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Why hasn’t Tamil Cinema produced a Satyajit Ray or an Adoor Gopalakrishnan?

It has been over a century since Tamil cinema came into existence and it still hasn’t produced directors like Satyajit Ray or Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The intelligentsia mourns over this fact on a regular basis while the others ask if we really need directors like Satyajit Ray who was a pioneer of “arthouse” cinema.

Sathyajit Ray

Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut heralded the French New Wave. Auteurs like Michaelangelo Antonioni and Vittorio De Sica are leading figures of the Italian Neo Realist movement. Kurosawa and Ozu are names that are synonymous with Japanese cinema. Germany had its own New Wave movement with directors like Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders at its helm. In our own country Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen brought about the “necessary” change through “Parallel Cinema” in Bengal. Even the flamboyant Hindi Cinema has produced directors like Shyam Benegal and Mani Kaul. In my opinion our very own K.Balachander was the only person who came close to becoming an “arthouse” filmmaker with his iconic film, “Thaneer Thaneer”.


The reason Tamil Cinema hasn’t produced a single filmmaker of the “arthouse” kind is partly because of the lack of proper production companies to finance and market these films. Hollywood and other European countries have production companies that specifically produce and market “art films”. These companies not only finance and produce these films but also take these films to various film festivals around the world. A film winning an award at a major film festival like Venice or Cannes would make the director internationally acclaimed overnight. These awards are very instrumental in making a director a sensation. Even in the case of Akira Kurosawa, the critics and the west took notice of his genius only after he won an award for, “Rashomon” at the 1951 Venice Film Festival. This award led to the film getting released in the west and its subsequent win at the Oscars.

After working for atleast three mainstream films as an associate director in the Tamil Film Industry, I can evidently say that it is almost next to impossible to find a producer of the above mentioned kind in Tamil Cinema. The Tamil film Producer is scared of the very word “Art”. Having said that, it is also not entirely fair to blame the producers alone. After all, they are the pillars of our industry who pump in their hard earned money to keep the show running. The other reason being actors – who constantly lend their support by praising “art films” but never coming forward to act in them. Should we blame the audience then? – for not encouraging “good cinema” and watching the same old masala films. Who is to be blamed for the current scenario? I think nobody.

We should also take into consideration, the fact that there are no screenwriters in Tamil cinema. Here, the directors write their own screenplays for lack of original scripts unlike other countries where screenwriting is a thriving industry. Even a terrific director would not be able to do justice to a film with a weak script. Evidently our industry possesses many talented directors, but the need of the hour is to put enormous emphasis on improving the quality of writing. The decline in screenwriters could also be attributed to the meager amount of money that is being paid for the services of a screenwriter.

Do we need “arthouse” directors in the first place? That is a question that has been lingering around. I think we do need filmmakers like Ray and Adoor. Despite being remembered as the most recognized and renowned Indian director in the west and the rest of the film world, Ray is also solely responsible for taking Bengali cinema to the world. Tamil Cinema surely needs filmmakers who could take our heritage and cinema to the rest of the world. We could go on debating about the possible scenarios and solutions but like they say – The show will go on.

– Avinash Moyidi

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