As a Tamilian born several decades after independence every conversation about Tamil cinema with my older generation ends with their praise of yesteryear films like Ambikapathy (1937), Sati Leelavati (1936) in which MGR debuted or Meera (1945). Even today after nearly 7 decades from it’s release, every Tamil kid grows up listening their grandparents humming to “Vaarai Nee Vaarai” sung Thiruchi Loganathan & Jikki from the film “Manthiri Kumari (1950)”. References from the film to the scene where Heroine pushes the bad guy from top of a hill, can be seen in the latest of Tamil cinema and TV shows. I haven’t watched any of these films, it was mostly hearsay from elders going gaga and of clips I have watched it in TV, gave it a feeling of aura for me whenever I heard references to these films. So I was surprised to read about it was an American Director “Ellis R Dungan” who Directed these films from mid 1930s to 1950s.
An American in Madras directed by Karan Bali was educative to me, exposing me to people, settings and of a time I know little of. Though it is a biography on the legendary Director Ellis R Dungan, the film was an enjoyable watch thanks to some good editing. The documentary film was premiered in Chennai International Film Festival 2013. The old black and white photographs shown in the film were lifelike and of amazing quality, they should have been scanned from original negatives using advanced equipments, may be from West Virginia State Archives where Dungan had donated all his archives.
An American in Madras is a must watch for every Tamil film buff. The film is not available publicly in Internet, so watch out their Facebook page for next screening in your hometown.