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 Tamil cinema is the film making industry of producing films in the Tamil language in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and is a part of the cinema of India.Based in the Kodambakkam area of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, the industry is colloquially referred to as Kollywood

The first silent film in Tamil, Keechaka Vadham, was made by R. Nataraja Mudaliar in 1916. The first talkie was a multi-lingual, Kalidas, which released on 31 October 1931, barely 7 months after India's first talking picture Alam Ara. By the end of the 1930s, the legislature of the State of Madras passed the Entertainment Tax Act of 1939. Tamil cinema later had a profound effect on other film making industries of India, establishing Chennai as a secondary hub for Hindi cinema, the other regional film industries in South India, as well as Sri Lankan cinema. In its modern era, Tamil films from Chennai have been distributed to various overseas theatres in Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malaysia, Japan, Oceania, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. The industry also inspired independent film making in Tamil diaspora populations in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Western Hemisphere.


In 1897, M. Edwards first screened a selection of silent short films at the Victoria Public Hall in Madras. The films all featured non-fictional subjects; they were mostly photographed records of day-to-day events. The film scholar Stephen Hughs points out that within a few years there were regular ticketed shows in a hall in Pophams Broadway, started by one Mrs. Klug, but this lasted only for a few months. Once it was demonstrated as a commercial proposition, a Western entrepreneur, Warwick Major, built the first cinema theatre, the Electric Theatre, which still stands. It was a favourite haunt of the British community in Madras. The theatre was shut down after a few years. This building is now part of a post office complex on Anna Salai (Mount Road). The Lyric Theatre was also built in the Mount Road area. This venue boasted a variety of events, including plays in English, Western classical music concerts, and ballroom dances. Silent films were also screened as an additional attraction. Swamikannu Vincent, a railway draftsman from Tiruchirapalli, became a travelling exhibitor in 1905. He showed short movies in a tent in Esplanade, near the present Parry's Corner, using carbide jet-burners for projection. He bought the film projector and silent films from the Frenchman Du Pont and set up a business as film exhibitor. Soon, he tied up with Path, a well-known pioneering film-producing company, and imported projectors. This helped new cinema houses to sprout across the presidency.In later years, he produced talkies and also built a cinema in Coimbatore


In the year 1916 a studio, the first in south India, was set up in Madras at 10 Millers Road, Kilpauk. He called it the India Film Company. Rangavadivelu, an actor from Suguna Vilasa Sabha, a theatre company then, was hired to train the actors. Thirty-five days later, the first feature film made in south India, The Extermination of Keechakan/Keechakavatham, based on an episode from the Mahabharata, was released produced and directed by R. Nataraja, who established the India Film Company Limited.(The Destruction of Keechaka).This marked the birth of Tamil cinema. Yes, Keechakavatham was the first Tamil film. The characters spoke Tamil. However, sound in film had not been invented yet, so what they spoke was written in cards that appeared on the screen between shots, and they were called "title cards". Though Nataraja Mudaliyar was the first in south India to found a studio, it was Venkiah’s son Raghupathy Prakasa and A. Narayanan who put the cinema industry on a firm footing. After a stint of training in England in film-making, Prakasa came to Madras and set up the Star of the East Film Company. The studio, located behind Roxy Theatre, was modern by the prevailing standards. Beginning with Bhishma’s Vow/Bhishma Pratignai (1921), Prakasa made a number of movies which were screened all over the country, with title cards in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Gujarati. Though the company lasted only for four years, it played a crucial role in the growth of cinema in this part of the country. Many pioneers of south Indian cinema such as Y.V. Rao (father of actor Lakshmi) and C. Pullaiya were trained here.


The Chennai film industry produced the first nationally distributed film across India in 1948 with Chandralekha. They have one of the widest overseas distribution, with large audience turnout from the Tamil diaspora alongside Hindi films. They are distributed to various parts of Asia, Africa, Western Europe, North America and Oceania. Keechaka Vadham (1918) was the first Silent film made in South India.Kalidas (1931) was the first Tamil talkie film made in 1931. Kalava was the first Full-length Talkie made entirely in Tamil. Nandanar (1935) was the first film for American film director Ellis R. Dungan Balayogini released in 1937 was considered to be first children's film of South India. It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films. Tamil films have enjoyed consistent popularity among populations in South East Asia. Since Chandralekha, Muthu was the second Tamil film to be dubbed into Japanese (as Mutu: Odoru Maharaja) and grossed a record $1.6 million in 1998 In 2010, Enthiran grossed a record $4 million in North America. Many Tamil-language films have premiered or have been selected as special presentations at various film festivals across the globe, such as Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal, Vasanthabalan's Veyyil and Ameer Sultan's Paruthiveeran. Kanchivaram (2009) was selected to be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Tamil films have been a part of films submitted by India for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language on eight occasions, next only to Hindi. Mani Ratnam's Nayagan (1987) was included in Time magazine's "All-TIME" 100 best movies list. In 1991, Marupakkam directed by K.S. Sethu Madhavan, became the first Tamil film to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, the feat was repeated by Kanchivaram in 2007.

Tamil films enjoy significant patronage in neighboring Indian states like Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and New Delhi. In Kerala and Karnataka the films are directly released in Tamil but in Andhra Pradesh they are generally dubbed into Telugu where they have a decent market.There have been instances where dubbed films from Tamil making more profits than Telugu films; dubbed Tamil films had a significant impact over the Telugu box office in 2005 and 2011.

Many successful Tamil films have been remade by other film industries. It is estimated by the Manorama Yearbook 2000 (a popular almanac) that over 5,000 Tamil films were produced in the 20th century. Tamil films have also been dubbed into other languages, thus reaching a much wider audience. There has been a growing presence of English in dialogue and songs in Chennai films. It is not uncommon to see movies that feature dialogue studded with English words and phrases, or even whole sentences. Some movies are also simultaneously made in two or three languages (either using subtitles or several soundtracks). Chennai's film composers have popularised their highly unique, syncretic style of film music across the world. Quite often, Tamil movies feature Madras Tamil, a colloquial version of Tamil spoken in Chennai.

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