Tamil Features

Madras Unlimited: A Look At Scenes & Films That Represent The City

Madras cinema

August 22 is Madras Day. A day to mark the founding of the city by Francis Day, Andrew Cogan, and Beri Thimmappa, in 1639.


Madras, or Chennai, is 378 years old, and a thousand years ancient. Through its growth and evolution, the city has always been a centre of arts and culture. Some of the oldest art institutions, the second oldest “Indian” film, its biggest studios and latest developments in cinema science happened in Madras.

Here’s a quick look at some of the iconic films and scenes that showcase the city.

Andha Naal: 1950. Directed by Veenai S Balachandar. Written by Javar Seetharaman

Madras was the only city in the subcontinent to be bombed during both world wars. In World War 1, German Cruiser Emden bombed Fort St. George and the Madras High Court, and gave rise to the enduring legend of Emden, with which mothers still scare their children into submission. In World War 2, Japanese forces bombed Madras – the port, and other strategic locations in the city.

Andha Naal the film – Tamil cinema’s first noir film, and the first one to be made without songs, music, or extended stunt sequences, is about the Japanese bombing of Madras.

Another clip from the film, featuring dialogue in upper caste Tamil and Sourashtra.

Nadodikkattu: 1987. Directed by Satthiyan Anthikad. Written by Srinivasan

This Malayalam film, starring Mohanlal and Sreenivasan is perhaps a strange fit here. But it’s in because of a hilarious sequence in which the two stars, looking for work and fortune, want to leave Kerala and go to Dubai. Except, they fall into the clutches of a fraud, and land in Chennai. Here they try to make fame and fortune, and love.

Later, S.Ve Shekhar and Pandiyarajan reprise the two roles, in Katha Nayagan, and land in Cochin (which at least is spiritually Dubai.)

Satya: 1988. Directed by Suresh Krishna, original story by Javed Akthar (for Hindi film Arjun), dialogues written by Panchu Arunachalam

A remake of the Hindi Arjun, Satya is director Suresh Krishna’s debut film, and features an angry, bearded Kamal Haasan who questions the injustice and corruption in the society.
It features this lovely song that travels throughout Chennai.

 May Madham: 1994. Directed by Venus Balu. Written by Balu, Crazy Mohan

A lovely little film which didn’t do very well at the box office. But it features great visuals of the city – from a truck unloading at “Kotwal Chawadi” – the amazing market area off Broadway, Mount Road and LIC buildings, Ambassador Pallava Hotel and T. Nagar’s Pondy Bazaar, little tenements, and lots more. Not just in the famous song, but throughout the film.

Kaakha Kaakha: 2003. Written and directed by Gautam Menon

Although this film, set mostly in Madras, is less about the city than about the police officers and their lives and loves, the climax scene is staged in perhaps my most favourite part of the city – the Pier over Bay of Bengal, in Thalankuppam beach, in the north of the city.

Pudhupettai: 2006. Written and directed by Selvaraghavan

Neo-noir, urban violence, cult, gangster-noir. Many labels are attached to this film featuring Dhanush as Kokki Kumar. One of the grittiest, grimiest film to be made on the underbelly of Chennai.

Other films in the list include Madras, Savaal, Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi, and others. But then, movies of Madras can easily be a perpetual feature on Silverscreen.