Fascinating Classic Tamil Film Stars (Galatta Cinema Article)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
To wrap up my series of posts featuring scans from the "Celebration of 75 Years of Tamil Cinema" feature in Galatta Cinema magazine, below are scans from the "Fascinating Stars" section in the August 2007 and September 2007 issues.  Posted with the tacit approval of Galatta Cinema based on past communication.  While the magazine included stars up to the present day, I'm much more fascinated by the older/yesteryear/classic/black&white stars, so that's all I've included here (my cut-off point: color pictures).

I've also listed some video clips I found of some of the stars that I really enjoyed or that show them up close so you can get a better look (though they may not be well-known or iconic clips, since I come to this all as a beginner!).  What fun it is entering some of these names and finding some of the old, hidden treasures that folks have kindly uploaded.  I've found some stunning compositions along the way as well- Tamil film songs are simply genius at times.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.   And I confess, I resisted the temptation to keep piling song clips below because there are just too many good ones I've run across- that will be for future posts. :)  Last, please send any recommendations or corrections my way.  Enjoy!
T.P. Rajalakshmi - Tamil Cinema's first star, she was also "the first woman director and producer of South India."

M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar (MKT) - "First superstar of Tamil Cinema, a legend," he also appears to have sung all of his songs in his films, a distinction which seems more common in South Indian classics.

MK Thyagaraja singing in "Manam Kaninthe" from Sivakavi (1942).  [video removed]

N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram

T.R. Rajakumari

The picture of Rajakumari in the lower-left hand corner of the scan is from the famous "Drum Dance" song in Chandralekha (1948). Rajakumari can be seen more clearly below in "Saanjh Ki Bela," also from Chandralekha. It appears this Tamil film was also released in Hindi given the lyrics in the video.   [video removed]

P. Bhanumathi, Vasundhara Devi, M.K. Radha, and P.U. Chinnappa

P. Bhanumathi singing her own stuff in "Kanile Irupathenna" from Ambikapathi (1957). Just gaze at all the gorgeous, sparkling jewelry in crisp black and white.   [video removed]

M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) - The "first film actor to become Chief Minister of a state."

M.R. Radha

MGR with Saroja Devi jazzing it up in "Oru Pennai Parthu" from Deivathai (1964).  [video removed]

Sivaji Ganesan - "One of the finest actors Indian cinema has ever produced."

Sivaji had such a unique, unmistakable look, and he seemed capable of an endless number of facial expressions, as can be seen in his drunk impersonation below in "Iravinil Aattam" from Navarathri (1964). Also not to be missed from that same film is his elaborate costume in the hilarious "Thanga Jariga Selai," also from Navarathri.   [video removed]

Gemini Ganesan - "Romantic superstar of Tamil cinema."

P. Kannamba


Padmini looking lovely with M. N. Nambiar in "Aasai Athane" from Arasilankumari (1961).   [video removed]

Saroja Devi

Saroja Devi and MGR romancing under a cart in the rain in "Idhuvarai Neengal" from Panakkara Kudumbam (1964). How can you not love the cute little crabs?  [video removed]

Chittoor V. Nagaiah, T.R. Mahalingam

Anjali Devi

Anjali Devi dancing in "Enthan Inbam Kollai" from Chakravarthy Thirumagal (1957).  [video removed]

K. Savitri (aka "Savithri")

Savithri in Navarathiri Subharatri from Navarathri (1964). What lovely contrasts in such a crisp print, and what set design! [video removed]

M.N. Nambiar

M.S. Subbulakshmi, S.D. Subbulakshmi

T.S. Balaiah, V.N. Janaki (Mrs. MGR)

T.R. Ramachandran, S.S. Rajendran

Jai Shankar, C.K. Nagesh, and C.R. Manorama

Jai Shankar and Nagesh in the title song of Poova Thalaiya (1969). [video removed]

Kamal Haasan - Though Kamal is not an "evergreen" star, this picture is just too fabulous.

Kamal looking groovy in Nizhal Nijamakirathu (1978). [video removed]

Rajinikanth - "The superstar among superstars." Again, a more recent (and still going strong) star, but since this photo is black and white, he stays.

Rajini with Sridevi in "Naan Oru Kadanayaki" from one of his earliest films, Moondru Mudichu (1976). [video removed]


  1. the Gemini ganesan song was from the film kalyana parisu

    awesome third post! P bhanumati's films deserve a few posts of their own, as does her filmography and life.

    seen here, breaking the black and white spell in tamil's first color film "Ali baba and the 40 thieves."



  2. I was just about to say K.Savitri looks an awful lot like Meena Kumari till that article confirmed it, I'm yet to get myself absorbed into tamil cinema but looks like i'll definitely like the oldies, most of which i have to say are quite hard to come by. I love Saroja Devi's look saw her just yesterday in a hindi film Sasural (1961), very melodramatic role for her but quite charming none the less. Here's a lovely song from it

  3. is it me or did tamil cinema have a fondness for shooting in black and white right till the late 70's, any one know the reason for this

  4. bwd,

    there were two reasons, historically, for this, The first was a business reason. there is a celluloid film maker at ooty that dates from the second world war,which until late in the sixties produced only black and white and photographic film, which had existing relationships with south indian studios and processing labs. as a result, not only was black and white film the CHEAPEST AVAILABLE by a long shot, but also, if people wanted sophisticated color processing, they has to go to more expensive adverizing labs and mumbai techniians and clor consultants. It wasnt until the early eighties when the same place(AGFA iirc) started producing good cheap color film, and fast film. This is also, coincidentially the best time to find talented color cinematography in south indian/ bengali film, as talented technicians got access to cheap color film.

    The second reason was that color didnt have credibility in south indian drama until very late. if you had to get taken seriously you had to shoot your film like balachander or SM subbiah naidu did.in black and white.

  5. ramesh - thanks for the Kalyana Parisu ID! That's a great link- the first color film huh? And thanks for the black and white explanation! Very enlightening- makes sense. The view of black and white as a marker of credible, artistic cinema seems to still be alive today in films such as Ghosh's Dosar, etc.

    bollywooddeewana - I'm such a beginner at southie oldies as well, but I agree that there's such a big world to delve into. It feels like discovering Hindi films all over again. :) That's such a cute song from Sasural- though Tamil oldies can be harder to track down, it's so nice that many of the ladies dabbled in Hindi cinema as well and copies are so much easier to find. And I'm so glad that you mentioned the B&W question (because I had thought the very same thing) and that this prompted the great response from Ramesh!

  6. Great post Minai!

    Aside: The company in Ooty is Hindustan Photo Films, which has been a white elephant for 25 years. But the government won't shut it down for political reasons.

    Also, there was a great deal of cultural exchange between Hindi cinema and south Indian cinema from the 50s to the 70s thanks to big studios like AVM and Vijaya Vauhini releasing movies for both audiences.

  7. Cram,

    Thank you for reminding me of its name! I remember seeing cans of AGFA film (made by HPF) in processing labs when i was little.

    L V Prasad studios also distributed multi linguals in hindi,until LV prasad's death in the eighties, Kamala hasan and jeetendra(perhaps) were the reason that business model changed from studios making films in many languages to talent working for north indian and tamil producers, and language producers selling "remake" rights to hindi cinema.( some good nd many bad films were produced like this - ek duje ke liye, thillu mullu and a couple of amitabh bachhan films) but then pandora's box was open and despite mani ratnam and ram gopal verma's partial success the" cultural exchange" model has failed in preference to he AR Rahman model of talent working for industry producers in many industries.. but that can change too.

    minai, sorry for making this somewhat more technical(as opposed to acad/fangirly) but thats what comes from your blog being so awesome!


  8. cram and ramesh - please, just keep talking, lol. Thoroughly enjoying the information and perspective. Keep it up! Thank you for stopping by. :D

  9. hi rameshram

    thanks for your take. i remember HPF's INDU film being used by photographers at weddings!

    i would say that bharathiraja and bhagyaraj were chiefly responsible in ensuring that the studio model died out, with exceptions like AVM who reinvented themselves by making big budget extravaganzas with the superstars.

    hell, even ilayaraja, who was as big a superstar as rajini or kamal, turned producer with alaigal oyvathillai. and remember oru thalai ragam? one of the biggest hits of the 80s that featured mostly newcomers. i think the success of the independent masala film changed the rules of the game. anyone could become producer if he had access to celluloid and a star's dates!

    the cultural exchange model has had great success in the area behind the camera, with cameramen, editors and the like, because it is stuff people don't see or hear. but cinema is not just technical razzle dazzle: audiences need to see people they can identify with, starring in stories they appreciate, in a language and idiom they understand. no wonder kamal, rajini, ilayaraja, spb or yesudas had limited success up north.

    look at the superhits of rajini from the 70s through the 80s. most of them were remakes of bachchan's films. but the treatment was completely different.

    of course, when it comes to women (especially fat, fair ones), tamil audiences are more than willing to accept anyone from anywhere :)


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