M. Karunanidhi: A screenwriter who took Dravidian ideology to the masses

His screenplays and dialogue helped in popularising its anti-caste, anti-religious outlook; later, he played a major part in shaping M.G. Ramachandran’s film career.

Published - August 07, 2018 09:53 pm IST

Screen presence: M. Karunanidhi being presented a statue by Sivaji Ganesan on behalf of the film industry in Chennai. Also seen is J.H. Patel, then CM of Karnataka.

Screen presence: M. Karunanidhi being presented a statue by Sivaji Ganesan on behalf of the film industry in Chennai. Also seen is J.H. Patel, then CM of Karnataka.

The Dravidian  movement’s embrace of cinema in the middle of the 20th century to popularise its anti-caste, anti-religious ideology resulted in  film personalities exerting an overt influence, not just in the cultural sphere, but also in the socio-political space in Tamil Nadu.

After deciding to split from the Dravidar Kazhagam to form the DMK in 1949, C.N. Annadurai and his lieutenant, M. Karunanidhi, who started out as playwrights, began using films to drive home their point.

Mr. Karunanidhi, who was more successful than Annadurai in films, emerged the most influential in taking DMK and its anti-Brahmin, atheistic and pro-Tamil nation ideas to the people.

The most important film in Mr. Karunanidhi’s career as a scriptwriter and in the history of the DMK itself, according to many scholars, was Parasakthi, which marked the debut of Sivaji Ganesan. The film gave form to the DMK’s ideology and took it to the masses.

Not only did he write serious political films, Mr. Karunanidhi was well-known for flamboyant usage of Tamil in his dialogues, popularising the language. Through movies such as Poompuhar, which was based on the Tamil epic Silapathikaram, he popularised several literary works.

In her article titled ‘Cinema and Politicians in TN’, scholar Sara Dickey describes the fictional works of Annadurai and Mr. Karunanidhi:  “Dramatic and rousing, they proved to be popular with viewers, and successful tools for propagating DMK political ideals.”

Partnering with MGR

Mr. Karunanidhi also teamed up with M.G. Ramachandran, who was emerging as a huge star after the 1950s and quickly became a popular icon of the DMK. One could say that Mr. Karunanidhi played a crucial role in shaping MGR’s film career and his image as a ‘do-gooder’ as he had written close to nine films for the star — Manthiri Kumari (1950), Marudhanaattu Ilavarasi (1950), Abimanyu (1948), Rajakumaari (1947), Mallaikallan (1954), Pudhumaipithan (1957), Arasilangkumari (1961), Kaanchi Thalaivan (1963) and Engal Thangam (1970).

After rifts emerged between Mr. Karunanidhi and M.G. Ramachandran, who split from the DMK in 1972 and eventually captured power in 1977, Mr. Karunanidhi began promoting his son  M.K. Muthu as an alternative to the ageing MGR.

Several of Mr. Muthu’s movies were written by Mr. Karunanidhi himself, but he couldn’t recreate the same magic.

Despite being involved in active politics and his advancing age, Mr. Karunanidhi never stopped writing for movies and television. Though his later works such as Uliyin Osai (2008), Penn Singam (2010), Ilaignan (2011) and Ponnar Shankar (2011) weren’t as successful, Mr. Karunanidhi continued to focus on social issues and people.

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