Guide to Kollywood

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Located in the bustling city of Chennai, Kollywood stands as a towering beacon in the Indian film industry, known for its unique blend of rich storytelling, vibrant music, and dynamic performances. This guide is designed to take you on a journey through the enthralling world of Tamil movies, where tradition meets innovation, and every film is a celebration of culture and creativity.

From the early black-and-white classics to the contemporary masterpieces, Kollywood has a storied history that mirrors the cultural evolution of Tamil Nadu. In this guide, we will explore the key milestones, iconic figures, and groundbreaking films that have shaped this vibrant industry. We will look at the evolution of Kollywood’s narrative styles, the stars who have captivated millions, and the directors whose vision has redefined Tamil cinema.

What is Kollywood?

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Kollywood, a portmanteau of Kodambakkam and Hollywood, refers to the Tamil-language film industry based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Known for its rich history and substantial contribution to Indian cinema, Kollywood is a term that resonates with vibrant storytelling, diverse genres, and a deep connection with its audience.

The origins of Kollywood date back to the early 20th century, with the release of silent films. However, it was the arrival of sound in Tamil movies with “Kalidas” in 1931 that marked a significant turn in its journey, setting the stage for a flourishing industry. Over the years, Kollywood has evolved, embracing technological advancements and new narrative styles while maintaining a strong connection to Tamil culture and traditions. 

Kollywood stands out for its distinct storytelling approach, often weaving intricate plots with societal themes, folklore, and mythology. These films are not just entertainment pieces but also reflect the social, political, and cultural realities of the Tamil-speaking populace. The industry is also known for its musical compositions, with film music being an integral part of its identity. The songs often become hits, transcending the boundaries of the movies they are part of.

The industry has produced some of Indian cinema’s most revered actors and filmmakers, who have not only made significant contributions to Tamil movies but have also gained nationwide and international acclaim. Stars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan and contemporary actors like Vijay and Ajith have become household names thanks to their immense popularity.

Tamil and Kollywood

Tamil, one of the oldest living languages in the world, is not just a means of communication for millions in the southern part of India and Sri Lanka but also the lifeblood of Kollywood, Tamil Nadu’s film industry. This classical language’s rich history and cultural depth are intricately woven into the fabric of Kollywood, making it a vibrant expression of Tamil art and culture.

The Tamil language, with its roots dating back over 2,000 years, is known for its poetic and literary richness. It is this linguistic heritage that forms the foundation of storytelling in Kollywood. The dialogues, song lyrics, and even the movie titles in Kollywood films often reflect the language’s classical and modern nuances, resonating deeply with the Tamil-speaking audience. The Tamil language is also presented beautifully in a couple of TV shows produced in the past and present. Check out our article, “How Have Tamil TV Shows Evolved Over the Years?,” for more info on the impact of the Tamil language on these shows.

Kollywood, serving as a major platform for Tamil cinema, plays a crucial role in both preserving and promoting the Tamil language. The films produced in this industry are predominantly in Tamil and are tailored to reflect the values, traditions, and aspirations of Tamil-speaking people. Through its narratives, Kollywood has not only entertained but also educated and informed its audience, often addressing social issues, history, and folklore, all interlaced with the nuances of the Tamil language.

Moreover, the global reach of Kollywood has introduced Tamil to a broader audience, spreading the language’s charm beyond its native speakers. From rural dramas and urban tales to mythological epics and modern-day thrillers, Kollywood’s diverse genres provide a glimpse into Tamil culture, making the language an ambassador of its heritage.

In essence, the connection between Tamil and Kollywood is symbiotic. While the language enriches the film industry with its literary and cultural depth, Kollywood, in return, celebrates and propagates Tamil, ensuring its vibrancy and relevance in the modern world. Together, they form a dynamic duo, showcasing the richness of Tamil culture through the captivating medium of cinema.

A Brief History of Kollywood

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Kollywood, the affectionate moniker for the Tamil film industry based in Chennai’s Kodambakkam, has a rich and diverse history that dates back to the dawn of Indian cinema. This journey from silent films to the thriving industry it is today offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of one of India’s most prolific film industries.

The inception of Kollywood can be traced back to the silent film era, with the production of “Keechaka Vadham” in 1916, directed by R. Nataraja Mudaliar, marking the beginning of Tamil cinema. However, it was the introduction of sound that truly transformed the industry. The first Tamil talkie, “Kalidas,” released in 1931, was not just a technological breakthrough but also a cultural milestone, bringing the richness of the Tamil language to the silver screen. To know more about the origins of Kollywood, you can read our article, “Learn the Interesting History of Kollywood.”

The 1950s and 1960s represented a golden era for Kollywood. This period saw the emergence of iconic actors like M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and Sivaji Ganesan, whose films were not just box-office successes but also had

a significant impact on Tamil culture and politics. Films from this era, like “Parasakthi” (1952), directed by Krishnan-Panju, and “Nadodi Mannan” (1958), starring MGR, were notable for their strong narratives, powerful performances, and their ability to resonate with the socio-political climate of the time.

In the decades that followed, Kollywood continued to grow and evolve, embracing new genres, themes, and filmmaking techniques. The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of superstars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, whose diverse range of films contributed significantly to the industry’s growth. These decades were marked by a blend of commercial entertainers and films with strong social messages.

The 1990s and 2000s witnessed a technological revolution in Kollywood with the introduction of digital filmmaking, special effects, and new sound technologies. Directors like Mani Ratnam and Shankar pushed the boundaries of Tamil cinema, exploring contemporary themes and styles and bringing Kollywood to international audiences.

Today, Kollywood is known for its rich storytelling, technical excellence, and strong connection with its audience. It continues to produce a wide array of films, from action-packed blockbusters to thought-provoking art house cinema, reflecting the diverse tastes of its viewers. The journey of Kollywood is a reflection of the changing dynamics of society and the ever-evolving art of filmmaking, making it an integral part of India’s cinematic heritage.

The Biggest Box Office Hits in Kollywood

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Kollywood, with its unique blend of storytelling and cinematic craft, has produced several box-office hits over the years. Here’s a look at 10 of the most successful Tamil films, highlighting their storylines, release years, and box office earnings.

Enthiran (2010)

Directed by Shankar, “Enthiran” stars Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai. This sci-fi film, blending human emotions with artificial intelligence, was a visual spectacle. It broke records by earning around ₹290 crore (34.9 million USD), showcasing the appeal of high-concept films in Kollywood.

Kabali (2016)

“Kabali,” featuring Rajinikanth in a powerful role, is a gangster drama set in Malaysia. Directed by Pa. Ranjith, it delved into the fight against oppression. The film was a massive hit, grossing over ₹300 crore (36.1 million USD), and was known for its strong socio-political themes.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (Tamil version, 2017)

Although a multi-lingual release, the Tamil version of S.S. Rajamouli’s “Baahubali 2” was a monumental success in Tamil Nadu, earning around ₹130 crore (15.6 million USD). This epic tale of betrayal and revenge captivated audiences with its grandeur and storytelling.

Mersal (2017)

Directed by Atlee, “Mersal” is an action thriller starring Vijay in a triple role. The film, which deals with issues like medical malpractice, earned about ₹260 crore (31.3 million USD), appealing to audiences with its mix of action, drama, and social message. You can read our article titled “What Are the Key Elements of a Successful Tamil Thriller Movie?”to learn more about how successful directors create these Tamil thriller masterpieces.

2.0 (2018)

A sequel to “Enthiran,” this Shankar-directed sci-fi film featured Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar. Known for its groundbreaking visual effects, the film made a whopping ₹520 crore (62.6 million USD), becoming one of the highest-grossing Tamil films.

Viswasam (2019)

“Viswasam,” starring Ajith Kumar, is a heartwarming tale of family and valor. Directed by Siva, this film struck a chord with the audience, earning around ₹200 crore (24 million USD). Its emotional depth and action sequences were major attractions.

Bigil (2019)

Directed by Atlee, “Bigil” is a sports drama featuring Vijay. The film, which revolves around women’s football and social issues, was a hit, grossing approximately ₹300 crore (36.1 million USD). It was praised for its engaging narrative and strong performances.

Master (2021)

Starring Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi, “Master,” directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, is an action thriller set in a college backdrop. The film, which dealt with a teacher-student confrontation, earned around ₹250 crore (30.1 million USD) and is admired for its storytelling and star performances.

Darbar (2020)

“Darbar,” featuring Rajinikanth as a police officer, is an action film directed by A.R. Murugadoss. Though it received mixed reviews, the film managed to earn about ₹200 crore (24 million USD), buoyed by Rajinikanth’s star power and the high-paced action.

Kaala (2018)

Another Pa. Ranjith and Rajinikanth collaboration, “Kaala,” is a gangster drama set in Mumbai’s Dharavi. The film, addressing the plight of slum dwellers, grossed over ₹150 crore (18 million USD). Its strong political undertones and narrative style were key to its success.

These films not only signify the commercial viability of Kollywood but also showcase the industry’s ability to blend entertainment with compelling storytelling and social messages. From sci-fi wonders and action thrillers to poignant dramas, these box office hits are a testament to the diverse and dynamic nature of Tamil cinema.

Kollywood’s Top Actors

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Kollywood has been home to many talented actors who have left an indelible mark on the industry with their remarkable performances. Here’s a closer look at 15 of these actors and the roles that have defined their careers.

Rajinikanth

The superstar of Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth, is known for his charismatic screen presence and unique style. Films like “Enthiran” (2010) and “Kabali” (2016) showcase his versatility, from playing a robot to a gangster, earning him a massive fan following.

Kamal Haasan

A versatile actor known for his range, Kamal Haasan has delivered powerful performances in films like “Nayakan” (1987) and “Vishwaroopam” (2013). His commitment to his roles, be it a raw agent or a don, makes him a standout actor.

Vijay

Known as Thalapathy, Vijay has a strong fan base thanks to his roles in films like “Mersal” (2017) and “Bigil” (2019). His ability to blend action, romance, and dance has made him a leading star in Kollywood.

Ajith Kumar

Ajith, popularly known as Thala, is admired for his performances in action films like “Viswasam” (2019) and “Vedalam” (2015). His on-screen charisma and choice of diverse roles have cemented his place in Tamil cinema.

Suriya

Suriya has impressed audiences with his versatile acting in films like “Soorarai Pottru” (2020) and “Ghajini” (2005). Known for his ability to sink into his characters, Suriya continues to be a significant actor in Kollywood.

Vikram

Chiyaan Vikram, known for his transformative performances, has starred in notable films like “Anniyan” (2005) and “I” (2015). His dedication to his craft is evident in the diverse characters he portrays.

Dhanush

Dhanush, a National Award winner, is known for his natural acting style. Films like “Aadukalam” (2011) and “Asuran” (2019) showcase his ability to handle complex roles, making him one of the finest actors in Kollywood.

Simbu

Simbu, also known as STR, has made a name for himself with films like “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa” (2010). His portrayal of romantic and intense characters has garnered him a loyal fan base.

Vijay Sethupathi

Known for his versatile acting, Vijay Sethupathi shines in roles across genres, as seen in “Super Deluxe” (2019) and “96” (2018). His natural performance style has made him a favorite among audiences.

Karthi

Karthi, known for his compelling screen presence, has delivered memorable performances in films like “Kaithi” (2019) and “Madras” (2014). His ability to adapt to various roles makes him a dynamic actor.

Arya

Arya has made a mark with his performances in films like “Raja Rani” (2013) and “Naan Kadavul” (2009). His range from romantic to intense roles demonstrates his versatility as an actor.

Jayam Ravi

Jayam Ravi is known for his engaging performances in films like “Thani Oruvan” (2015) and “Peranmai” (2009). He has a knack for choosing scripts that showcase his acting abilities.

Sivakarthikeyan

Sivakarthikeyan, with his comic timing and charming screen presence, has become a favorite in Kollywood. His performances in “Remo” (2016) and “Velaikkaran” (2017) display his range from comedy to more serious roles.

Prabhu Deva

A multi-talented actor, director, and choreographer, Prabhu Deva has contributed significantly to Tamil cinema. His roles in films like “Kadhalan” (1994) highlight his dancing prowess and acting skills.

Madhavan

Madhavan, often known as Maddy, has shown his versatility through films like “Alaipayuthey” (2000) and “Vikram Vedha” (2017). His ability to effortlessly shift between romantic and intense characters makes him a respected actor in the industry.

These actors, with their unique talents and memorable performances, have contributed to the success of Kollywood and played a pivotal role in shaping the identity of Tamil cinema. From action-packed thrillers to heartwarming dramas, they have brought to life a wide array of characters, leaving a lasting impact on their audience. If you are interested in learning more about some of these popular Kollywood actors, here are some articles that you can read:

Kollywood’s Top Actresses

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Kollywood’s film industry is not only known for its compelling stories and dynamic male actors but also for its talented and versatile actresses. These leading ladies have delivered powerful performances, leaving an indelible mark on Tamil cinema.

Nayanthara

Dubbed the “Lady Superstar” of Kollywood, Nayanthara has starred in hits like “Aramm” (2017) and “Imaikkaa Nodigal” (2018). Known for choosing strong and independent roles, she has been a critical and commercial success.

Trisha Krishnan

Trisha’s performances in films like “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa” (2010) and “96” (2018) have captivated audiences. Her ability to portray complex emotions with subtlety has made her a favorite in Tamil cinema.

Samantha Ruth Prabhu

Samantha has shown her versatility through diverse roles in movies like “Theri” (2016) and “Super Deluxe” (2019). Her strong screen presence and acting prowess have earned her critical acclaim and box-office success.

Jyothika

Since her comeback to cinema, Jyothika has taken on powerful roles in movies like “36 Vayadhinile” (2015) and “Ponmagal Vandhal” (2020), showcasing her range and depth as an actor.

Anushka Shetty

Although she works in multiple South Indian industries, Anushka’s performances in Tamil films, especially in “Baahubali” (2015) and “Deiva Thirumagal” (2011), have been noteworthy for their strength and emotional depth.

Kajal Aggarwal

Kajal’s charm and acting skills are evident in films like “Thuppakki” (2012) and “Mersal” (2017). She has been a consistent performer, known for her ability to fit into various genres.

Tamannaah

Tamannaah has delivered notable performances in Kollywood, including her roles in “Baahubali” (2015) and “Devi” (2016). Her versatility and dancing skills have made her a popular name in the industry.

Hansika Motwani

Known for her roles in films like “Maan Karate” (2014) and “Aranmanai” (2014), Hansika has made a mark with her energetic performances and choice of varied characters.

Shruti Haasan

Shruti Haasan has shown her acting mettle in films like “3” (2012) and “Puli” (2015). Her unique blend of charisma and talent has made her a sought-after actress in Tamil cinema.

Keerthy Suresh

Winning a National Award for her performance in “Mahanati” (2018), Keerthy Suresh has proven her capability in both glamorous and performance-oriented roles, as seen in “Sarkar” (2018) and “Saamy²” (2018).

Aishwarya Rajesh

Known for her natural acting, Aishwarya Rajesh’s performances in “Kaaka Muttai” (2015) and “Vada Chennai” (2018) have been widely appreciated for their authenticity and depth.

Andrea Jeremiah

Andrea Jeremiah, not just an actress but also a talented singer, has shown her versatility in movies like “Vishwaroopam” (2013) and “Taramani” (2017). Her performances are often praised for their intensity and realism.

Amala Paul

Amala Paul has made a name for herself with strong performances in movies like “Aadai” (2019) and “Mynaa” (2010). Her choice of bold and challenging roles has set her apart in Kollywood.

Sri Divya

Sri Divya, known for her performances in “Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam” (2013) and “Kaaki Sattai” (2015), has won hearts with her charming screen presence and convincing acting skills.

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar has emerged as a powerful performer in Tamil cinema, showcasing her range in films like “Sarkar” (2018) and “Tharai Thappattai” (2016). She is known for taking on unconventional roles that challenge the norm.

Through a blend of commercial entertainers and critically acclaimed projects, these actresses have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the industry. Their contributions have been instrumental in shaping the narrative of Tamil cinema, proving that it’s not just the heroes who run the show. For more information on some of the iconic actresses mentioned above, you can check out the articles below:

The Top Directors of Kollywood

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Kollywood has been shaped by the vision and ingenuity of its directors. Here’s a look at 10 of the most influential directors in the Tamil film industry and some of their most notable works.

Mani Ratnam

Mani Ratnam, known for his profound storytelling, has directed critically acclaimed films like “Nayakan” (1987) and “Roja” (1992). His ability to weave complex narratives with stunning visuals has made him a revered figure in Indian cinema. His films often explore social and political themes, making them both relevant and thought-provoking. You can read our article, “Who are the Most Successful Kollywood Directors?,” for more info on the other works of Mani Ratnam.

Shankar

Shankar is synonymous with grandeur and innovation in Tamil cinema. His films, including “Enthiran” (2010) and “Sivaji” (2007), are known for their high production values and imaginative storytelling. Shankar’s focus on social issues, blended with commercial elements, has created some of Kollywood’s biggest blockbusters.

Selvaraghavan

Selvaraghavan stands out for his unique storytelling style, as seen in films like “Pudhupettai” (2006) and “Aayirathil Oruvan” (2010). His films often delve into complex characters and dark themes, offering a distinct flavor to Tamil cinema.

Gautham Vasudev Menon

Gautham Menon, known for his romantic dramas, has created memorable films like “Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa” (2010) and “Vaaranam Aayiram” (2008). His films often feature deep character explorations and soulful music, making them resonate with a wide audience.

Bala

Bala is renowned for his intense and raw storytelling. His movies, such as “Naan Kadavul” (2009) and “Pithamagan” (2003), often explore the darker aspects of life and human nature. Bala’s uncompromising approach to filmmaking has earned him a special place in Tamil cinema.

A.R. Murugadoss

Known for his action-packed films, A.R. Murugadoss has directed hits like “Ghajini” (2005) and “Thuppakki” (2012). His ability to blend thrilling action with engaging narratives has made his films both commercially successful and critically acclaimed.

Vetrimaaran

Vetrimaaran’s expertise lies in telling raw and gritty stories, as showcased in “Vada Chennai” (2018) and “Asuran” (2019). His films often focus on complex social issues, earning him a reputation as a director who isn’t afraid to explore the harsh realities of society.

Atlee

Atlee has quickly become one of the most successful directors in Kollywood with hits like “Theri” (2016) and “Mersal” (2017). Known for his commercial entertainers, Atlee’s films are a blend of drama, action, and emotion, appealing to a broad audience.

Pa. Ranjith

Pa. Ranjith has made a mark with his socially conscious films like “Kaala” (2018) and “Kabali” (2016). His approach to filmmaking, often centering around caste and politics, has sparked conversations and brought new perspectives to Tamil cinema.

Karthik Subbaraj

Karthik Subbaraj, known for his unconventional storytelling, has directed critically acclaimed films like “Jigarthanda” (2014) and “Petta” (2019). His ability to mix genres and create engaging narratives has made him one of the most exciting directors in the current Tamil film industry.

From tackling hard-hitting social issues to creating visually stunning masterpieces, these directors have expanded the boundaries of what Tamil films can achieve. Each director brings a unique vision to the table, proving that Kollywood is a diverse and dynamic industry capable of producing a wide range of cinematic experiences. Their films have not only been successful at the box office but have also left a lasting impact on audiences and filmmakers alike.

The Best Awards Shows and Film Festivals in Kollywood

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Kollywood is celebrated through various prestigious awards and film festivals. These events not only honor the artistic and technical excellence of Tamil cinema but also serve as platforms for showcasing and promoting the industry’s talent.

Filmfare Awards South

The Filmfare Awards South is an annual event that honors the best in South Indian cinema, including Kollywood. It is one of the most prestigious awards in the Tamil film industry, recognizing excellence in various categories like Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. The event is a glamorous affair, attracting the biggest names in the industry.

Vijay Awards

The Vijay Awards, hosted by the Vijay Television network, are among the most popular film awards in Tamil Nadu. Known for its diverse categories, including both technical and artistic, these awards are decided by both a jury and public voting, making it a unique blend of critical recognition and audience favorites. For more information on the Vijay Awards and other award shows in Kollywood, check out our article, A Look into Kollywood’s Award Shows and Film Festivals.

Tamil Nadu State Film Awards

Organized by the state government, the Tamil Nadu State Film Awards are highly respected. These awards are known for recognizing a wide spectrum of talents in Kollywood, from mainstream commercial successes to critically acclaimed art films. Categories include Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, and several technical awards.

Ananda Vikatan Cinema Awards

The Ananda Vikatan Cinema Awards, hosted by the popular Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan, is known for its comprehensive coverage of Kollywood. These awards recognize excellence in filmmaking, acting, music, and more, reflecting the magazine’s long-standing association with Tamil cinema.

Behindwoods Gold Medals

Behindwoods Gold Medals, hosted by the Behindwoods media house, is a relatively new but rapidly growing event. These awards celebrate artistic and technical achievements in Kollywood, with a focus on both popular and critical aspects of filmmaking.

South Indian International Movie Awards (SIIMA)

Although covering the entire South Indian film industry, SIIMA has a significant focus on Kollywood. This event is known for its grandeur and is often held in various international locations, highlighting the global appeal of South Indian cinema.

Chennai International Film Festival

The Chennai International Film Festival is a celebration of international and Indian films, with a special emphasis on Tamil cinema. This festival not only showcases a variety of films but also hosts workshops, panel discussions, and interactions with filmmakers.

Norway Tamil Film Festival

The Norway Tamil Film Festival, held annually in Oslo, Norway, is dedicated to Tamil cinema. This festival provides a platform for Kollywood films to reach an international audience and includes awards recognizing excellence in various facets of filmmaking.

Edison Awards

Named after the inventor of the motion picture camera, the Edison Awards are known for their eclectic categories. These awards are decided by an online voting system, reflecting the preferences of the younger generation of Tamil cinema fans.

JFW Movie Awards

Organized by the JFW (Just for Women) magazine, these awards specifically celebrate women in Tamil cinema. Categories include Best Actress, Best Female Director, and Best Woman-Centric Movie, among others, highlighting the contributions of women in the industry.

These awards and festivals play a crucial role in promoting and celebrating the talent and diversity of Kollywood. They not only honor the achievements of filmmakers and actors but also contribute to the industry’s growth by encouraging new talents and innovative storytelling.

Conclusion

Our journey through this guide to Kollywood has revealed the multifaceted nature of this dynamic film industry. From its early beginnings to its current status as a major player in the world of cinema, Kollywood has continually evolved, capturing the hearts of audiences both in India and across the globe.

The industry’s unique blend of traditional and modern storytelling, coupled with its rich cultural heritage, makes Kollywood a standout in the realm of cinema. With iconic actors, visionary directors, and compelling narratives, Tamil cinema offers a window into a world brimming with creativity, emotion, and action. For the Tamil film industry, participating in film festivals is of paramount importance. These events not only showcase the rich diversity and creativity inherent in Tamil cinema but also open doors to global recognition and numerous opportunities for filmmakers. To understand the full extent of how these festivals influence and benefit Kollywood, we highly recommend reading our detailed post Why Are Tamil Film Festivals Important for Kollywood?

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