For Tamil film enthusiasts, browsing through the ‘cinema' section of a bookstore is not quite a satisfying experience. In the shelves, usually dominated by fat books on Hollywood and relatively good collection of Bollywood history, Tamil cinema has almost always been modest with just a handful of books stacked against each other. Tamil film history, for many viewers, begins only with the films of actors such as Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar and M.S.Subbulakshmi. With hardly any records on earlier films and those released in the early 20th century, not much is known about the making of Tamil cinema or the actors of that period.
Though researchers such as Stephen Hughes are meticulously documenting the history of Tamil cinema in the pre- and post-Independence era, there is a perceptible dearth of reference material and analytical books on Kollywood.
Film historian and Moserbaer COO G. Dhananjayan says the absence of documentation and challenge in finding publishers have discouraged many film historians from bringing out their research work in the form of a book. His book on the best of Tamil films, slated for launch in January, seeks to provide a gamut of information on the industry and the celebrities in it.
“We have some of the best books on cinema written in Tamil and a few in English. As Kollywood caters for a niche audience, getting publishers becomes very difficult,” Mr. Dhananjayan observes.
A chronological record of Tamil cinema is mandatory for both historians and films lovers to understand the growth of the film industry, he says.
According to historian and author S. Theodore Baskaran, who has penned half-a-dozen books on Tamil cinema in both English and Tamil, people tend to look at films merely as a source of entertainment. “Despite being an effective medium, cinema is not taken seriously by many. It has always been discounted as a mass entertainer and educational institutions have never accorded films the space they deserve in libraries,” he says.
While he agrees that there needs to be a chronological record of film history, Mr. Baskaran says film appreciation should be offered as a course in universities and a department for cinema should be set up. Like music and dance, cinema should be seen as an art form to encourage writers to compile books on aspects of Tamil films.