Bollywood dominates

2013-10-17 00:00

LAST Friday, I watched Vanakkam Chennai, a good, clean Tamil film with an entertaining love story and none of the often unnecessary “item” song-and-dance sequences, violence or lewdness, that seem to have become the trend in recent Hindi films.

But in the cinema with me were only a stalwart of the Tamil Federation, Pope Govender, and his wife Savie.

I was told that the crowds would be better at the weekend shows.

But it still prompted me to ponder on why the support for the revival of Tamil films, which for a number of years had disappeared almost completely from South African screens, is so poor that often even good films like this one will get a run of only a week or two before the obvious bottom-line imperatives of the cinema chains force them off to make way for more lucrative Hindi films.

At first I wondered about why Tamil films are largely being shunned by fans of Hindi cinema, especially when subtitles today make no difference to the language spoken on screen if you are a true cinema buff.

In fact, watching Vanakkam Chennai and following the subtitles, because my Tamil vocabulary is limited to vanakkam (greetings) and nandri (thank you), was as enjoyable to me as watching any other Indian, French or Senegalese film in an indigenous tongue.

Inquiries revealed that there is not enough support within the local community for Tamil films, especially in Gauteng, and the main reason they are shown for a week or two is because of the large numbers of Tamil expatriates who support them.

The experience of sitting in a full house watching a Tamil film is a subject for another day as the audience brings the movie culture from India into South Africa, complete with loud comments, whistling and dancing on the sets.

The lack of Tamil films is often lamented by leaders of the community, who have been known to sponsor viewers in an effort to boost the numbers.

But while one or two distributors try valiantly to revive Tamil cinema in South Africa, their efforts are a far cry from the queues that used to form at cinemas up to the eighties, sometimes for up to four shows a day.

The other issue is that you can count people from other linguistic communities on one hand at any Tamil screening. Again, there are better films with the same themes as Hindi films sometimes, yet there is a bias towards the language despite the subtitling.

So what exactly is causing this bias towards the south Indian movie industry that produces far more, and very often better films than their cousins in Bollywood?

Some would argue that it is the global impact of Bollywood marketing that gets Hindi films more popularity.

Whatever the reasons for the decline of Tamil cinema in South Africa, at least there are some distributors who are ensuring that those few who do still enjoy it, are getting the opportunity to watch the films.

Let’s give them some all-round support, irrespective of our language affiliations.

VANAKKAM Chennai is an Indian Tamil comedy written and directed by debutant Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi.

Produced by her husband, Udhayanidhi Stalin, the film tells the story of Ajay (Mirchi Shiva), an educated youth who goes to Chennai from his home town, Theni, to take up a job.

Anjali (Priya Anand), a photographer from London, is also in the city to capture the south Indian culture.

When they end up in the same house after being cheated by Narayanan (Santhanam), a house agent who rents out unoccupied houses without the knowledge of the owners, they decide to stay together until they find Narayanan.

— Supplied

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