How it worked in technology

It was quick to adopt advances from the West even in its nascent period

Published - February 04, 2022 12:16 am IST - CHENNAI

Peralagan  was the first film screened in digital projection at AVM Rajeswari Theatre

Peralagan was the first film screened in digital projection at AVM Rajeswari Theatre

Tamils may not have played any role in inventing camera and film technology, but Tamil cinema was quick to adopt technological advances from the West even in its nascent period. Today, the Tamil film industry is on a par with the advanced film industry in the world — a majority of the theatres screen films through digital projectors, movies are shot with advanced and hi-tech digital cameras and advanced visual effects and other film technology are routinely used in Tamil movies.

Film historian Theodore Bhaskaran notes that even before Swamikannu Vincent screened films in Tiruchi in 1905 and Nataraja Mudaliyar made Tamil cinema’s first film in 1916, a few short films (each lasting 10-12 minutes) were screened at Victoria Public Hall, Chennai, by M. Edwards in 1897, two years after Lumiere Brothers invented and demonstrated ‘moving images’ in France.

Film historians note that Tamil cinema’s status today as one of the most influential in India is the result of Tamil film entrepreneurs closely following film technology trends in the West and adopting them quickly to improve quality and reduce costs. For instance, Pragati Pictures’ Nandakumar (1938) was the first south Indian film to introduce playback singing.

While the influence wielded by Tamil film stars and screenwriters on Tamil Nadu’s political landscape is well documented, the Tamil film industry has always been an efficient and industrious industry with a well-developed infrastructure since early period. In an article in The Hindu in 1969 urging the State governments to provide assistance and rationalise the tax structure, S.L. Nahata, president, South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, writes, “Some of the finest and largest studios in the whole of Asia are situated in City of Madras. The industry on the whole, is comparatively well-organised in all its sections — production, distribution and exhibition.”

Producer and writer G. Dhananjayan, who has written a critically acclaimed book, Pride of Tamil Cinema: 1931-2013 , said Tamil cinema always had Hollywood’s influence. “Hollywood films used to be screened in Safire and Minerva theatres [Chennai] since the 1940s. In fact, actor Sivaji Ganesan used to watch many Hollywood films in Minerva theatre and was hugely influenced by Western movies. Every development in Hollywood was also quickly adopted in Tamil cinema,” he said.

Mr. Dhananjayan said that while ‘dubbing’ technology was implemented by AVM Studios early on, Tamil cinema adopted digital sound and projection in the 1990s. “Today, motion capture technology (used in Kochadaiyyan ) is being used widely.”

As digital technology was engulfing the world, Tamil cinema wasn’t too far behind. While actor Kamal Haasan’s Mahanadhi (1994) used an editing software to edit the film, his Kurudhipunal (1995) was the first film to introduce sound in digital format and his Mumbai Express (2005) was fully shot in digital camera. But the most significant shift occurred in the 2000s.

Senthil Kumar, co-founder, Qube Cinemas Technologies, a company at the forefront of implementing digital projection technology in Tamil Nadu, said, “In 2001, film sound alone had transitioned to digital after Dolby Digital Sound technology was introduced in 1995. Most theatres had digital sound systems and most audio recording studios had converted to digital. The picture, however, was still shot on film and projection was analog. It was in 2005 that the transition to digital video and projection began in Tamil Nadu.”

Mr. Kumar said Tamil Nadu was the “earliest State to convert” to digital technology. “The transition happened between 2005 and 2012. We chose Tamil Nadu as a test market. We first implemented digital projection in 40 screens. Peralagan was the first movie screened in digital projection in AVM Rajeswari Theatre. The first official theatre was Abirami Theatres in March 2005,” he said.

Theatres are transitioning to ‘laser-based technology’. “In the next two decades, LED projection would become the norm across the world. Owing to COVID-19, we were unable to start installing LED projectors. Hopefully, we will start by 2022-23,” he said.

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