Chennai in the movies

Once upon a time, when movie-makers started shooting on location, it meant the end of black and white portraits of some landmark being used in the background. Since then, shooting on location in Chennai meant a few prominent landmarks.

Early 70s prominently featured LIC building. For a while, in the late 80s and 90s, it was the horseman statue (that GV Balasubramanian posted about recently) that was symbolic of the hero moving in to the city and adjusting to the city life. Countless movies showcased the horseman. Whether the Thamizh cinema makers were fond of statues, quite a few movies had the Freedom of Labour statue appearing, thanks to the artistic eye of the cinematographer.

Can you imagine a romance movie without the lead-pair carrying on their courtship, oblivious to prying eyes, under the shadows of a Kattamaran in a beach, or with the Schmidt Memorial in Elliots Beach? This not only showcases Chennai’s sandy beautiful beaches, but also stands testimony to the fact that cinema, well, Indian cinema, showcases and is a reflection of the society. So the next time you ban smoking on screen or pass of a movie as “showing Thamizh culture in bad-light”, think. Or as Feynman says, observe, rather.

College of Engineering, Guindy, my alma mater, can be seen in Mani Ratnam’s movies. I vividly remember the scene from “Mouna Ragam”, where Karthik tries to convince Revathi that he saw her father meeting with an accident near “namma Vani Mahal”. And talking of red British buildings Egmore and Chennai Central appeared in a lot of movies, prominently in the songs “Chikku Bukku Railye” from ‘Gentleman’ and “Rajathi Rajan indha Raja” from ‘Agni Nakshathram’. Kandukonden Kandukonden, thanks to Rajiv Menon showcases one of these stations.

It’s a crime talking about landmarks shown in Thamizh cinema and leaving Anna Nagar Tower Park altogether. Not only did it do for a makeshift honeymoon location for a duet in many black and white movies, with the lead actor and one of the glossily clad actresses swirled around the well-maintaned lawns to the tunes of MS Viswanathan, the park also had the courtesy of Sri Devi dance in the film ‘Adutha Vaarisu’. To a lot of people, myself included, Anna Nagar tower is reminiscient of the climax sequence of the cop-story Walter Vettrivel.

The Kundrathur temple and Tirisulam malai had been used in sufficiently used in films to pass off as cliches now. Every pair that elopes gets married in Kundrathur Temple and every villain mentions in a black-maily voice to come to the hideout with a suitcase full of money. “Should there be a shadow other than your own”, well, you know the rest.

In the recent times, even when movie directors are increasingly taking Thamizh cinema to Global levels, meaning shooting abroad in Switzerland or Paris to the tunes of Harris Jeyaraj with constipated dance movements are happening increasingly, quite a few landmarks in Chennai do make it to the final cut of movies. Napier’s Bridge, thanks to Mani Ratnam’s Ayidha Ezhuthu, plays as significant a part in the film as Kwai Bridge in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (which was shot in Sri Lanka and not on location, btw). Mayajaal, most notably the courtyard, can be seen in a lot of song-and-dance sequences in the recent movies.

Even with close to six-hundred words, this post isn’t complete and not quite accurate too. (and so the comments section will complete the rest of the post/correct me on wrong examples, etc :) ) I haven’t done enough justice, and believe have left out other prominent locations. Think of “Madras-a Suthi paaka poren” in May Madham. Think of movie-makers like Peter Jackson who are rather fond of shooting in home-country. With so many locations in the city, I wonder why a song has to be shot in the backdrop of Petronas Tower or the Sydney Opera House.

11 Comments so far

  1. DesiGirl (unregistered) on July 17th, 2006 @ 4:37 am

    Nice post! As I read about every ‘sight’ you had mentioned, I could picture it in my mind’s eye and at the end of the post, had a huge grin on my face, thinking of my home town.

    If you want us who leave comments to come up with more locales, well, how about good ole Spencer Plaza – who can forget Siddharth and co singing ‘Enakkoru girl friend venumada’ (Boys) all over the mall?

  2. Krithiga (unregistered) on July 17th, 2006 @ 6:46 pm

    Gee, thanks! Yeah, Spencer’s Plaza! How could anyone forget it.

  3. Ravi (unregistered) on July 17th, 2006 @ 7:31 pm

    Very well worded post Krithiga! Yes, to me, anyday, bliss is seeing my own place on screen rather than Swiss or US or whatever. Seeing the allies of Besant Nagar in most movies, makes me want to scream “Hey, thats my place”. Another place which is oft seen in movie is that beautifully located house next to a temple gopuram. It features in “Aaha” (the heroine’s house), Duet, Punnagai Mannan (?) and many more. I wonder which temple/place is that! Thanks again Krithiga for a nice post.

  4. Anantha (unregistered) on July 21st, 2006 @ 8:34 pm

    which was shot in Sri Lanka and not on location, btw
    And built on contract by Larsen & Tubro!
    Think of movie-makers like Peter Jackson who are rather fond of shooting in home-country. With so many locations in the city, I wonder why a song has to be shot in the backdrop of Petronas Tower or the Sydney Opera House.
    Ummm, can you imagine shooting unobstrusively these days at the Marina or even somewhere along the ECR? That’s the catch! Also is the novelty of showing white skin on screen, more so if the white skin is swathed in Chennai garb, like lungis and cut banian and a hand towel doubling for a headband!
    And oh btw, even angrez movies are not shot on location in SFO/NY/LA (apart from the obligatory shot of the Manhanttan skyline or the Golden Gate/Alcatraz). More often than not, Toronto and Vancouver seem to be the location of choice!

  5. d.n.a. (unregistered) on July 21st, 2006 @ 10:28 pm

    Good one. Speaking of locations in Madras, how about Hotel Shrilekha near DMS bus stop? I don’t know if it’s still around. Temple tower, Birla Planetarium (appears as airport set-up though) comes to mind. Now a days, lot of self-financing engineering colleges around Madras also make their appearance.

  6. Anantha (unregistered) on July 22nd, 2006 @ 4:30 am

    D.N.A: Shrilekha was once owned by Chiranjeevi. I think thats where that awesome scene from MMKR (“maanbumiu kuthuvilakkai amaichar yaethivaippar”) was shot!

  7. Anantha (unregistered) on July 22nd, 2006 @ 4:31 am

    D.N.A: Shrilekha was once owned by Chiranjeevi. I think thats where that awesome scene from MMKR (“maanbumigu kuthuvilakkai amaichar yaethivaippar”) was shot!

  8. potpourri (unregistered) on July 22nd, 2006 @ 5:19 am

    my first time here..nice post

    in the 80s and 90s many many stage scenes (where the hero or heroine is on stage singing,acting or talamai-taang-ing )and movie theater scenes were shot in Mahodaya Hall in Ashok Nagar. I studied in a school just opposite to the Hall and can identify the stage in the hall anytime , anyday, anywhere.
    We’ve also seen many cinema company vans parked near the back entrance of the compound.

    Udayam theater in Ashok Nagar also figures in many movies – in dance sequences, Ashok Pillar – during chase scenes..

  9. Nilu (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 3:08 am

    Am not exactly the one qualified to pick and all, but this was badly written. Considering the nature of the post, I would expect a lot more research and a heck a lot of class.

  10. Kaps (unregistered) on July 24th, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

    You should probably add the play ground and the gallery of Loyola college. They were featured in lot of movies in the 90s. You can also add the Alsa Mall and Prince Plaza in Egmore although they are no longer considered as happening places.

  11. Krithiga (unregistered) on July 28th, 2006 @ 9:23 am

    Anantha: “And built on contract by Larsen & Tubro!”

    Shhh, now, the secret of success is not letting other people know ;)

    Nilu: Sure, a lot more could have gone into this post. But it was getting too long and I did a bad job editing it after a draft. Each location deserves a separate post in itself. It would have been better off as a series of posts rather than as a single one.

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