A recent get together of film enthusiasts refreshed memories of Coimbatore as it once was, a hub of buzzing cinema activity
Not too long ago, the floors of the famed Singanallur Central Studios buzzed with action. A documentary on the veteran singer T.M. Soundarajan was being shot. The singer, who won millions of hearts with his extraordinary singing, started his musical journey right here. He had recorded his first song at Central Studios of our own Coimbatore. “It was an emotional moment for the singer and for those watching, it was a chance of lifetime,” recalls artist V. Jeevananthan, President of Chitrakala Academy. Jeevananthan ,who was present during the filming of the documentary which happened about five or six years ago, shared the experience with an eager audience of young film-makers, artists, and students, all passionate about cinema. It was a discussion on Cinema and Coimbatore, organised as a part of Coimabtore Vizha celebrations.
Coimbatore's connection with cinema dates back to 1917s. Samikannu Vincent, a South Indian Railways employee, introduced Touring Talkies and relayed movies through projectors. He built South India's first permanent cinema theatre ‘Variety Hall Cinema' at Town Hall. It functions as Delite Theatre on Vincent Road even today. “Sadly, now there are no night shows because of lack of audience,” he says. The city has a number of firsts in cinema — the Central Studios was the first film studio in Tamil Nadu set up in 1936 by Sriramulu Naidu, a pioneer in films. Later, he set up Pakshiraja Studios which produced the blockbuster Malai Kallan in six languages.
Till the late 50s, Coimbatore now known as the industrial city, thrived as a cinema hub. When films reached India, it was Coimbatore as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned which welcomed it in a big way.
Great artist such as N.S. Krishnan's Asoka Pictures and Jupiter Production Company have shot a number of movies on the floors of Coimbatore studios. India's best cameras were put in use here. Projectors were largely imported. And, a popular shop on N.H. Road provided a one stop solution for film projectors.
Film distribution was big business too. Gopalapuram Road opposite Railway Station housed hundreds of cinema offices. Now, they are taken over by Advocate's offices. The popular Sreenivasa Theatre on Brooke Bond Road and Rainbow Theatre (now rainbow apartments) on Trichy Road screened English films. “Sreepathy Theatre used to screen European films with subtitles, something which was never heard of during that time. Also, art films,” adds Jeevananthan.
Many directors, actors, and technicians from the region like Jaishankar, R. Sundarrajan, Manivannan, Sivakumar, Bhagyaraj, Manikandan and Krishnan Panju have contributed immensely to the growth of cinema. The popular Thevar Films, which has produced silver jubilee hits, had their offices in the city before moving to Chennai. Coimbatore has contributed immensely to the cinema movement, but is the city conducive for movie makers? The discussion starts on this note. Cartoonist and short-film maker Balasubramaniam, who has recently made a short-film on power cuts, says the city lags behind in resources for film-making.
“Youngsters have creative ideas but we have to make do with mediocre handy cams and low-end software in production. Availability of actors is another issue,” he adds. Many youngsters consider Chennai as a cinema hub, as it offers everything on a platter.
Balasubramaniam shares how Coimbatore has an enviable collection of world cinema. “Popular director Hariharan of L.V. Prasad Academy, Chennai (who also made the historic Pazhassi Raja recently) comes with a list of world cinema names and picks them all up from Sai Baba colony in Coimbatore,” he adds.
Jagadish from SMS College of Engineering is also an aspiring film-maker. He narrates his experience of spending an entire day to find a charger for a film camera. “We got it at Perumal Studios. Camera equipment and related accessories should be easily accessible to encourage filmmakers,” he adds.
In touch with the masses
Artist Selvaraj, who was recently at the Trivandrum Film Festival, has an interesting incident to share.
“While returning from the show, we saw the classic filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan at a medical shop buying medicines and driving away just like any ordinary person. It is important for filmmakers to mingle with the public to highlight issues that touch our lives,” he adds.
Script-writing workshops, promoting shooting spots in and around Coimbatore, highlighting social issues that bother Coimbatore (about migratory workers, for instance) were discussed. Young film makers also appealed to industrialists to help finance their projects. “Reading literature is important to make creative films,” Jeevananthan insists.
“Aim higher and look up to personalities such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan or Satyajit Ray, who command respect globally for their films.”
Despite an illustrious history, another issue that bother the films lovers is the poor representation of Coimbatore in films. “We have instances of just a couple of films such as Makkalai Petra Maharashi (starring Sivaji Ganesan) and China Thambi and Periya Thambi, which highlight the beauty of the Kongu region and the Kongu lingo. Slangs of Thanjavur and Madurai and their culture are so often portrayed, why not Coimbatore?” they ask.