A ‘PHALKE’ FOR KARUNANIDHI?
This is a proposal for the Govt of India to confer the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for film writings in Indian Cinema , to the late Thiru M Karunanidhi. Of course the Bharat Ratna is also within consideration, but that is a matter of political convenience. I am for the merit of the man, I am familiar with!
The Award is not categories into divisions of film production and retains its exclusive unitary class in cinema. Under the rules for the Phalke Award, the recommendation is valid for the current year as the candidate has demised within the year of consideration of the Award.
Also under the guidelines kept for this Award, the candidate’s past police record and lack of integrity, is not to be considered and only the academic merit of the recommended, is the criteria for evaluation. Thiru M. Karunanidhi fitted into this meritorious list, splendidly.
Thiru M. Karunannidhi was born in a family of educated Tamilians where effort was being made to educate the child. But M Karunanidhi failed them. As a child he spent a lot of his time in day dreaming, writing poetry and acting on school stage. He was already into small political skirmishes at the age of 12 years which caught the attention of the bigger ‘actors’ of the day and finally M. Karunanidhi entered the portals of the Tamil film industry in 1947. Now aged 20 years , he wrote the script of film ‘Rajkumari’ which featured T. Rajkumari and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). The crisp dialogues and an interesting story line immediately caught attention of the casting crew of the film producer and M Karunanidhi found himself a job in the Jupiter Studio, in Salem.
The success with film Rajkumari was followed with the next film Abhimanyu released in 1950,where he was not given credit for his writing, followed with films Manthiri Kumari and Marudhanaathu Ilavarasi in the same year. The triple success made M Karunanidhi a celebrity writer, and introduced him into the charmed circle of the then major leaders of the Justice Party of India, namely Peyriar, C.N. Annadurai and MGR, who were soon to create a new political party to be called the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK).
For Thiru M. Karunanidhi there was no looking back. From his pen flowed silver jubilee hits one after another like Manohara, Panan, Naam, Malai Kallan,Thirumbi Paar, Ammai Appam, Thai Illa Pillai , and others. Karunanidhi crowned the first part of his career by writing the story and screenplay of the evergreen classic film Parasakthi made in 1951 featuring a young Sivaji Ganesan. This film was initially banned and created a controversy because of its radical story content and anti Brahminism, but finally it was cleared by the Madras High Court in 1952, and found a ready audience because of its controvertial content.
The film when released for screenings in cinema halls, changed the entire character of Tamil cinema forever. Till date, Tamil Cinema was dominated by dozens of songs connected by thin story lines and a had running times upto 3 hrs and 45 minutes. Film Parasakthi dumped the formula story, hook line and sinker ,and replaced by with a strong theme of social injustice, discrimination and the need for reforms in society. The film had dialogues written in the simple language devoid of slang and interpolation of other regional languages. It was pure aggressive Tamil and honey to the ears. The audiences gave it a minimum golden jubilee run at theatres wherever it was released.
M. Karunanidhi realized he had created a new story formula of success in his regional language and he plunged deep into its cultural waters. He decided to use cinema and his regional language as a vehicle to fight his social battles and create a political platform for himself and the political party he associated with.
In 1967, the American film industry and the Republican Party, both sent their researchers to find out how the DMK under Karunanidhi and its horde of workers of the local film industry, could create a full fledged political party and rule a big State.
A time came when by 1964, films were being publicized on publicity posters by splashing the name of the script and story writer going by the name of M Karunanidhi, and not by the principle artists of the film. In South India Cinema this was the first instance of a person working behind the screen, carrying the film to its jubilee run. The only other example of a writer carrying a film, came in Hindi Cinema in post 1975 period, when the duo writers Salim- Javed got bigger mention in film publicity than the main artists. It was Mehboob Khan who placed Nargis in his twelve sheet posters of Mother India in bigger face than the title of the film. That is still the ultimate tribute to any film artist in the world.
At the peak of his writing activity which concluded by about 1967 when M. Karunanidhi joined the State Cabinet as a senior Minister, he could churn out a complete script within three days of commencement of his work, but he was still short of the genius of his mentor, C.N. Annadurai, who could write two scripts with both hands simultaneously and finish the work in two and a half days! The nation and its film industry , never had a film writer of the like of Annadurai. But that is not to deride the talent of M. Karunanidhi.
In a period between 1947 and 2014, M Karunanidhi wrote 75 films, 105 poems , songs for 19 films, 12 books ,all in Tamil language, hundreds of articles, and nine full length stage plays. In 2011 he wrote his last film script, a huge historical drama, titled, ‘ Punnar Shanker’, with good commercial success.
Let it be on record that as a film script and screenplay writer Thiru M Karunanidhi was not the most voluminous writer in Indian Cinema. Perhaps that credit goes to the prolific Sachin Bhowmick who wrote 105 film scripts , story and screenplays in Hindi and Bengali languages and still remained unrecognized for his genius.
Thiru M Karunanidhi gets our attention because in his literary talent he created a major social and political movement in the country. He, using the film medium, introduced and educated his Dalit community into the history of Tamil people and the more glorious past, and created a separate identity of the Tamil people worldwide. Sachin Bhowmick could not achieve this, even by long lengths. Karunanidhi did more good to the Tamil film industry in more than one way by bringing in order and discipline in its studios, attended to labour welfare and pushed Tamil cinema to the forefront against the onslaught of Hindi and other language cinemas of the country.
Therefore, I submit that Thiru M. Karunanidhi should be conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to Indian Cinema.
Incidentally for a life spend for 71 long years in public service, save for a lone citation by S.S. Barnala, then Governor of Tamil Nadu for public service, the Nation did not consider it fit to confer upon him even a single Award of national merit. Those who were handling this business, feared his political talent and missed out on the writing genius, which brought him in the forefront of public service, in the first instance.
The writer is a national awardee film historian, and a former IPS officer.