Tamil cinema and the major Madras studios (1940-57)

Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Access Restrictions

Access restricted to UI faculty, staff and students.

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Film Studies

First Advisor

Corey K. Creekmur

First Committee Member

Rosalind Galt

Second Committee Member

Priya Kumar

Third Committee Member

Philip Lutgendorf

Fourth Committee Member

Kathleen Newman


Tamil cinema is marked by its remarkable output of films and reception across the globe. More than 5000 films were produced in Tamil during the last century alone, and Tamil films have a longer and denser history of reception among the South East Asian diaspora--in countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore, mainly among the Tamilians and other South Indians--than films made in any other Indian language. The studios of Madras, arguably the most influential in shaping a film industry in terms of its form and content outside the classical Hollywood system, were at the center of Tamil cinema's productivity during the defining decades of the 1940s and 50s, a period marked by British Rule, the Second World War, India's independence, and the electoral politics of the Dravidian movement.

However, a sustained and scholarly study of this history has been marked by its absence, primarily due to the enormity of the task, the challenges associated with data collection, and the availability of archival materials. Therefore, my primary objective in this dissertation is to fill this void, and study the most eventful period in the history of the Madras studios (1940-57) when they produced their landmark and seminal films. An understanding of the history of the studios and a detailed reading of their major films sheds light on the complex intersection of the cultural, economic, and political factors which shaped the studios and their owners, and the type of productions they were interested in.

Tamil cinema is often criticized as verbose and theatrical mainly due to lack of parallel and art cinema movements like in neighboring states of Kerala and Karnataka. The "Madrasi Picture" has become the convenient way to label a melodramatic tearjerker juxtaposed with comedy. My challenge to this perception in this thesis, therefore, is to foreground Tamil Cinema's theatrical roots embedded in folk traditions and the Parsi theatre, and its ability to navigate through multiple influences, and yet retain a specificity of its own in terms of innovative genres, narrative devices, and formats which keep significantly influencing Indian popular cinema.


AVM Studios, Dravidian Movement, L.V. Prasad, Madras Studios, Studios History, Tamil Cinema


ix, 270 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 256-270).


Copyright 2010 Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai

This document is currently not available here.