Have Hindi movies that once captivated the Madurai film goers, lost their charm?

That Madurai and cinema are synonymous is a known fact. But can Hindi cinema and the temple city share such a relation? There was a time when Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna charmed Madurai’s movie goers just like the evergreen MGR and Sivaji.

S.Perumal, an old-time film buff recalls the days when the city had a huge fan following for Amitabh Bacchhan and Dev Anand. “The 70’s was the peak of Hindi cinema in Tamil Nadu. During the release of Sholay in 1975, people burst crackers in front of the theatre,” says the 80-year-old.

RM. M. Annamalai, state president of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners' Association, remembers the rousing reception given by the audience when he opened Sakthi-Sivam theatre with the screening of Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977. “There was maddening crowd and the movie ran for more than 100 days. It was one of the Hindi movies that attracted repeated audiences.” Yaadon Ki Baraat, Chupke Chupke, Dharam Veer, Bobby, Aradhana, Kati Patang, Qurbani, Amar Prem, Zanjeer and Silsila were the other Hindi flicks that ran to packed halls. Some of these films were also remade in Tamil -- Yaadon Ki Baraat as Naalai Namadhe with MGR in the lead role and Aradhana as Sivakamiyin Selvan with Sivaji.

“The time between late 60’s and early 70’s was a lull period in Tamil cinema. The songs got monotonous and there was no major breakthrough in story or music. That was one of the reasons why people chose to watch Hindi movies, mainly for the songs,” says Annamalai. “Tamil cinema got fresh music only after the entry of Ilayaraja. Before that, light music simply meant Hindi songs.”

“It was the magic of R.D.Burman. He introduced western components in Hindi songs and that struck a chord with audiences all over India. Music was electrified and people welcomed it,” says R.Murali, Principal, Madura College and an avid film goer.

The other major factor that made Hindi movies popular among the masses here is said to be the glamour quotient. People found the Hindi stars charismatic. Suguna, a homemaker who used to watch Hindi movies of those times, says, “Even if we didn’t understand the language, we would just go and watch it for the moustache-less boyish heroes and the glamorous get-up of the heroines, which was unknown in Tamil cinema then. Tamil cinema was hesitant to introduce new faces. We were still doing with Sivaji and MGR and the actors played college boys even after they turned 50.”

This glamour appeal of Hindi movies continued till early 90’s. Sankar, whose workplace was near the erstwhile Sha theatre still vividly remembers how the hall resonated with whistles and thumps when Madhuri Dixit made her appearance on skating rollers on the silver screen in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. “The make-up and costumes were interesting in Hindi films. It had a stylish element to it. Tamil movies were more into realistic and rustic portrayals,” says Sankar.

Hindi films were once able to penetrate the language barrier and thrive successfully in the South Indian market but now their charm has withered. “The North Indians living in the city are the major chunk watching Hindi movies. But there is also a slice of localities who like viewing Hindi films for the melodious songs. Only during weekends we get crowd, while it is lukewarm response on the other days,” informs G.Baskaran, Manager of Jazz&Arsh cinemas, one of the very few theatres in the city that screen Hindi movies now.

Many feel that the increasing show of Bombay or Delhi-centric metro-culture and the overdose of Punjabi story settings have caused Hindi movies to lose their appeal among the distant South Indian audience. “The old films had a pan-Indian appeal and audiences across linguistic boundaries were able to relate to it. The stories were based on the larger Indian culture. Family bonding and relationship were shown to be same all over the country,” says R.Murali. “But now, cinema has shifted from a macro-narrative to a micro-narrative format. Each cinema industry is going more into their specific cultural roots.”

“The earthy and rustic tones of Subramaniyapuram and Paruthi Veeran wouldn’t entice the Hindi audience. Likewise, the Tamil audience wouldn’t enjoy the overtly Punjabi plots like Love aaj Kal and Band Baaja Baarat,” says Suresh Krishna, who is a fan of Hindi films. “Youngsters in metros like Chennai and Bangalore are open to Hindi movies. But the Semi-urban South Indian movie-goer can hardly identify with Bollywood subjects these days.”

On the other hand, dubbed Hindi films seem to be doing well. “Movies like Ra.One, Krrish-3, Dhoom-2 and English Vinglish were screened in Tamil and they got good response,” says Prabhu, manager of Ganesh Adlabs. “Films like Chennai Express fared exceptionally well as the subject had the South-Indian touch and people connected with it.”