Chennai: 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 ‘Manipravala 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 general public. 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.
COMMON MAN’S DIALECT
When words like ‘Naadha’, ‘Shaanta’ were spoken in a melodramatic tone in movies of then superstars like M K Thyagaraja Bhagavatar and P U Chinnappa, a dialogue like ‘Poruthathu Pothum… Pongi Ezhu,’ would have given the Tamil audience goosebumps.
In ‘Manohara’ (1952), starring legendary Sivaji Ganesan, Karunanidhi not only infused a popular Tamil dialect but also personified the political anomalies persisting in the State in his characters.
Following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, who used cinema as the most influential medium to propagate Nazi ideologies, Karunanidhi and C N Annadurai took Dravidian ideologies to the 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 superstitions and dominating capitalistic mentality in the State at the 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 Tamil literary works to speak on the 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 C R 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 M G Ramachandran as the protagonist. 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.
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. Most of the evidence about the brothers were sourced by the duo from street plays.
Similarly, his movie ‘Kanchi Thalaivan’ (1963), starring MG Ramachandran in the lead, he spoke about the explosive relationship between Pallavas and Chalukyas.
MGR played Pallava emperor Mamallan, who built the artistic Mamallapuram, known for its cave temples and shore temple.
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.
The attempt of Sivaji Ganesan in the movie to play the anti-hero is still praised by film critics. The story, written by C N 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 adopted. 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 broadminded and revolutionary. Be it Kannagi in ‘Poompuhar’ or Padmavathi in ‘Manohara’ – the roles are still talked about as women empowerment.
Likewise, the role played by Saroja Devi as Shanta in ‘Iruvar Ullam’ (1963) spoke about equality in family life. The husband and wife relationship between Shanta and Selvam, played by Sivaji, threw light on how a couple should be live a life sharing each other’s pain and dreams.
Similarly, his movie ‘Pen Singam’ (2010), had Meera Jasmine in the lead, playing a cop. The movie portrays a hero who gets into trouble and is saved by the heroine. It was also a very unusual attempt by Karunanidhi in the last days of his film career.