Southern Lights: Not ‘Chennai’…These Songs Are About ‘Madras’

On Madras Day, a flashback to songs that celebrate the city
Southern Lights: Not ‘Chennai’…These Songs Are About ‘Madras’

1. Azhagiya mithilai nagarinile (Annai, 1962): A two-toned convertible carrying a young couple cruises through near-empty roads. This was still the studio era, so it's surprising to see actual outdoor shooting (instead of a car propped in front of a screen on which the locations are projected).

2.Enna paarvai (Kadhalikka Neramillai, 1964): The glories of the Marina Beach promenade. Even if you concede that crowds were cordoned off to facilitate shooting (there's not a soul around!), the uncluttered breadth of the place is breathtaking to see today.

3. Madras nalla madras (Anubavi Raja Anubavi, 1967): Or, a city through a villager's eyes. It's hilarious to imagine a time when someone could walk on the roads without the driver of the car behind him hurling the choices of abuses. It's funnier to see Chennai, generally regarded as the least hip of our metros, coming off like Singapore.

4. Nenjirukkum engalukku (Nenjirukkum Varai, 1967): Three friends hanging out by the statues dotting the Marina. And really, what's with these constantly empty roads? Watching these older songs is to see the cars of the time, the autos of the time, the buses of the time…

5. Kaatrukenna veli (Avargal, 1977): In old songs, I love catching old movie posters (Mogam Muppathu Varusham, playing at Chitra, Srikrishna, Bhuvaneswari, Krishnaveni). I love, even more, to be reminded of the banners opposite Safire theatre (Oorukku Uzhaippavan). Part of the fun of bus travel on Mount Road was the anticipation of whether a new film's banner would be up. Simpler times.

6. En kanmani (Chittu Kuruvi, 1978): Or, Madras from the vantage point of a (red) PTC bus. Strictly not a "Madras song," as there's not much of location, but this selection is mainly for the conductor. "Teynampet supermarket… erangu!"

7. April May-ile (Idhayam, 1991): This one's because of Stella Maris and Queen Mary's, the sight… er, site of numerous one-sided glances. Plus, Udhayam theatre.

8. Madras-a suthi paakka poren (May Madham, 1994): The PTC buses are now green, and Manorama's killing it in a poncho. Plus, familiar Madras-isms pepped through the lyrics: Metro water, masked bandits (remember them?), and, of course, non-stop movie madness.

9. Enga area ulla varadhey (Pudhupettai, 2006): Suddenly, it was a Madras that hadn't been seen on screen, and Madras boys who clearly drew the line. Pudhupettai, Kasimedu, Ennore, Vyasarpadi – that's us! Anna Nagar, KK Nagar, T Nagar, Boat Club – that's you guys, and you better stay away.

10. Enga ooru Madras-u (Madras, 2014): This song takes it further. Madras is ours. We are the ones that give the city its address. A mini-documentary on North Madras, shot with an almost anthropological eye. The city would never be the same again on screen.

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