Tamil Cinema DefinitionSource(Google.com.pk)
Tamil cinema and defining the Tamil cinema market
The worldwide Tamil cinema market can be roughly calculated from the about 74 million Tamil speakers around the world, most of whom are based in the southern part of South Asia (South India and Sri Lanka), with a significant number of speakers in the Malay peninsula, South Africa, various Indian Ocean islands and a large number of expatriates settled in Europe and North America.
Even though each of these places can be construed as an independent market, for the sake of convenience, the Tamil (or for that matter, any South Asian language’s) market can be divided into two main sections: natives speakers market (in Asia); and expatriates market (mainly in Europe and North America). The native market is the old entrenched market, where it can be understood that film conventions are more ingrained. The expatriate market is interesting because it is fairly new, and most of it is based (at-least geographically) in another film culture. In today’s context, the expatriate market is also considered to be wealthier (even if not, in terms of absolute population numbers). This is true of the other large film industries in India as well, especially the Bombay film industry, which enjoys one of the biggest expatriate markets in the world.
Tamil cinema in the context of Indian cinema and "Bollywood"
As in any culture around the world, politics and popular culture are closely linked, therefore the need to identify Tamil cinema within the larger Indian cinema context, and as it being unique (especially differentiated from Bombay cinema) is as much a political pursuit as it is cultural.
"Bollywood" has become a widely accepted term to define "Bombay’s Hollywood". This term is loosely applied to all of Indian cinema, or at-least that brand of Indian cinema that follows a generic set of conventions. Considering the origins of the term, and also considering the fact that Hindi/Urdu language cinema enjoys a much larger native (and now increasingly a much larger expatriate) audience, it would seem politically inconvenient for Tamil, if not any other "regional-Indian linguistic" cinema to be brought under this umbrella. This despite the fact that stylistically the variance is very little, and each of these regional language industries have come to add the “wood” suffix to their own place names.
Many Tamil film viewers would dispute the claim that mainstream Tamil cinema is no different from mainstream Bombay cinema, but Radhika Nair, who works as the BBFC’s Tamil interpreter, (also being part of the expatriate market), puts things in perspective. She watches Tamil as well Hindi cinema coming into the UK, and finds very little difference between the two, though she says that recently, she has come across a few Tamil films that are willing to be experimental and break the mould of formulaic tradition. Yet, she acknowledges such a change as happening in Hindi cinema as well.
Despite regional parochialisms hijacking this exercise in comparison, there are certain indisputable truths when it comes to comparing Tamil and Bombay cinema. The talent pool (especially of actors, as Nair identifies) in Tamil cinema is generally considered better, with some South Indian technicians setting trends in the much more affluent Bombay industry.
Another point raised is a much wider cultural issue. Tamil is one of the oldest languages in India, if not in the world. It therefore comes with its unique cultural and literary heritage. Considering this, it would seem incongruous for many to see Tamil cinema bunched under the undistinguished umbrella of "Bollywood".
The third market
While "Bollywood" cinema has established a niche for itself amongst its expatriate Asian audience, it has also found for itself an increasing "crossover" market. This comprises of non-Asians who have come to watch, and are interested enough in this style of cinema to be economically significant for the filmmakers. This follows in the success of films like the Oscar nominated Lagaan (2001) and Mira Nair’s hugely successful Monsoon Wedding (2001). "Bollywood" entered the Oxford English dictionary and caught the imagination of the western world. It therefore made good economic sense to pander to popular taste and reaffirm the unique selling points of mainstream Indian cinema. It would be thus incompatible with the notion of "Bollywood" to make any film that goes against the grain. The only way Indian cinema can be considered part of meaningful world cinema, rather than been seen as just another regional flavour of American mainstream kitsch (Hollywood) would be to dissociate from a term whose meaning has been strongly defined in its form.
These days, "middle cinema" has become a buzzword; where an increasing number of filmmakers have been willing to break from the traditions of the past to find a more disparate audience. One of these filmmakers is Madras based Mani Ratnam. While a majority of Ratnam’s films have been Tamil and South Indian, he has been fairly successful in Bombay as well with his Hindi ventures. This discussion considers Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (2002) in terms of it as representative of "middle" Tamil, and Indian cinema, while putting it in a political context; and also discussing its own politics. I personally would not rate Kannathil Muthamittal as one of the best Tamil films ever, or even one of Ratnam’s best. It certainly is not a typical example of Tamil cinema either. But, Kannathil Muthamittal is one of the few recent mainstream Tamil films that have received worldwide distribution, and more importantly, distribution to a "crossover" market. It has also picked up awards at international festivals, and gained recognition.