Bollywood is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the showing of the first movie in India – May 5th, 1913. But many people pass over the very lively Tamil movie scene centred on Kodambakkam in Chennai – Kollywood. The first Tamil silent move was screened in 1918 and the first talkie in 1931, 7 months after the first one in India.
I forget the exact statistics, but although south India contains only about a quarter of the population of India it generates around 75% of film revenue. Cinemas in the south reach beyond the big towns into the rural areas, and are wildly popular. More films in Hindi are produced than in any other Indian language, but Telugu (Andhra Pradesh) and Tamil movies come second and third respectively. As a measure of the size of the industry, 206 Hindi, 192 Telugu and 185 Tamil films were certified in 2011.
The cinema buildings themselves are also worth noting: many were being built in the 1930s and 1940s and are architecturally interesting – though now mostly sadly dilapidated.
What makes the industry more interesting in Tamil Nadu is the link with politics. Many of our prominent politicians started in the movies and then moved into politics, presumably taking their fan club as their electoral base. The current chief minister, Jayalalithaa, started acting in 1964 and appeared with the great MGR (M G Ramachandran) between 1965 and 1972. He was leader of one of the main political parties – in fact he was the first film actor in India to become chief minister of a state – and after his death Jayalalithaa in due course became its leader.