Watch any Tamil movie down the ages, and you’d surely recognise a scene or two, if not more, shot in Madras/Chennai. Endless railway platforms, a bridge that leads to the sea, the expansive beaches, Colonial-era buildings….filmmakers have so much to choose from. Earlier, a ‘Madras’ shot ideally meant a long shot of the brick-red Chennai Central railway station or the Marina Beach. Not any more. New filmmakers celebrate the many aspects of the city that make it so special. It could be the beautifully-lit up Egmore Museum, a deserted railway station, the bustling slums of North Chennai, or the beauty of a near-traffic-free road during misty mornings.
It helps that the city is home to many historic buildings and monuments such as Vivekananda House, War Cemetery, Egmore Museum, Freemasons Hall, Kamaraj Memorial House and Ripon Building. And also, the Napier Bridge where the ‘Sodakku Mela’ sequence in Thaanaa Serndha Koottam was shot; University of Madras against which Siddharth, Madhavan and Suriya pose in Mani Ratnam’s Aaytha Ezhuthu, and the Karl Schmidt memorial in Besant Nagar that features in Raja Rani.
Here’s a list of six landmarks in Chennai that have inspired filmmakers and brought alive emotions on screen.
University of Madras
Filmmakers like Mani Ratnam used this place to throw light on students and their politics in his action-drama Aayudha Ezhuthu. Ratnam, a Madras lad, has always had a penchant for showcasing drama in the midst of the city and its people. In the film, Suriya’s character is a student from the University of Madras, who leads a group of idealistic youth, and eventually becomes a politician with an intent to bring about change. The University premises witnesses his evolution from a student to a man of ideals.
Seeing the striking interiors of Santhome Church and hearing the tales of people coming here to pray is remarkable, says an Australian couple seeing us taking photographs. In 2004, when Chennai and other coastal cities were hit by a huge tsunami, the church withstood the assault. This event found a place in Kamal Haasan’s Dasavatharam too. The final sequences of the film take place in Chennai, and shows many religious institutions, including this church. The church has inspired many filmmakers. Its bright lights inspired certain sequences in Atlee’s Raja Rani and Gautam Vasudeva Menon’s romantic hit Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya.
Karl Schmidt Memorial
This is not a memorial you see only in Tamil movies. Malayalam film Nadodikkattu features the comic combo of Mohanlal and Sreenivasan arriving at Besant Nagar beach near the Memorial. Both of them are taken for a ride by a crook Gafoor, who drops them off the shore of Chennai, and convinces them that it is “the Gulf”. Though the Marina Beach is considered the prime identity of Chennai, the Karl Schmidt memorial in ‘Bessie’ is dear to a lot of romantics in the city. A hangout spot for many who hit the beach, it has a poignant little tale behind it, for it is named after a European sailor who drowned while saving the life of a girl.
The Napier Bridge, built over the Cooum River, connects Fort St. George and the Marina beach. One of the city’s oldest bridges, it was built in 1869 by Francis Napier, Governor of Madras from 1866 to 1872. This Bridge has been representative of the city for more than a century and a half, and has been liberally used in movies. Filmmakers Shankar and Mani Ratnam usually have at least a car carrying the hero zip past this bridge! Other filmmakers have gone on to recreate the iconic bridge as a set. In the Vijay-starrer Theri, a scene shows the actor – who plays a cop – and his team move across the bridge.
If a city has a lighthouse, it is mandatory to showcase it in any movie set in the place. That’s an unwritten rule! In Kerala, the lighthouse in Kovalam became popular among the audience after the release of the Padmarajan movie Seasons. But, before that, the lighthouse in Chennai, built during the reign of the British, repeatedly made cameo appearances in films.
In action-comedy Ghilli, which stars Vijay, Trisha and Prakash Raj, the lighthouse features in the background. At times, when Vijay’s character and his friends hang out in the open terrace, a beam of light from the lighthouse washes over them. Besides that, any film with Chennai in its title tends to feature this structure that rises into the sky – be it Vanakkam Chennai, Chennai 600028 or its sequel.
The final place on the list is also a church, built in 1516 in Mylapore. This church is a historical landmark and is famous for its Portuguese-style construction; you would have seen it often in films.
“The scenes from the movie Neram, where Nazriya’s character goes to pray in a church was shot around noon on this road,” recalls a resident of the neighbourhood. A lot of film enthusiasts, especially youngsters, walk around with cameras, trying to capture a different view of the church. “I normally take photographs and later paint it on canvas or draw it digitally,” a young man tells us.
The charming interiors of the church also feature in horror film Pizza 2: Villa. Yet another Kamal Haasan movie Anbe Sivam, which deals with the goodness of humans, features important scenes shot inside the church and on its premises.
Photos: Sriram Narasimhan