Friday, August 7, 2009

Old Madras as seen through the Cinema Camera

Gemini Circle - Studio Gates seen open circa 1948 from En manaivi...
Camera is placed where the US Consulate Visa Entry is now....

The beach Road in 1937 from K.Subrahmanyam's Thyagabhoomi.

The Time has come for my talks in the Madras Week Celebrations......

The Schedule is as follows

Hotel Park - Thurday 20th August 7 PM - Madras Nalla Madras - Nagesh a Genius.

Hotel Green park - Sat 22nd Aug 7 PM - Madras as seen in Films - 1930s to 1970s.


Here is a little something I wrote on this topic -


by Mohan V Raman

Ever since Cinema, was invented in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers it has always served various other purposes than just entertaining. In a way it has helped in bringing about social change, promoted a number of worthy causes, educated people and served as a Time Capsule. In this I mean they helped us understand how the people of that era lived. Well researched films of the West have helped in all of us imagining how the Pharos of Egypt lived, How the Romans in Caesar’s day behaved, the Greeks treated Helen of Troy, early American Indians felt and what their customs were, What happened during the two great revolutions the French and the American, The American Civil War and the great Wars. They not only showed us in graphic detail how History was made but also how people felt and reacted. Their Costumes and Customs.

All this is possible if the makers of the movies have taken care to be historically accurate and did their research properly. The Cinema Camera has recorded all this, but when it moves out of the confines of a created Set to an actual City, then it captures the City as it was that day. In recent years we have the benefit (?) of computer animation thereby we may not be able to believe all that we see. However the films made in the past have truly reflected the city and the society of the era.
In India films started in the early 1900s with Phalke making his Raja Harischandra. In the South the first feature length film Keechaka Vadham was made by Nataraja Mudaliar in Chennai. The first 20 odd years saw films being silent and more than 95 percent of them were based on mythology or the lives of great Saints like Kabirdas and Meera. To recreate this, the movie makers took Literature and Fine Arts as a source of Information. Sculptures and Paintings like those found in Temples were used to help them visualize the mythological characters. Paintings by modern masters like Raja Ravi Varma were a great influence.

By the mid 1930s films began to talk and then the advent of the “social” film also began. Till our Independence from the British films have had a subtle message for the people. In a few cases the message was not so subtle leaving the film maker to face the consequences. In all these cases these films served to educate the masses, move them, and served as agents of social change. Many films spoke of issues that were of great importance then like caste, poverty, landlessness, unemployment, abuse of power, women’s rights and widow remarriage to name just a few. From the early Mythologicals and Saint Bio Pics the Indian film Industry has come a long way.

In this process the film camera has also captured the lives of people and more importantly the City in which it was shot. It is this Time capsule like quality which is being used to take a peek at how Madras looked in the years gone by. Some of these sights, like the Gemini Circle before it became Anna Flyover, many may remember. Some others may well be alien to many.Hence it is nice to open the time capsule now and then.


கதிரவன் said...

இதப் படிக்கறப்ப, உங்க நிகழ்ச்சி நிச்சயம் சுவாரசியமா இருக்கும்னு தோணுது சார்.

2 சந்தேகங்கள்:

இந்த 2 நிகழ்ச்சிகளும் தமிழில் நடத்தப்படுமா ? (ஆங்கிலம் தெரியாத என் பெற்றோர் போன்றவர்கள் வந்தால் புரியுமா..)

முன்பதிவு எதுவும் செய்யனுமா ? ஆம் எனில் - நீங்கள், அதன் விவரங்கள் தரமுடியுமா ?


Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Mannikkanum kadiravan, idhu aangilaththil thaan irukkum....
Munpadhivi edhuvum thevai illai.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mohan,

Very interesting! Wish I was there for your talk! I left to Houston to attend a conference and for some personal work. During our quick meet last month, in SPB's concert, you gave me your email id which I wrote in hurry and I hope I have sent my mail to a correct id. Otherwise, please email me your id at Would love to catch up for a chat to learn about other topics you are currently working on. Do you have a yahoo id by the way?

Best regards
Dr. V. Alagarsamy
(from Dindigul; currently in Chennai)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.