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Remembering Theena Muna Kana,N.S.Krishnan and the Camouflaged Narrative Devices of Tamil Political Cinema

Nagercoil Sudalaimuthu Krishnan, popularly known as NSK/Kalaivanar,iNSK2 who died on this day in 1957, remains unrivalled for his stellar ideological contributions to Tamil cinema in general and Tamil political cinema in particular through his multifaceted roles as comedian, singer, director and producer. He started his theatre career in 1924 and film career in 1936 with his role in Menaka. Born in a oral society such as ours, he cleverly chose what suited him and his audience and avoided comedy genres such as slapstick, screwball, mime etc., His comedy roles were imbued with a vision of social and political transformation even as they sought to provide the fun element to the film audience. NSK film stillHis popularity ensured complete freedom from the directors and producers and he chose to structure and film the comedy track and the attendant songs in it in the manner he liked, with his own troupe after the shooting of the main film was over. There is always a temptation among his fans to see him as the Charlie Chaplin of Tamil Cinema as both had a strong streak of social concerns in their film characters.

Sri Kantha Sachi dwells on the similarities and differences between the two in a comprehensive piece on Kalaivanar.1 Anbukodi Nallathambi, daughter- in-law of NSK, worked on the life and career of NSK for her Phd and has published a book and runs a comprehensive web resource on NSK.2

I was made to think about Kalaivanar and his political communication style after listening to Villupattu mastero Mr Subbu Arumugam, a close associate of NSK on the eve of the inaugural function of the Anna Centenary Celebrations organised by the Anna Centre for Public Affairs, University of Madras, during September 2008. Among the several contributions of NSK to Tamil society, his attempts to give a new lease of life to the Tamil folk art of Villupattu is widely acknowledged. Villupattu performance uses a bow like instrument and accompanying instruments to narrate mythological or social stories through a lead narrator.

NSK’s social and political messages were the first to echo the ideologies of Periyar‘s Dravida Kazhagam and later C N Annadurai’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam through the media of films and theatre. In fact, his films provided the much needed propaganda mileage for both the parties long before the entry of M G Ramachandran.

An ardent admirer of Anna‘s human and leadership qualities, he attracted in no small measure the love and affection of C N Annadurai. He produced NSK Annaand acted in the film, Nallathambi (1949) scripted by CNA. However, DMK’s unofficial list of party actors includes only S S Rajendran, K.R Ramasamy, Sivaji Ganesan and M G Ramachandran. Kalaivanar did not belong to this list, but predated these actors as he was the first pioneer of the social and political cinema in Tamil Nadu .

Films sympathetic to DMK were closely watched by the censors during the 1950s and 1960s and because of this, the script writers, lyricists and actors were deploying their ingenuity in full measure by conveying their political and social message in camouflaged words, acts and props. Majority of the films sponsored by DMK men during these period had references to Periyar, Anna and the colours/symbol of the party (Red and Black) in the utterances of the characters and the props on the walls.

NSK took this camouflaged propaganda style to new heights in his own production, Panam (Money, 1953). The film has a popular song (theena muna kana) which is replete with usual indirect references to Periyar, Anna and the colours of the party (Black and Red), but spills the beans openly when it makes an audacious admission about what is meant by theena muna kana, IT IS DMK! Even though, the famous lyricist Kannadasan is credited for penning the song, it is widely believed to be one of the master works of NSK, given his complete control over the content of his productions, particularly his songs and comedy tracks.

Here is how the rough English translation of the song goes. The words in brackets are mine. They refer to what is intended by NSK.

Theena muna kana, Our theena muna kana.

What’s that?

Thirukural Progressive Party.

Oh Oh!

Theena muna kana.

It expands knowledge and promotes human ties. Theena muna kana our theena muna kana

Our revered elder (Periyar) gave our people Thirukural to lead their lives rationally.

Our revered elder (Periyar) gave our people Thirukural to lead their lives rationally.

Valluvar Periyar.

Our theena muna kana paves the way for our nation to take such a path and adhere to the same.

Our theena muna kana will eradicate the bias caused by black and white and create a good natured society.

Our theena muna kana will eradicate the bias caused by black and white and create a good natured society.

Our theena muna kana will also eradicate the scourge of casteism that goes in the name of castes such as Kallar, Maravar, Pallar and Paryar.

Our theena muna kana is the one which sees no difference between Gandhiji’s principle of ahimsa and Valluvar’s principle of kindness.

Our theena muna kana is the one which sees no difference between Gandhiji’s principle of ahimsa and Valluvar’s principle of kindness.

Like a father to sons and elder sister to younger sisters.

Like a father to sons and elder sister to younger sisters.

Like an elder brother (Anna) to younger brothers.

Our theena muna kana points to what is right and wrong and shall strive for upholding the proud heritage of Tamils.

Theena muna kana expands knowledge and promotes human ties. It is our DMK.

In this song, Kalaivanar cleverly deploys the social and political message dear to his heart by referring to Thirukural, Valluvar, Periyar, Anna and the anti-casteist and social reformation ideologies of the DK and DMK, even as he brings in Gandhiji alongside Valluvar to make it palatable (or hoodwink?) to the censors. Valluvar stands for Periyar as much as Thirukural helps to camouflage Periyar‘s rationalist philosophy. As with any other indirect reference to the leader of the DMK party in many of the films of the period, he also reposes faith in Anna (meaning elder brother). The personal and political communication style of Anna to refer to all his partymen as his younger brothers (thambis) is referenced cleverly towards the closing sentences of the song.

References:

1.Sri Kantha, Sachi, Kalaivanar N.S Krishnan, Tamil Comedian and Political Activist: A Birth Centenary Tribute, Ilankai Tamil Sangam, http://www.sangam.org/2008/11/NS_Krishnan.php?uid=3168. 2005.

2.Kalaivanar N.S.Krishnan and T.A Maduram web site http://www.kalaivanar.com/

4 comments

1 S.Gandhi { 09.01.09 at 7:12 pm }

Thanks to Dr.G.Ravindran for projecting the multifaceted Silver screen actor NSK.
A good tribute to the great comedian Kalaivanar NSK.
Excellent paraphrase of NSK’s song “Theena muna kana”.
Long live your literary work.

2 K pradeep { 09.04.09 at 7:25 am }

sir,
This is very impressive infrmation to me,we are enjoy commedy but we don”t no who is behind of comedy.
> THANK YOU <

3 K pradeep { 09.04.09 at 7:28 am }

sir,
This is very impressive infrmation to me,we are enjoy commedy but we don”t no who is behind of comedy.
THANK YOU

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[...] Ravindran, Gopalan. “Remembering Theena Muna Kana,N.S.Krishnan and the Camouflaged Narrative Devices of Tamil Poli…. Wide Screen Journal. http://blogs.widescreenjournal.org/?p=1592. Retrieved 6 July [...]

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