Albeit Tamil films are dominated predominantly by action genre, other categories like thriller, horror, devotional, comedy and romance have also had their time of glory at different times. Of all these it is romance which comes a close second to action in terms of the number of films produced in the genre.
It may be argued that even action movies have romance in them and vice versa. But romance seen through out the movie unadulterated is a feeling by itself. While most films have some aspect of romance at least as a subplot a romance film can be described as any film in which the protagonists live or die for their love. The numbers of romance movies in Tamil may not match the number of action films. But Tamil cinema did have quite a few memorable films.
When films started talking with 'Kalidas' in 1931 film makers tried many innovations to make the new art live for long. One of such is the invention song and dance sequences. As the early films mostly dealt with historical and mythological characters they were all mostly didactic. When social films started flowing from the forties film makers had all the liberty to explore human emotions. Of the human emotions they found easy to express was love and romance which is saleable more than others.
The black-and-white era contributed some unforgettable moments of romance. Even actors were willing to do some bold scenes by standards then.
MK Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar was hailed as a romantic hero as much as singing sensation. MKT actually taught his generation of actors the aspect of subtle romance. A classic example is Haridas. In the introductory song 'Vaalvilor thirunal...' in which he comes riding a horse, his subtle romantic expressions like his squint looks at the girls on the streets, winking the eyes had huge effect on female viewers.
If you notice the most successful heroes who went on to become idols in Tamil are the ones who excelled in not just action but also romance. Specialising in just one won't do. This trend existed until the mid eighties when angry young men were clearly differentiated from chocolate lover boys due to the changing times.
After MKT-PUC era the trimurti who ruled the Tamil film industry had fair chances to showcase their romantic inclinations on screen. While one was hailed as a mass action hero another was branded melodramatic. The third one was branded King of Romance. But during that period all of them have lived some memorable romantic life on screen irrespective of their images.
Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan has a handful of movies in which he excelled in romantic scenes. Movies like 'Sabash Meena' and the cult song 'Chithiram Pesuthadi'... are great romantic memorabilia from the black and white era. In the colourful 'Puthiya Paravai' Sivaji's every movement with Saroja Devi talks love. Ananda Vikatan magazine raved about the lover boy Sivaji more than the histrionic Sivaji when it wrote the review of 'Deiva Magan' in 1969.
The romantic scenes in MGR films were altogether different. He mastered subtle romance better than any of his contemporaries. The way he holds the upper arm of his love and giving it a thrust will delight any romantic heart. The way he puts his hand around the neck and jerk s the heroines towards him is a winning art. The way MGR performed his romantic scenes with Savithri in 'Vettaikaran' is a talking point even today.
Gemini Ganesan was called Kadhal Mannan probably because other popular tiles were already taken by the other two. I say this it is because the Kadhal Mannan was exemplary as a pathos hero. But still as endearing lover he did capture many hearts in films like 'Missiamma', 'Thenilavu' and more.
Director Sridhar who is said to have pioneered soft romances in Tamil films is also a pioneer in triangular love themes. His 'Kalyana Parisu' is a classic love story which created new tenets for romance. When Gemini Ganesan shouts to inform he is gong to the college signaling Saroja Devi to follow him is one the most romantic moments. This kind of moments inspired many directors who came after Sridhar. The switching lights on-off to show love in 'Ek Duje Ke Liye' is one of it. Till the beginning of seventies romance was only a part of the theme and not the life line of films.
Later when Tamil cinema entered the "new wave" age from the early seventies differently made love stories began to crop up. During this period even Sivaji Ganesan tried some full blown romance movies. Though his age and mature stature could have hummed oddness Sivaji did try his hand. Films like 'Rojavin Raja', 'Deepam' and 'Ilaya Thalaimurai' can be classified romantic movies of Sivaji. MGR also showed his mettle in some bold scenes in movies like 'Raman Thediya Seethai' and 'Idhayakkani'. But his 'Anbe Vaa' is a romantic classic. Unfortunately Sivaji did not have an out and out romantic film like 'Anbe Vaa' in his entire career. The only movie which can compete with 'Anbe Vaa' in terms of sheer grandeur is the tragic love story of 'Vasantha Maligai'.