C.R. Elangovan’s Kovaiyum Cinemavum documents milestone moments of Tamil Cinema in Coimbatore

Of the five significant film studios in Tamil Nadu — Gemini, AVM, Modern Theatres, Central and Pakshiraja — two of them are in Coimbatore (Central and Pakshiraja Studios). “Coimbatore was once kallum mannum iruntha ooru,” says C.R. Elangovan, author of eight books on Coimbatore. “It’s the entrepreneurial spirit of people and their accommodative nature to accept changes that helped in the progress of the city. Along with industries such as the pumps, automobiles, and textiles, cinema has been an important part of Coimbatore.”

His new book titled Kovaiyum Cinemavum that releases today documents important personalities from Coimbatore such as Samikannu Vincent who introduced cinema. It records how film production flourished in the city and it takes the reader through the many cinema theatres that dotted the city in the 1930s. “M.K. Tygaraja Bhagavathar’s Haridas made in Coimbatore is part of history. It ran for three years, first time ever in the history of Indian cinema,” he says.

The film studios in Coimbatore served as the launch pad for personalities such as Karunanidhi, MGR, lyrics writer Kannadasan and singer T.M. Sounderarajan. Elangovan mentions Jupiter Films, a significant film production company from Coimbatore that made path-breaking films such as Menaka and Velaikkari that dealt with social issues such as widow re-marriage and women empowerment. “They set new trends at a time when mythological films ruled. They replaced songs (sometimes going up to a 100 in one film) with dialogues in chaste Tamil, and reached the common man. Velaikkari is adapted C.N. Annadurai’s play. It marked Arignar Anna’s debut in films as a writer and it is such films that later played a role in strengthening the Dravidian movement,” he explains.

Film pioneer S.M. Sriramulu Naidu was the first in Tamil Nadu to begin film production. He set up Central and Pakshiraja Studios in Coimbatore. He innovated film making in the 1940s. “In one of his films titled Jagathalapradhaban, actor P.U. Chinnappa appears as five images in a single shot, a visual effects technique that was replicated by Sivaji Ganesan in Thiruvilayaadal after 20 years. His film Malai Kallan was made in six languages and all of them were super hits.”

Elangovan says M.K. Tyagaraja Bhagavathar, who was often seen riding around the city on his white horse, was the original superstar. He gave super hits such as Sivakavi and Haridas. “He ate off a gold plate and lived like a king. But, died a pauper.”

The author has dedicated chapters to P.U. Chinnappa, and K.B. Sundaramabal (who immortalised Avvaiyar on screen. She was also the first female actor in India to have got one lakh as salary for her role in the film Nandanar). In one of the rare photographs that is included in the book, MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha (three future CMs) share the dais with Sundarambal during the inauguration of her movie theatre in Kodumudi, her hometown. The book talks at length about MGR’s journey in films. “It was Rajakumari (Produced by Jupiter Films with story and screenplay by Karunanidhi) that catapulted him to hero status. Later, A.S.A. Samy’s Marmayogi (Robin Hood-like adventure) set the formula for MGR films where he bashed up the villains and saved the heroine. The trend of the solo entry song for the hero started with MGR in his film Malai Kallan where he appears singing ‘Ethanai kaalam thaan aemaatruvar indha naatiley’.

MGR’s friendship with M.M. Chinnappa Thevar (a milk seller in Coimbatore who groomed MGR in sword fights and fitness) is also highlighted. Thevar made 19 films with MGR including Thaikku Pin Thaaram that set a new image for MGR as the devoted son.

“Till the 50s, studios here buzzed with activity. Once studio administration changed hands and production costs shot up, the film industry shut shop in Coimbatore,” he says.

Kovaiyum Cinemavum is priced at Rs. 70 and is available at all leading book shops in the city. For details, call: 93450-03109.

Famous film producers

P.A. Raju Chettiar

Mohammed Ismail’s Paragon Pictures made Annaiyin Aanai and Naan Petra Selvam

Spider Pictures of Tirupur made Kulamagal Radhai (with Sivaji Ganesan)

Producers G.N. Velumani from Gobi teamed up with Sivaji Ganesan and gave superhits such as Baaga Pirivinai, Paalum Palamum, Paadha Kaanikkai and panathottam, Padagotti and Kalangarai vilakkam with MGR

P.S. Veerappan from Pollachi made films such as Ananda Jothi, Aalayamani and Andavan Kattalai

Kovai Chezian made Ooty varai Uravu

Poets and actors

Lyrics writer Udumalai Narayana Kavi, a regular in N.S. Krishnan’s films, wrote songs in simple Tamil that highlighted social issues

Actor Sahasranamam, a drama artist from Coimbatore team made a big leap into films with his role of a cop in the film Policekaaran Magal