Karunanidhi’s writings for Tamil films: ‘He didn’t aspire to get into the industry…it was part of the movement’

It was a career that spanned over sixty years, but film scholars say Sivaji Ganesan-starrer Parasakthi in 1952 marked the beginning of Karunanidhi’s “most creative years”.

“His Tamil was not tied to any particular dialect,” says Tamil cinema scholar Venkatesh Chakravarthy. “But it was a very forceful, understandable Tamil. He wrote dialogues in a literary, alliterated but forceful way, which when heard had the effect of a speech delivered on stage.”

Muthuvel Karunanidhi wrote dialogues and stories for 75 films, and songs for over twenty. Some of these songs played on Wednesday when his DMK family came to visit him one last time at Rajaji Hall in Chennai.

In the late forties, his first contribution as a screenplay writer went uncredited, according to film scholar S Theodore Baskaran. This has since been rectified in the internet age. But it was the 1947-film Rajakumari, which was MGR’s 15th film but his first as lead actor, that was officially Karunanidhi’s first film as a screenplay writer. His last film, Baskaran says, was the 2011 film Ponnar Shankar — an epic historical drama adapted from Karunanidhi’s novel of the same name.

It was a career that spanned over sixty years, but film scholars say Sivaji Ganesan-starrer Parasakthi in 1952 marked the beginning of Karunanidhi’s “most creative years” — a phase that lasted till 1967 when he first became deputy Chief Minister.

“One of the most controversial films in the history of Tamil cinema, Parasakthi is important for more than one reason. It owed its success in large part to its dialogues and enhanced the value placed on dialogue writers,” notes Baskaran in his 1996-book The Eye of the Serpent. “M Karunanidhi, who wrote the dialogues for Parasakthi, used this film to express his ideas on religion, god and priesthood.”

“When he wrote Parasakthi, and later Manamagal (1951), Thirumbi Paar (1953) and Poompuhar (1964), he was not a CM, but a DMK leader who could not call the shots in films,” Baskaran told The Indian Express. “He wrote the dialogue, got his cheque and disappeared.” In other words, he says, “as a dialogue writer, he did not have control over the visuals. But he got the dialogue writer stardom, and after him, a number of others followed.” The dialogue became an “ingredient” in a film, says Baskaran, “very much like a song because they were long dialogues running into pages.”

Chakravarthy says the monologues were the format and not Karunanidhi’s preference. It came from his experience in theatre, he said. “He didn’t come as a writer who was aspiring to get into the industry. The industry allowed him to survive, helped him with the struggle, with the primary goal of entering politics of the region. He was heading towards capturing power and along with this, he would go around taking classes for the cadre on how to speak on stage. It was part of the movement.”

The 1999-book Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema speaks of the “unique and extraordinarily influential type of propaganda cinema pioneered in Tamil Nadu” by the DMK. The DMK film genre made careers, fashioned CMs out of five film personalities — C N Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran, V N Janaki and J Jayalalithaa. Annadurai, the book states, “codified an elaborately plotted and highly charged melodramatic idiom promoting an iconoclastic ‘rationalism’ and an anti-Brahmin, Tamil nationalist ideology.” Success of this art form was linked to the “fact that cinema was an important social equaliser in Tamil Nadu, where the other performing arts traditions were rigidly demarcated along class/caste lines.”

Chakravarthy says as the years rolled by, the Tamil film audience changed, and with this the dialogues. “I don’t think his message changed at the ground level. Whether it had the same bite was a different issue. The kind of dialogues that Parasakthi had, in the way they penetrated the psyche of the people, I don’t think it cut any ice later, in the 80s.”

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