Scripting cinema’s role in politics
C.N. Annadurai realised the power of the medium and used it brilliantly to propagate the ideals of the Dravidian Movement.
Gained a mass following: Annadurai with Sivaji Ganesan in Sivaji Kanda Indhu Samrajyam.
(This is the first of a two-part article)
One of the outstanding features in Tamil Cinema is its strong link to politics. Tamil writers C. N. Annadurai and Mu. Karunanidhi realised the power of the medium and utilised it brilliantly. At first, they did not have the resources to use the med
ium of movies and used theatre instead to propagate the ideals of the Dravidian Movement. Anna and Mu. Ka. wrote plays in which they often had important roles. One such play by Anna was ‘Sivaji Kanda Indhu Samrajyam.’ (‘Sivaji’ was played by a struggling stage actor, who was then under Anna’s wing. His performance was so impressive that E.V. Ramasami Naicker, the iconic Dravidian leader bestowed the title ‘Sivaji’ on him. Soon he would become famous in Tamil cinema as Sivaji Ganesan!)
Their propagandist plays made a strong impact. The next step was the movies. An ardent film buff, Anna, wrote stories and plays, some of which were made into movies and had far-reaching consequences.
When the DMK party was launched by Anna in 1949, the two leaders, who were brilliant writers and speakers, wrote the dialogue in the rich Tamil language with telling effect. This enabled them and the party to capture political power by unseating the Indian National Congress party.
In 1967 DMK took over Fort St. George and Anna became the Chief Minister with Karunanidhi, second in rank, holding important portfolios. Since then, DMK and its off-shoot AIADMK have been holding the Fort with no runners-up in sight.
Anna was the first name with a mass following. People went to the films he wrote the screenplay or dialogue for. The stars or the directors did not matter. For this reason producers began to put the writer’s name above the title as a publicity strategy. It worked and soon became a trend. Anna and Karunanidhi were the first Tamil writers to achieve this distinction. N. S. Krishnan (NSK), inspired by the reception to his ‘Madman,’ launched another film which propagated his political views and theories.
Entitled ‘Nallathambi’, the storyline was unabashedly lifted from the Hollywood classic, Frank Capra’s ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.’ S. V. Sahasranamam worked out a film treatment and NSK requested Anna to write the screenplay and dialogue. Krishnan-Panju were engaged to direct the film.
Besides NSK in the title role, S. V. Sahasranamam, T. A. Mathuram and P. Bhanumathi played major roles. But the story got sidetracked by NSK’s brand of propaganda and became more of a political tract than a movie. Naturally, ‘Nallathambi’ did not prove to be as successful as expected, but its songs became popular.
When NSK wanted Anna to write the script for his next project, ‘Thambidurai,’ the writer showed no interest after the ‘Nallathambi’ experience, where he felt his work had been maimed and mangled beyond recognition.
‘Velaikkari’ (1949, a Jupiter production), written by Anna and directed by A. S. A. Sami, was different and stirred up quite a storm. It had been written as a play for his friends, K. R. Ramasami (KRR) and S. V. Sahasranamam. But differences between KRR and Sahasranamam led to KRR forming his own troupe. He needed a new play and Anna chose to give ‘Velaikkari’ to his political disciple ignoring Sahasranamam’s request. It was a success and Jupiter Somu acquired the rights for the screen and engaged Anna to write the script.
It was left to Anna to choose the director and he chose A. S. A. Sami. Sami impressed Anna with his knowledge of cinema and literature, subjects in which the famed writer was deeply interested. KRR was picked to do the lead role. V. N. Janaki and M. V. Rajamma were selected for the two main female roles. The plum part went to T. S. Balaiah, who played Mani, a resourceful vagabond and the hero’s friend, philosopher and guide. Balaiah’s excellent performance ranks as one of the best in South Indian cinema.
The storyline had a bitter and frustrated hero kicking sacred objects and abusing the presiding deity in a Kali temple. It created a sensation and a controversy.Some religious groups even clamoured for a ban on the film.
However, ‘Velaikari’ was a hit and turned out to be a film of historic significance. One of the reasons was Anna’s brilliant and alliterative Tamil dialogue. When Anna’s name was flashed under the credits on the screen, it was greeted with wild applause and shouts of glee in every cinema hall.
Annadurai and his followers began to realise the power of the medium and its potential as an image building and political advancement tool. The link between Tamil cinema and politics began with ‘Velaikari’. And because of this, it is considered as a milestone in the history of Indian cinema.
Anna, as the legend goes, once wrote a play in a single night. He called it ‘Or Iravu’ (One Night). It was made into a movie under the same name by AV. Meyyappan. Pa. Neelakantan was the director. As usual, Anna wanted KRR in the lead role.
T. K. Shanumgham, B. S. Saroja, Lalitha, T. S. Balaiah, T. S. Durairaj and the Telugu film star A. Nageswara Rao were the other performers. In spite of the formidable and impressive tags such as Anna/ KRR/AVM, ‘Or Iravu’ did not do as well as expected. But a song sung by M. L. Vasanthakumari and picturised on a pretty, saucy starlet, Lakshmikantha, (‘Ayya Sami, Aaaoji Sami...’) proved a hit and is still remembered today.
(To be concluded)
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