CN Annadurai: The Progenitor of Tamil Political Cinema
Sept.15 2008 marked the beginning of the centenary celebrations of the man who caused the birth of not only Tamil political cinema, but also the cultural politics of cinema in Tamil Nadu. C N Annadurai, also known as CNA, and affectionately as Anna or elder brother, was not yet another politician, another ideologue and another dramatist testing the socially surcharged decades of 1940-1960 in Tamil Nadu. He was instrumental for making these decades socially surcharged, politically awakened and culturally rooted. He had the advantage of a rare personae that was rooted in an understanding of the Western social movements even as it sought to fuse the message of the same in the cultural contexts of Tamil Nadu. He was raring to go intellectually to new heights that remained out of bounds to his contemporaries and peers. CNA had his BA Hons. and MA in Economics from University of Madras during the 1930s, plunged thereafter into the social movement of Periyar EV Ramasamy, broke his relationship with Periyar in 1948 and started the political party, DMK, the same year. He became a parliamentarian in 1962 and the first non-congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1967.
The above does not tell all about CNA. He was the first to see a connection between the masses and the means of communication they were more likely lap up. CNA was a prolific writer of political plays during the 1940s. He wrote 12 political plays, 86 political essays, 5 novels and 23 short stories. His first political play was Chandrodayam, written in 1943. He also acted in his plays. Towards late 1940s, CNA was gravitating towards the medium of film, on the strengths of the popularity of his political plays and the growing need for reaching out to the target groups of his political movement faster and in a more appealing manner. Three of his political plays were made into films and marked the birth of Tamil political cinema. They are Velaikari (Servant Maid, 1949), Nalla Thambi (Good Young Brother, 1949) and Oor Iravu (One Night, 1951). The last film’s script was written by CNA during the course of one night, hence the title Oor Iravu (One Night).
Endowed with a rare masterly touch in his writings and speeches, CNA proved to be the cynosure of young and old, rural and urban and illiterate and literate people of Tamil Nadu. His fans were swarming like bees whereever CNA went to deliver political speeches. He was a gentleman politician too, ever willing to respect fellow politicians and their political faiths. He was more than willing to be polite and considerate to one and all in his party. He was a charismatic mass leader, despite being short and careless about how he dressed and looked in public. CNA is also remembered by his fans for his honest and spotless political career.
While he acted in his political plays, he did not go beyond scripting political films. His script for Nalla Thambi was meant to strengthen the political and social message bearer in his friend and admirer, N S Krishnan, the Tamil actor who taught a few lessons in political communication to CNA. CNA’s Velaikari and Oor Iravu were meant to consolidate the space earmarked by CNA for another friend, K R Ramasamy, as the first party actor. CNA’s inroads into Tamil cinema were later consolidated by the political films scripted by other younger leaders of the party such as M Karunanidhi, who launched the career of Sivaji Ganesan, with Parasakthi (1952), and his nephew, Murasoli Maran, the late union cabinet minister of commerce.