The city’s love for films manifests itself in many ways, including frenzied celebrations during the release of big films, early morning shows and the immense adulation that stars have enjoyed for decades. The city has historically played an important role in shaping films and filmmaking as we know them today.
As the then capital of the Madras Presidency, the city of Madras was a hub and saw the growth of film studios from the early 1900s. It was in Madras at the Indian Film Company Studio that the first silent film in South India ‘Keechaka Vadham’ was made in 1916. The first studio with sound recording, Srinivasa Cinetone, was set up in the city in 1934, which marked the end of having to go to Bombay or Calcutta.
In 1938, an article in The Hindu details the inauguration of Newtone Studios in Kilpauk, which according to G. Dhananjayan, author and film producer, was a pioneering facility in those times. “Historically, Madras city was always a hub of filmmaking and was where a whole lot of talented actors and technicians landed up for opportunities,” he said.
While S.S. Vasan’s Gemini studios began functioning on the Mount Road in the 1940s, AVM Studios and Vijaya Vauhini Studios began functioning out of Kodambakkam— an area that has since become synonymous with films. In the 1980s, the area and its surroundings housed 20 studios and nearly 85 shooting floors, and these numbers have steadily dwindled over the years.
“Madras was the home for the southern film industries. Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu movies were made here and several top stars had made Chennai, especially T. Nagar, their residence,” said Mohan V. Raman, film historian. This, he said, continued till the seventies when studios began to come up in Hyderabad.
“The advent of dubbing as a method to capture sound meant that there was no need to do live sound recording in soundproof studios. As live locations became popular, the need for studios steadily came down,” he added.