The subject chosen by Spring into Reading for this year’s Madras Week was Kodambakkam and the life in the film studios there. According to P Venkataraman, who was a Kodambakkam resident for 52 years, the place was originally a part of Shrotrium Village in Puliyur Kottam, one of the 24 subdivisions of Thondainadu. There are several versions of how the name Kodambakkam came about – a corrupted form of Ghoda Bagh, the place where horses were reared during the time of the Nawab of Arcot; the sthalapuranam of one of the two Siva temples in the area (it is said that Lord Shiva turned the Meru Mountain into a bow; in Tamil, mountain is kodu, bow is ambu); after Karkodiyan, a descendant of Adisesha who is worshipped as Lord Narayana at the temple in Sivan Koil Street.
A few decades ago, there was no Kodambakkam Bridge; there was the ‘Periye gate’ near the track that people used, to cross. There were plenty of gypsies at the spot and always a crowd at the railway gate watching film stars waiting to cross once the trains passed, says Karthick Raghunath, film director and son of erstwhile ace director TR Raghunath, who has spent more than four decades in the Kodambakkam studios. There were no proper roads, no drainage or water supply. The area was full of palm and coconut trees. The rainy season saw waist-deep water everywhere. The area where the potters trade today was marshy land, almost a lake. Even in 1947, buses would stop at the Vadapalani Temple. Passing garland sellers and jatkas (horse carriages), people walked to the Vauhini Studios.
Chef Amsa at Hotel Green Park recalls how he and his friends used to walk from Royapettah to watch movies at the Pankajam touring talkies near Arunachalam Road. They paid 25 paise for a thara (sitting on the sand) ticket or one rupee if they wanted to sit on a chair.
Recapturing the spirit of Ghoda Bagh and the songs and scenes shot in the studios were students from the Dr M. G. R. Janaki School for the Hearing and Speech Impaired, Ramavaram, and the Dr. M. G. R. Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, Adyar.