exemption for Tamil films having titles in words from the Tamil language only. This is in accordance with Government Order 72 passed on 22 July 2006. The first film to be released after the new Order was Unakkum Enakkum. The original title had been Something Something Unakkum Ennakkum, a half-English and a half-Tamil title. In July 2011, strict norms on entertainment tax were passed which stated that films which were given a 'U' certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification alone were eligible for tax exemption and those with an 'A' certificate could not fit into this category.
There are 3 major roles in the Tamil film value chain viz producer, distributor and exhibitor. The distributor purchases theatrical distribution rights from the producer for exhibiting the film in a defined territory. The distributor performs enhanced functions such as:
- part-financing of film (in case of minimum guarantee / advance based purchase of film rights)
- localised marketing of film
- selection of exhibition halls
- managing the logistics of physical print distribution
There are three popular approaches to transfer of distribution rights via distribution contracts:
- Minimum Guarantee + Royalty – Here, the producer sells the distribution rights for a defined territory for a minimum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Any surplus is shared between the producer and distributor, in a pre-set ratio (typically 1:2) after deducting entertainment tax, show rentals, commission, print costs and publicity costs. Effectively, the distributor becomes a "financier" in the eyes of the market. This is the most common channel available to high budget producers.
- Commission – Here, the distributor pays the producer the entire box office collection after deducting commission. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the producer. This is the most common channel available to low budget producers.
- Outright Sale – Here, the producer sells all distribution and theatrical rights for a defined territory exclusively to a distributor. Effectively, the distributor becomes a "producer" in the eyes of the market. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the distributor.
There are four popular approaches to transfer of exhibition rights via exhibition contracts:
- Theatre Hire – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor the entire box office collection after deducting entertainment tax and show rentals. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the distributor. This is the most common channel for low-budget films, casting rank newcomers, with unproven track record.
- Fixed Hire – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor a maximum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Rental is not chargeable per show. Any surplus after deducting entertainment tax is retained by the exhibitor. Effectively, the exhibitor becomes a "producer" in the eyes of the market. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film remains with the exhibitor. This is the most common channel for high budget films, casting established front-runners, with proven track record.
- Minimum Guarantee + Royalty – Here, the exhibitor pays the distributor a minimum lump sum irrespective of the box office performance of the film. Any surplus after deducting entertainment tax and show rental is shared in a pre-set ratio (typically 2:1) between the exhibitor and distributor. But risk of deficit remains with the exhibitor. This is the most common channel preferred by single screens.
- Revenue Share – Here, the exhibitor shares with the distributor, in a pre-set ratio (typically 1:2), the entire box office collection of the film after deducting entertainment tax. Rental is not chargeable per show. So, the entire risk of box office performance of the film is shared between the exhibitor and distributor. This is the most common channel preferred by multiplex screens.
The industry includes several groups who organise their own events based on different issues of major concern. Rather than forming separate and distinct groups, each association occasionally collaborate for certain events. These associations are based on profession in the industry, such as a directors' association or producers' association. The most notable association is the South Indian Film Artistes' Association which is a group of all prominent Tamil film actors. Formed in 1952 under the leadership of actor Sivaji Ganesan, the association governs film or media-related issues that may arise to its members. The association has also continued to conduct philanthropic activities, as well as public outcries for certain political and humanitarian issues. The current president of the association is the actor-turned-politician R. Sarath Kumar.
Other associations include the Association of Tamil Film Directors which is headed by director P. Bharathiraja and the Tamil Film Producers' Council, headed by film director Rama Narayanan, who often meet to make financial decisions in the economy. A more broader association that incorporates all kinds of film personalities includes the well-known Film Employees' Federation of South India (FEFSI). They often successfully pledge for the welfare of low-income film workers, such as lighting technicians and stunt coordinators.
Disambiguation with Nepali Cinema Industry
Its probably an irony for the Tamil cinema when someone talks about Nepali Cinema often called as Kollywood. Hence there exists some kind of identity debate especially in Nepali Cinema. Tamil Cinema is comparatively a very large industry in comparison to Nepali Cinema industry. The disambiguation doesn't affect that much to the larger one, however Nepali Cinema faces the threat of its own representation especially in this era of own growing. There exists two school of thoughts where one doesn't want to call Kollywood for Nepali Cinema Industry, and the other uses Kollywood frequently.
- Cinema of the world
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- International Tamil Film Awards
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