In the pre-arclights’ 1930s most films were shot in sunlight, using reflectors. “In those films, actors could be seen with half-closed eyes,” says historian Vakula Varadarajan. “When historicals were being shot, they shot indoors, with focal lamps.” In the 1970s and 80s, directors, notably Bharathiraja and Bhagyaraj, took their crew to scenic spots in Madurai, Pollachi and Coimbatore. Someproducers travelled abroad to the snowy slopes and picturesque gardens of Europe, and scenic spots in the Far-East and Australia.
Ramoji Rao had built his mammoth studio complex in Hyderabad – where you could shoot all outdoor scenes. Tamil producers began to travel abroad, and you saw leading men and ladies cavorting on the snowy slopes and picturesque gardens of Europe, the Far-East and Australia. Ah, tourism, said these governments, allowing them to shoot without hindrance.
But, despite all this, Madras, and later Chennai, never lost its allure as an outdoor shooting arena. Its beaches, gardens, temples, churches and slums Kaaka Muttaihave always been great on-screen meeting places, wedding venues and action arenas. You can set up a camera anywhere in the city, and find a historic building sneaking into the frame.
We list some landmark outdoor locations in the city…
Government Museum, Egmore
RJ Ajai recently put up a photograph and ran a contest. “Hey, this picture is of a famous landmark; a hit song of A.R. Rahman was shot atop this building — guess which song too.” All 35 respondents nailed it as the Egmore Museum, where ‘Konjam Nilavu’ from Thiruda Thiruda was shot.
Guindy Engineering College
Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham, Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum and Oru Oorla Rendu Raja had fleeting glimpses of the iconic College, but by choosing it for the heart-breaking final moments of Nayakan, director Mani Ratnam etched its beautiful facade and the front porch permanently in our conscience. The scene starts with a clear view of the college, shows Velu Nayakan (Kamal Haasan) walking in, and ends with him falling to bullets.
“For shooting our TV Serials Maadhu-Cheenu and Nil Gavani Crazy, we always headed to Besant Nagar,” says Crazy Mohan. “We shot inside and outside The Theosophical Society, simply because the place is leafy and we could wait for our shots, in the shade!” This stretch and the beach beyond are all-time favourites, despite the public opposing it because of obstruction and littering.
Railway Station, Egmore
Did you recognise the place where Karthik and gang grooved to ‘Raja, Rajathi Raja’ in Mani Ratnam’s Agni Natchathiram? It was indeed Egmore station (open since 1908). You’d have spotted it in Singaravelan too: it’s where Kamal Haasan loads his baskets of karuvaadu into an auto!
My Lady’s Garden
One look at the bamboo arches in My Lady’s Garden, and you’re reminded Missiamma! In fact, the entire sequence shot here comes to mind — Gemini Ganesh manages to persuade Savithri to pretend to be his wife. The Garden had welcomed many film artists, directors and technicians, but Missiamma gave it a permanent place on celluloid.
Also look out for
Loyola College’s majestic tower, Kushal Doss bungalow, Kalpana House (Santhome), the Airport, the hillocks around the city, Mamallapuram, resorts on ECR, the harbour, Koyambedu Market, Spencer Plaza, Gemini Bridge, B&C Mills, Marina beach (the opening scene in Kadhalikka Neramillai and the setting for Marina), Rajaji Hall…
Remember the (un)broken bridge where MGR wooed Manjula with ‘Kadaloram Vaangiya Kaatru’? And, can you eve pass by Schmidt Memorial on Elliot’s beach without thinking of Murali singing in Pudhu Vasantham or Revathi dancing in Mouna Ragam?