Don’t judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? There is always something or the other to explore in a Tamil film title. You have unique literature-inspired titles like Sudha Kongara’s half-revealed Purananooru or super silly ones like En Aaloda Seruppa Kanom (2021). There are also re-used star titles like this year’s Maaveeran or a take on a popular song (Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa) or dialogue (Arasiyella Ithellam Sagajamappa). But even if all of these ideas run out, where there is a will, there is a relevant neighbourhood always available.
Let me elaborate further. What do you think about this series of localities— Madras, Pondicherry, Thiruttani, Tirupaachi, Tenkasi, Madurai…? If these names were accompanied by a conductor’s rhyme of “Ticket, ticket, ticket”, a chaotic bus route is what we would’ve thought of. However, these are film titles produced by the Kollywood crowd in Kodambakam (this place also has a tribute film btw). Places do offer a certain boundary and identity to films. For instance, Pa Ranjith initially chose the title Kaali for his film with Karthi, but while shooting the film in North Madras, he intuitively felt that Madras was the chosen one. There are at least close to 50 prominent Tamil films with titles based on the cities and towns of TN.
Our filmmakers do have a strong connection with places. But it isn’t the most amusing thing in this context, at least not when you compare it to the Kardashian family, who named their children Chicago West and Penelope Scotland. Do a more international upgrade and we have Chris Hemsworth (who played Thor), crossing the seas and naming his daughter India. Closer home, we have a person named Tamil Nadu (yes, to know more, watch The Problem of a Strange Name episode in Neeya Naana). If his love life drove Chris to name his daughter India, here it was Periyar who inspired a father to name his child Tamil Nadu.
Often, naming their films using places is a fad that few filmmakers attempt once in a while. And, I can assuredly tell you that no one can come close to director Perarasu. Be it Vijay’s Thirupachi, Bharath’s Thiruthani or Arjun Sarja’s Thiruvannamalai, a look at his filmography is the equivalent of looking at the Tamil Nadu map. Sometimes, the borders blur and you get a sneak into the Andhra map as well, like with Ajith’s Thirupathi. It is because he feels that these titles sit well with his action genre films. For example, Sivakasi is a town known for manufacturing firecrackers, and the title of his action entertainer with Vijay was inspired by this place, where the character is compared to fire several times, and even wears lit firecrackers as a garland. Probably, one contributing reason Perarasu took a break from films is that with even Palani and Dharmapuri done and dusted, there is perhaps a dearth of punchy Tamil city names. But fret not, with the nation’s pan-Indian fascination, he might perhaps make a comeback with a Jhansi or Nashik.
Makers always have a reason for the title. It is mostly because the film is set in a particular place like Paapanasam and Madrasapattinam. Sometimes, the story is about the place and its people such as in Vada Chennai and Kanchivaram. The former re-defined the way people look at North Madras, while the latter is a poignant narrative about a weaver and his struggles in Kanchipuram, a city known for its brilliantly woven silk sarees. Beautifully then in most films like Taramani, the place itself becomes a character, giving soul, colour and lifestyle to the people in it. If Madarasapattinam tells you about the Madras of yesteryears, Chennai 600 028 shows you the love for cricket found in the nook and corners of the city and Chennai Express and its lungi dance gives you the outsider perspective. Did you go on that quintessential friends’ trip to Goa? If not, at least you have the Venkat Prabhu directorial accompanying you in your dreams. Like Goa, the reversal of Chennai Express is what titles Bombay, Mumbai Express and Bangalore Naatkal did; it took you to places beyond TN.
When I was just wondering how Ooty or any other hill station didn’t find its title spot…enters Malayalam films. Yes, Mollywood’s love for Tamil cities isn’t just apparent through films like Hridayam which romanticised Chennai more than any Tamil movie did. They also made films titled Ootypattanam, Welcome To Kodaikanal and Neelagiri, with special films for Madurai - Madura Raja and No 66 Madura Bus.
Now, Karthi plays the titular character in Japan. But the plot doesn’t unfold in Japan. Does he fly there after the heist? Or is there no reason behind his name? We’re not sure. But what we can tell you is about Kalyanaraman who flew to Japan in Japanil Kalyanaraman. An interesting thing about this film (the trivia has nothing to do with Japan) is that this is said to be the first sequel in Tamil cinema, the second instalment of Kalyanaraman. Like Japan though, Thiruchitrambalam and Moscowin Kavery have nothing to do with the places; it is just the protagonist’s name.
Before Japan, our filmmakers took the flight to Burma and Nepal (Nepali) with their titles and Nepali reminds me of the king of all place-based film titles, Indian by Shankar. Some crafted the journey of moving abroad, giving us a story of finding life in the unknown like in Chennai 2 Singapore. But Malaysia to Amnesia is nothing like it. It’s just a life trick - if you lie about going to Malaysia and should lie more to cover up, you better pretend amnesiac.
Like any state, the capital has got the most prominence even in film titles like Vanakkam Chennai and Chennaiyil Oru Naal. Its streets of Nungambakkam and Pazhaya Vannarapettai, or the neighbourhoods of Pudhupettai also get their due story told. Nungambakkam, for instance, chronicles the heart-wrenching details of the Swathi murder case. However, we did get a few others like Dindigul Sarathy, Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan and Coimbatore Maapillai.
There are also film titles derived from villages — Thiruchitrambalam, Subramaniapuram, Silukkuvarupatti Singam, Vadakkupatti Ramasamy or Attipatti Gramam (error 404…sorry, Attipatti was taken out of the TN map in 2001 as per Citizen, JK). If you are wondering why I haven’t included Mundasupatti, let me remind you, it’s a fictional village. And yes, if you buy an island any day and can’t name it Kailasa (IYKYK), Mundasupatti is all yours. But if you are planning to make a Tamil film and want to name it Kailasa, you better hurry.