At the break, Joe Root was unbeaten on 44, with Moeen Ali giving the current England batting mainstay company on 7.
Seeking to restore some pride after being subjected to three successive crushing defeats at the hands of the hosts, England lost the wickets of skipper Alastair Cook (10) and Keaton Jennings (1) with just 21 runs on the board.
Striking the early blows at the M A Chidambaram Stadium -- made battle-ready owing to some outstanding work by the groundstaff, including using burning coal to dry the pitch -- were comeback man Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, who was already getting purchase from the surface.
Jennings, who signalled his arrival in the Test arena with a century and golden duck in his maiden game in Mumbai last week, was the first casualty as he he edged Sharma to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel.
The visitors were seven for one and it soon became 21 for two when Jadeja, the first slow bowler to be introduced into the attack, induced an edge from Cook for skipper Virat Kohli to take a low catch at first slip.
Jennings, while attempting to drive an over-pitched delivery, got a thick edge as India reaped the reward for maintaining discipline early on.
Cook, who got to the 11000-run landmark, once again fell to Jadeja who, in the previous over, created doubts in the beleaguered English skipper's minds with some that turned and some that did not.
The left-arm spinner then pushed one wide outside off and got a thick edge from the batsman whose horror tour against Jadeja continued.
Root and Ali then tried to steady the ship with an unbroken stand of 47 for the third wicket.
In his 75-ball unbeaten knock, Root found the fence five times.
India are eyeing their biggest-ever Test series victory against England and stretch an unbeaten run to a record 18 matches.