If politics was his profession, writing was always the passion for ‘Kalaignar’ M Karunanidhi, who started his career as a script writer for Tamil movies. That was why he selected ‘Kalaignar’ (artiste) as his sobriquet despite other titles were offered to him.
Karunanidhi wrote scripts for actors and audience of various generations. From ‘Parasakthi’ to ‘Ponnar Sankar’, from Sivaji Ganesan to Prashanth, his was one envious journey which can not be matched by anyone.
And as Chief Minister, Karunanidhi was always approachable by those from the film industry. He gave a patient listening to their demands and fulfilled many of their requests. From MGR to Udhayanidhi Stalin, he shared a good rapport with actors, directors, producers and technicians.
Karunanidhi introduced a novel scheme with twin benefits- to promote Tamil and to support film trade. During his regime, movies which carried pure Tamil titles were exempted from paying tax.
He ensured that State film awards were given periodically, and also introduced awards for television talents. He alloted free land near Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai for film workers and became their ‘Paasa Thalaivan’. And the list goes on.
Karunanidhi began his career as a screenwriter in the Tamil film industry. His first movie as screen writer was ‘Rajakumari’ produced by Coimbatore based Jupiter Pictures directed by A S A Sami starring M G Ramachandran.
During this period he and M G Ramachandran, then an upcoming actor and later day founder of AIADMK party started a long friendship eventually turning into rivals in later years politics.
His stint with Jupiters Pictures then housed at Central Studios continued for another MGR starrer ‘Abhimanyu’ (1948 film), ‘Marudhanaattu Ilavarasi’ (1950) starring MGR and V N Janaki.
Around late 1949, T R Sundaram of Modern Theatres Studio in Salem engaged Karunanidhi as scriptwriter for the film ‘Manthiri Kumari’ starring M G Ramachandran which would become be a blockbuster hit. Later Sundaram had Karunanidhi on permanent rolls at Modern Studio.
Karunanidhi’s most notable movie was ‘Parasakthi’, a turning point in Tamil cinema, as it espoused the ideologies of the Dravidian movement and also introduced two prominent actors of Tamil filmdom, Sivaji Ganesan and S S Rajendran.
The movie was initially marred with controversies and faced censorship troubles, but was eventually released in 1952, becoming a huge box office hit. The movie was opposed by orthodox Hindus since it contained elements that criticized Brahmanism.
Two other movies written by Karunanidhi that contained such messages were ‘Panam’ (1952) directed by famous comedian and political activist N S Krishnan and ‘Thangarathnam’ (1960) produced and acted by S S Rajendran another popular actor and DMK activist.
These movies contained themes such as widow remarriage, abolition of untouchability, self-respect marriages, abolition of zamindari and abolition of religious hypocrisy. Another memorable hit movie was ‘Manohara’ (1954) starring Sivaji Ganesan, S S Rajendran and P Kannamba known for its crisp dialogues.
Through his wit and oratorical skills he rapidly rose as a popular politician. As his movies and plays with strong social messages became popular, they suffered from increased censorship; two of his plays in the 1950s were banned.
He was famous for writing historical and social (reformist) stories which propagated the socialist and rationalist ideals of the Dravidian movement to which he belonged. Alongside C N Annadurai he began using Tamil cinema to propagate his political ideals through his movies.
With his passing, Karunanidhi has left a big void in Tamil cinema, not just as script and dialogue writer, but also as a patron who showered the film industry with various benefits.