The studios of Kodambakkam have a fascinating history. According to Randor Guy, film historian, during World War II, the Madras Electric Supply Corporation (MESC) had built a power house in the area, but there were no takers for the energy. The film studios were then encouraged to set shop there. And that was how the studios of Kodambakkam came about.
However, in 1935, A Ramaiah from Thanjavur had already established the first studio, Star Combines, near the Vadapalani bus terminus, which then marked the end of city limits. Gradually several studios came up – Rohini, Film Centre (set up by Majid), Bharani Studios (Bhanumathy Ramakrishna), Vikram Studios (B. S. Ranga, ace cameraman, producer-director), Paramount which later became Majestic Studios (Muthukumarappa Reddiar) Golden Studios, Vasu Studios (Vasu Menon) and Karpagam Studios (K. S. Gopalakrishnan). But they were all dwarfed by two giants - Vauhini Studios (B. Nagi Reddy), the biggest in Asia then with 13 studio floors, and AVM Studios (A.V. Meiyappan), the second largest in the city, with six studio floors.
“Most studios then were self-contained and had the latest equipment although importing stuff was difficult. You could go with a script and a team, shoot on the floor, use the editing room and the laboratory,” says Karthick Raghunath, film director, who has experienced life in the Kodambakkam film studios ever since he was five. There was really no shooting at actual locales then. It was only in the 1970s that filmmakers ventured out of the studios of Kodambakkam. But there was always a great demand for studio floor space.
Recalling the years he spent on various sets watching his father, TR Raghunath, well-known erstwhile film director who made his first film in 1937, Karthick says that a director then had to know all the nuances of film-making – editing, photography, script writing and laboratory practice. “In the black-and-white film era, when the speed of running film was slow and heavy lighting was needed, it called for vivid imagination and extraordinary judgment, and technicians had both in abundance. There was immense respect for directors,” he says.