Tuesday, 7 August 2018

M Karunanidhi: One among earliest zealots of Tamil cinema

For decades, till the late 1940s, the language used in Tamil cinema was elitist with a high influence of Sanskrit. It was the literary dialect called 'Manipavala Nadai' that dominated the dialogue blocks of the celluloid. Since the makers of cinema were from the creamy layer, the films they made were also highbrow. It was then that cinema witnessed the arrival of creators who wanted the art to be understood even by laymen.

The era that was kickstarted by Kalaivanar N S Krishnan with comedy in simple language and impact society. And, in the same era, Tamil film industry saw one of the most influential writers of all time, M Karunanidhi.

Karunanidhi's death today has left the cinema industry equally sorrowful as the DMK cadres. Having associated with the film industry in more than 75 movies as story, lyrics, screenplay, and dialogue writer, Karunanidhi's works are something that led to a revolution in Tamil cinema.

The Common Man's Dialect:

When phrases like 'Naadha', 'Shaanta' were spoken in a melodramatic tone in movies of then superstars like MKT and PU Chinnappa, a dialogue like 'Poruthathu pothum... Pongi Ezhu,' should have given the Tamil audience goosebumps. In the movie Manohara (1952), starring the legendary Sivaji Ganesan, Karunanidhi not only had infused a popular Tamil dialect but also had personified the political anomalies persisting in the State on his characters.

Following the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, who used cinema as the most influential medium to propagandise Nazi ideologies, Karunanidhi and CN Annadurai took Dravidian ideologies to streets through their films.

The courtroom monologue of Sivaji Ganesan in the pre-climax of Parasakthi (1952) is still one of the fresh dialogue blocks in Tamil cinema. The movie took a dig at the sparsely followed superstitions and a dominating capitalistic mentality in the State at that time. Parasakthi had multiple storylines told on a non-linear narrative fashion. In a first, the movie had an unusual plot of the lifestyle of beggars and their rights.

Literature and Cinema:

Karunanidhi was a passionate Tamil enthusiast who brought many works from Tamil literature to speak on silver screen. His movie Poompuhar (1964) portrayed the first 'Kudimakkal Kaapaiyam'(Common People's epic) Silappathikaram on cinema. Again, the monologue of Kannagi essayed by CR Vijayakumari is one of the first shreds of evidence of women empowerment in Tamil cinema.

However, Poompuhar was not the first movie where Karunanidhi adopted literature. It was Manithiri Kumari (1950), which had MG Ramachandran as the protagonist.

Manthiri Kumari
The movie was based on the play, known by the same name, written by Karunanidhi, and was an adaptation of one of Tamil's five great epics Kundalakesi.

History On Silver-Screen:

Talking about history, Karunanidhi has worked on a lot of movies that were records of events about significant people in the State's politics and growth. One of the most important movies was Ponnar Shankar (2011) starring Prashanth in the lead. It was about the twin brothers who are believed to be Chera chieftains, the rulers of the Ponni Valanadu.

Ponnar Shankar
The movie's story was adapted from the novel written by Karunanidhi of the same name. The research for the novel was jointly made by him and former State Assembly Speaker Tamilkudimagan(uncredited). Most of the evidence about the brothers were sourced by the duo from street plays.

Kanchi Thalaivan
Similarly, his movie Kanchi Thalaivan (1963) starring MG Ramachandran in the lead elaborated on the lock horned relationship between Pallavas and Chalukyas. MGR played Pallava emperor Mamallan, who built the artistic Mamallapuram known for its cave temples and shore temple.

Experimental Writer:

Karunanidhi also was a bold screenwriter in making unusual experiments. One such flick was Rangoon Radha (1956). The movie which had Sivaji Ganesan in the lead was a new experience for film buffs of the time as they saw a protagonist in a negative shade - a cunning womaniser. 

Rangoon Radha
The attempt of Sivaji in the movie for playing an anti-hero is still acclaimed by film critics. The movie's story written by CN Annadurai was a loose adaptation of an English play Angel Street written by Patrick Hamilton. Angel Street was also made into a movie named Gaslight (1940).

In another movie Palaivana Rojakkal (1985) directed by Manivannan, starring Sathyaraj and Prabhu, there was a new plot style that Karunanidhi had adapted. It was probably the first movie where the internal mechanism of journalism was discussed along with the making of an investigative report. The movie dealt with the story of a journalist who brings out the true colours of a corrupt politician.

Women in New Shades:

Women in Karunanidhi's scripts have always been broad-minded and revolutionary. Be it Kannagi in Poompuhar or Padmavathi in Manohara - the roles were some icons of women empowerment even today.

Likewise, the role played by Saroja Devi as Shanta in Iruvar Ullam(1963) spoke about equality in a family life. The husband and wife relationship between Shanta and Selvam, played by Sivaji threw light upon how a couple should be live a life sharing each other's pain and dreams.

Iruvar Ullam
Similarly, his movie Pen Singam (2010), that had Meera Jasmine in the lead, playing a cop. The movie underpowers the hero who gets into trouble and is saved by the heroine from it. It was also a very unusual attempt by Karunanidhi in the last days of his film career.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, August 7, 2018

A part or complete version of this article by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in newstodaynet.com. This is completely based on the perceptions of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only. Photos/images appearing on the post are sourced from various sites across the web.