Shadow Wars on the Silver Screen

Inia Pandian

TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2002 (ID.2002-03-02)

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Dravida Nadu: The four southern states of India, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are collectively called Dravida Nadu because this region is predominantly occupied by Dravidian peoples.


DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (a political party in Tamil Nadu)

Movie stars are the most recognizable and popular faces in any country. Political parties often seek their support and endorsement during elections to cash in on their popular appeal. Sometimes movie stars themselves enter the political arena and contest elections. Tamilnadu has more of a movie industry intrusion into politics than any other country.

Every chief minister of Tamil Nadu since 1967 is from the movie industry except for the current one, Mr. Panneerselvam (He is considered a shadow chief minister acting as a front for his predecessor J. Jayalalithaa who could not become Chief Minister because of a criminal conviction. He himself openly stated that he is keeping the seat warm until Jayalalithaa could clear the legal issues and become Chief Minister again.). Others are all from the movie industry. C. N. Annadurai was a well- known screenplay writer. M. Karunanidhi (MK) was also a popular screenplay writer (he is said to have authored more screenplays than anyone in the world). M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) was the most beloved movie actor of all time in Tamil Nadu. J. Jayalalithaa was a popular movie actress who often co-starred with M. G. Ramachandran, among others. Some others from the movie industry held lesser elected-positions, for example, S. S. Rajendran (actor), Vijayanthimala (actress) and R. Veerappan (producer). Others entered politics but failed in the election arena, for example, Sivaji Ganesan (actor), Latha (actress) and Revathi (actress).

With so much interaction between the movie industry and politics, it is to be expected that politics will seep into movies. Two political greats with movie-industry connections used innuendos and sarcasms to insult each other on the silver screen. One is M. Karunanidhi, the popular screenplay writer; the other was late M. G. Ramachandran, the matinee idol. Though the latter did not write movie scripts, he had enough clout to get a few choice lines added to the dialog. Once close friends, they turned enemies in the early 1970s and became bitter political rivals. 

M. Karunanidhi received an honorary doctorate degree from a Tamil Nadu university soon after he became Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. He also uses the title "Kalaignar" (respected artist) given to him by party faithfuls many years ago. In fact, he is simply refereed to as "Doctor Kalaignar" in DMK publicity materials. M. G. Ramachandran took a shot at this in one of his movies. His character says in the movie, "It counts only if someone else gives you a title, not if you give it to yourself". A direct hit at his political rival. (By the way, Ramachandran himself received an honorary doctorate from a Tamil Nadu university soon after he became the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister a few years later.)

M. G. Ramachandran was well versed in all types of fights, from sword fight to silampam (a popular fight using sticks; the stick could be deadly in the hands of a silambam expert.) Many of his movies in his early years were full of sword fights and silampam, and in fact, he rose to stardom because of these fight scenes in such movies as Malai Kallan, Madurai Veeran, Chakravarthi Thirumagal and Thaiku pin Tharam. M. Karunanidhi mocked at this in a movie script. A monkey-trainer puts on a street show in which his little monkey runs around swinging a stick, an obvious imitation of Ramachandran's silambam scenes in movies. Moviegoers had no problem understanding the insult at Ramachandran. 

Such indirect insults at political rivals escape censor board scissors but the Indian Government controlled censor board would not allow  any statement of Tamil nationalist sentiments. Back in the 1950s a popular movie song was "Engal Dravida Pon Naadae..." (Our Golden Dravida Nadu...) written by a DMK songwriter Kavignar Kannadasan. Though it escaped the censor board because it did not call for the independence of Dravida Nadu from India, a position held by Kannadasan and the DMK at that time, the Indian-Government controlled monopoly All India Radio never ever played this song praising Dravida Nadu, while it played every song ever written in praise of Bharat Matha (Mother India).

Since the censor board would not allow any Tamil nationalist sentiments in the dialog, writers resorted to "indirect means". In a 1967 movie, M. G. Ramachandran, a leading member of DMK at that time, played the role of a prince fighting the enemies of his country. When his army wins a battle and he hoists his country's flag atop the fort, he would shout "Vazhga Nadu" (Victory to the Country). This shout appears, may be, a dozen times in the movie. He never names the country. What he really wanted to say was "Vazhga Dravida Nadu" (Victory to Dravida Nadu) but such a line would surely be cut out by the Indian censor board. Tamil people watching the movie knew that Ramachandran was actually shouting "Vazhga Dravida Nadu". They would whistle and clap as Ramachandran shouts "Vazhga Nadu" hearing in their hearts "Vazhga Dravida Nadu". 


Dr. Chief Minister! (by Inia Pandian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 1998 (8 KB)

Two Wives for a Minister! (by N. Kunjithapatham), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 1998.

Ironies in Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's Life (by Inia Pandian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2001.

(Old Tamil movie history and politics in Tamil movies. How M. Karunanidhi and MGR (M.G. Ramachandran) used Tamil movies (films) to insult political rivals and each other.)

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