Kalaignar the poet: How movie dialogues penned by Karunanidhi changed TN polity

An indefatigable screenwriter, Kalaignar wrote the dialogues for 40 movies, which spoke of widow remarriage, self-respect marriages and abolition of untouchability.
Kalaignar the poet: How movie dialogues penned by Karunanidhi changed TN polity
Kalaignar the poet: How movie dialogues penned by Karunanidhi changed TN polity

There is this inimitable scene in Sivaji (2007) where Rajinikanth tells villain Suman over phone that he is speaking to the hero of Parasakthi (Parasakthi hero da!). The sequence sent fans into a tizzy for more than one reason; and not just because it was uttered by Rajinikanth.

A good half century after it was released, Parasakthi (1952), one of the finest films ever produced in Tamil, could still evoke such strong emotions in viewers. This speaks volumes not just about its lead actor – Sivaji Ganesan – who went on to dish out more such memorable performances. It also speaks about Muthuvel Karunanidhi – its indefatigable scriptwriter – and who, in a sense, was also the hero of the film.

With his immensely powerful, rationalist dialogues, delivered to a T by the debutant Sivaji Ganesan, Karunanidhi owned the film as much as the former did.

Karunanidhi was in his twenties when he began working in Tamil films. He debuted as scriptwriter in Rajakumari (1947) – the movie that would launch the iconic MG Ramachandran as hero. Before Rajakumari, MGR had done a slew of insignificant films. Interestingly, the two greatest stars of our times – MGR and Sivaji Ganesan – were launched by Karunanidhi’s pen. Of the 40 Tamil films that Karunanidhi wrote, Sivaji starred in 9 and MGR in 8.

Parasakthi achieved a cult status that remains unparalleled till date. The film fuelled a new political imagination and played a decisive role in the growth of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi used Parasakthi to propagate the ideals of the Dravidian movement and penned dialogues that questioned the rationale behind belief and caste hegemonies.

More recently, DMK working president, and Karunanidhi’s son, MK Stalin quoted a celebrated dialogue from Parasakthi in the State Assembly to drive home a point about the DMK’s principles of atheism.

Karunanidhi’s attempt to use cinema as a vehicle to propagate Dravidian ideals didn’t stop with Parasakthi. In other films like Panam and Thangaratnam, Karunanidhi had messages like widow remarriage, self-respect marriages, abolition of untouchability, etc.

In film after film, Karunanidhi wrote stinging, politically loaded dialogues that conveyed very strong messages. Even while handling mythology like Silapathikaram in the movie Poompuhar (1964), Karunanidhi had protagonist Vijaya Kumari (playing Kannagi) deliver powerful dialogues in lengthy sequences.  The sequence where she points to the rubies scattered on the floor and calls it the ‘bloody teardrops of Dharma’ perhaps best illustrates Karunanidhi’s keen political acumen.

Writing had always remained his first love. For someone who wrote over 2 lakh pages in all his life, for someone who wrote perhaps the longest of serials Udanpirappe (To my Brethren – a letter that was serialised in Murasoli), writing was something he perhaps couldn’t live without. Whatever be the demands of his daily life, Karunanidhi continued to write. It didn’t matter that sometimes he was the Chief Minister of state, write, he would.

In 1989, when he was the Chief Minister, Karunanidhi penned the screenplay for Niyaya Tharasu, which had actress Radha play the role of a protagonist who put her social thinking above everything else in life. In Paasa Paravaigal, again scripted by Karunanidhi, actors Radhika and Lakshmi play lawyers pitted against each other over the death of the former’s husband (played by Mohan). Radhika blames her brother Sivakumar, Lakshmi’s husband, for her husband’s death. The film features some intense sequences and fiery dialogues.

Karunanidhi’s later years in power too saw him writing some movies, including Pen Singam (2010), Ilaignan (2011) and Ponnar Sankar (2011). Until recently, he had penned the script of Ramanujar – a serial on the saint for Kalaignar TV. The tag line called Ramanujar a saint who created a revolution within religion.

Karunanidhi’s career as a writer is as long and almost as successful as his career in politics. Considering the phenomenal influence Tamil cinema has had on its politics, Karunanidhi perhaps didn’t mind riding both horses at once and he managed to pull it off with remarkable élan.

Among the many adjectives that would now define his long and illustrious life, he would also be remembered as Parasakthi’s brilliant hero who used cinema to change the course of Tamil polity.

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