The Chettiar Bungalow at AVM Studios, where hundreds of iconic films have been shot, is now open for public events
What connects Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Raj Kapoor, NT Rama Rao and Academy Award winner Fredric March?
They’ve all spent considerable time at the Chettiar Bungalow, located inside Vadapalani’s AVM Studios. The palatial house and its lush gardens have been a familiar sight in the movies for the past five decades. From Rajinikanth’s Aboorva Raagangal and Padayappa, to the Hindi film Bhai Bhai and the many Tamil serials featuring Radhika, the Chettiar Bungalow has been featured in several significant moments on celluloid.
Built by renowned architect PS Govinda Rao in 1965, the bungalow was the residence of movie mogul AV Meiyappa Chettiar. “My father was hands-on about what went on in the studios; in fact, he used to take a long walk every evening inspecting the set work,” recalls AVM Kumaran, his son, as we chat with him in the bungalow’s living room. “If something was off, he would record it on his dictaphone and pass it on to his assistants to get it fixed. He was always in the studios… that’s why he built this house,” he adds.
Home to the stars
The picturesque lawns, replete with fountains, vintage statues and even a gazebo in the backyard, soon went on become a favourite among filmmakers of that era. The 100-day celebrations of many big films, including Bhai Bhai (1970), Bobby (1973) and Raja Paarvai (1981), have been held here. “We’ve grown up in this place; my parents used to live downstairs, while we brothers were put up on the first floor,” he says.
After the family moved out, the bungalow soon became an important location for film shoots. “The greats of Indian cinema have shot here,” he reminisces, “The house was so grand that KB (director K Balachander) shot a portion of Ninaithale Inikkum, which was originally meant to be filmed in Singapore.” The house also has an annexe called the Japan Cottage, which even had a Murphy bed, one of the first in this part of the country.
The bungalow consists of props, such as chandeliers and statues that were collected from all across the country. “My father bought a statue from Hyderabad worth ₹1.5 lakh, a huge sum back in the 60s,” he says, “It’s still intact.”
And later, when legendary art director AK Sekhar, who worked on the iconic drum dance sequence of Chandralekha (1948), joined AVM, more additions were made to the house. “It was he who designed the water fountain in front. Jayalalithaa, who has shot many films here, was so impressed with it that she wanted MGR’s memorial to feature a similar one. If you notice the memorial today, it is easy to spot the similarities,” he says, pointing to the fountain outside.
A new life
The house, which was earlier reserved only for those in the film business and for shoots, is now open to the public to host special events, as the family’s third generation gets involved in the business. “We want more people to experience the nostalgia and history that is associated with this house… a place so many of us have grown up watching in the movies,” says Bhuvana Bharti, Kumaran’s daughter, adding that a young film director is hosting a wedding function here soon.
For details, contact 9940021318 or visit www.avmgardenvilla.com