South Movies is used to refer collectively to the five film industries of South India: Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu film industries, as a single entity. They are based in Chennai, Hyderabad and Vizag, Kochi & Trivandrum, Bengaluru and Mangalore respectively.
Although developed independently for a long period of time, gross exchange of film performers and technicians as well as globalisation helped to shape this new identity in Indian Cinema. The industry is regulated by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce.
Early beginnings during the Madras Presidency
In 1897, a European exhibitor 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. In Madras (present-day Chennai), the Electric Theatre was established for the screening of silent films. 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, an employee of the South Indian Railways in Trichy, purchased a film projector and silent films from the Frenchman Du Pont and set up a business as film exhibitor. He erected tents for screening films. His tent cinema became popular and he travelled all over the state with his mobile unit. In later years, he produced talkies and also built a cinema in Coimbatore.
To celebrate the event of King George V’s visit in 1909, a grand exhibition was organised in Madras. Its major attraction was the screening of short films accompanied by sound. A British company imported a Crone megaphone, made up of a film projector to which a gramophone with a disc containing prerecorded sound was linked, and both were run in unison, producing picture and sound simultaneously. However, there was no synched dialogue. Raghupathy Venkiah Naidu, a successful photographer, took over the equipment after the exhibition and set up a tent cinema near the Madras High Court. R. Venkiah, flush with funds, built in 1912 a permanent cinema in the Mount Road area named Gaiety Theatre. It was the first in Madras to screen films on a full-time basis. The theatre later closed for commercial developments.
Swamikannu Vincent, who had built the first cinema of South India in Coimbatore, introduced the concept of “Tent Cinema” in which a tent was erected on a stretch of open land close to a town or village to screen the films. The first of its kind was established in Madras, called “Edison’s Grand Cinemamegaphone”. This was due to the fact that electric carbons were used for motion picture projectors. Full-fledged film studios were built in Salem (Modern Theatres Studio) and Coimbatore (Central Studios, Neptune, and Pakshiraja). Chennai became the hub of studio activity with two more movie studios built in Chennai, Vijaya Vauhini Studios and Gemini Studios. Thus, with the undivided Madras Presidency, being the Capital to most of South India, Chennai became the center for Indian language films.