K. JESHI recalls the journey MetroPlus has taken in its quest for cinema trivia related to Coimbatore
Oh…what an experience it was! Chasing film celebrities for a MetroPlus exclusive. One story in particular is memorable. Subha J. Rao and I waded through the flooded streets of Coimbatore to track down two big stars — Mammootty and Vikram. The year was 2004, and it was perumazha in Coimbatore. The rain came down in buckets, but we still made it to the hotel. Dripping wet, we borrowed notepads from the welcome desk, and rushed to meet the stars. Subha got an exclusive with actor Vikram. And, mine was a Mammootty special.
More interviews with film personalities followed. Kamal Hassan, Radhika, Revathy, Prithviraj…big stars graced the pages of MetroPlus, accompanied by beautiful display of photographs, shot by our photographers. Most artistes opened up and willingly discussed a variety of topics that ended up as good copy.
Pankaja stumbled upon a screening by Konangal in a modest terrace room in Tatabad. Konangal today has regular retrospectives of classic directors and films. We featured activities of other committed film societies such as Naaivaal and the Cinema Club of Coimbatore. Their film screenings, and discussions on cinema, introduced a whole new world of alternative cinema to film buffs in the city. They have watched masters such as Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Michelangelo Antonioni. There was also a film festival for children.
Cinema became a talking point. Many young film makers here took the leap ahead and explored digital filmmaking in a big way. A number of short films, documentaries, were shot here. Coimbatore Cinema Club led by Kamala Kannan made its first feature film Madhubaanakadai.
MetroPlus readers learnt of the city’s cinema history. Notable was an interview with Dr. Srihari, son of Dr. S. M. Sriramulu Naidu, the first in Tamil Nadu to begin film production. Central Studios (1937) and later Pakshiraja Studios (1945) were set up by him. He produced and directed the blockbuster Malai Kallan in six languages right here. In another interview, Winfred Paul (grandson of Samikannu Vincent, a pioneer of motion picture industry in South India) recounted how Samikannu Vincent ushered in the film movement in Tamil Nadu from Coimbatore. Coimbatore played host to big movie music launches such as Shankar’s Nanban and Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam. Cinema lovers got a taste of Egyptian films too. The Coimbatore chapter of Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF) at PSG Institute of Management in association with the Embassy of Egypt brought an Egyptian film festival to the city. And, there is more to come.
Samikannu Vincent (April 18 1883 to April 22 1942), born in Kottaimedu, pioneered the motion picture industry in Tamil Nadu. He took touring cinema to places as far as Lahore and Peshawar, Burma and Afghanistan. In 1914, he established Variety Hall Talkies, the first theatre in the then Madras Province. Variety Hall Talkies is now Delite theatre
Between 1937 and 1960, film production flourished around these two studios. Azaad was made in six languages — Malai Kallan (Tamil), Aggi Ramudu (Telugu) Taskara Veeran (Malayalam), Bettada Kalla (Kannada) and Sursena (Sinhalese). All of them were super hits. MGR played the hero in Tamil for which Kalaignar Karunanidhi wrote the dialogues. The Telugu version had N.T. Rama Rao in the lead (Noteworthy: all three went on to become Chief Ministers)
Many directors, actors, and technicians from the region like Jaishankar, Sathyaraj, R. Sundarrajan, Manivannan, Sivakumar, Bhagyaraj, Manikandan and Krishnan Panju have contributed immensely to cinema. The popular Thevar Films, which has produced silver jubilee hits, had their offices in the city before moving to Chennai
Marudur Gopala Ramachandran (MGR) made his debut as hero in Sathi Leelavthi, a film made in Coimbatore in 1936. He was paid a salary of Rs.100!
Maragatham, one of Sivaji Ganesan’s important films, was produced and directed by Sriramulu Naidu at Pakshiraja Studios
Playback singer T.M. Soundarajan started his career from Central Studios in Singanallur
Konangal Film Society came into being around the same time as MetroPlus Coimbatore. The coverage in 2005 gave a good thrust to our activities. Articles on cinema, film societies, screenings, discussions on cinema, and stories on people who promote cinema is something unique to MetroPlus in Coimbatore. Curtain raisers on film screenings in the city is helpful to movie buffs. It motivated us and helped us get feedback too.
Articles such as the one on Randor Guy’s book on Coimbatore and the world of cinema captured the illustrious connection of cinema in Coimbatore. The interview with artist V. Jeevananthan, who won the national award for his book on cinema, brought out the different facets of his personality. MetroPlus in Coimbatore has never missed such opportunities to highlight such stories.
We expect to read more on world cinema, and a fortnightly column to help cultivate film appreciation among the readers would be welcome.
S. Kamala Kannan, Cinema Club of Coimbatore
MetroPlus has supported in our journey from running a film society to becoming filmmakers. While film viewing culture is popular in bigger cities, in Coimbatore it was making inroads with regular screenings of film societies. In the historic space, a lot of contemporary film makers learnt about Pakshiraja Studios and Central studios. In one of the stories, I discovered so many unknown facts about Samikannu Vincent, one of the pioneers in the film movement in Tamil Nadu. MetroPlus reminds us about the illustrious connection of the city to cinema. Most film-based articles presented content from an audience point of view. Initially film stories always had a Chennai point of view, but after MetroPlus Coimbatore came into the picture, the articles focussed on the audience. It is a big plus for readers. It showed in the coverage of music launches, interviews with film personalities…
Paamaran, writer and founder of Naaivaal
In 2006, MetroPlus featured the Naaivaal team and their thoughts on film appreciation. It gave a different dimension to our activities, on how we are a friendly forum that wants to reach out to the common man. When I went to the U.K. in 2009, some of the readers had seen the article online and discussed it with me. It was an amazing experience and shows the reach of the supplement. The Internet edition is a welcome addition where we get responses from people beyond the seas. We want to see more features on the disadvantaged sections like street children, rag pickers, and sex workers. Also, regular columns on alternate cinemas, and rare books. Motivating stories about small-budget films, and on alternate films the youngsters should see, will be motivating.
V. Jeevananthan, author of National Award-winning book Thiraiseelai
MetroPlus has highlighted Coimbatore’s historic connection to cinema, and the many theatres and studios that once buzzed with film activities. Cinema buffs found answers to a number of questions on cinema in the insightful articles. Stories on personalities from Coimbatore who have made it big in films showed the real potential of the talent pool the city can boast of. Besides cinema, MetroPlus also introduced readers to art by regularly interviewing artists who display their works in a number of exhibitions.
Ratnavelu, owner of Royal Theatres
Cinema write-ups have been a big draw among youngsters. Especially, the articles on trends in cinema. I was amazed at the feedback we got for an article on the history of Royal Theatres in MetroPlus. I received more than 50 calls on the same day. It was quite a discovery of the reach the supplement had among the readers. I would like to see articles that talk about the upkeep of old cinema theatres with additions such as a food court, a play area for the children, and a place where the audience is treated well. Stories on digitisation of old movies, which are as old as 40 years (many of the movies were made in Coimbatore studios) will make for an interesting read.
Dr. Srihari, son of S.M. Sriramulu Naidu
Technology has revolutionised film-making. Cameras have become smaller and lights have become more powerful. It’s not like the good old days where you only shot indoors in an erected set. Now, digital cameras make it possible to shoot on locations like never before. We expect more articles on advancement of technology in film-making, and stories about films that promote family values and morals.
Winfred Paul Vincent, grandson of Samikannu Vincent
We got tremendous response for an article on Samikannu Vincent in MetroPlus. He is considered the godfather of cinema but he is barely remembered in the annals of cinema and in the memoirs of Coimbatore. As a regular reader, my request is that the newspaper should play a role in playing a fitting tribute to him. Samikannu Vincent’s statue, which is now at my uncle’s place in Ramanathapuram, should be re-erected on V.H. Road, the place which marked the birth of cinema in Coimbatore.