by Sachi Sri Kantha, November 3, 2014
In the previous chapter, I introduced Erik Erikson’s generativity concept by MGR as a member of DMK in 1950s. As previous observers of DMK politics of that era, especially Robert Hardgrave Jr., had noted MGR was not alone in promoting DMK policies. Due credit should be given to other film artistes, who were MGR’s contemporaries. Apart from leader Anna himself, there were actors N.S. Krishnan, K.R. Ramasamy, D.V. Narayanaswamy, Sivaji Ganesan, S.S. Rajendran (Narayanaswamy’s brother in law), music director-playback singer Chidambaram S. Jayaraman (Karunanidhi’s brother in law), lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi, scriptwriter-lyricist M. Karunanidhi, lyricist-script writer Kannadasan and script writer-producer Murasoli Maran (Karunanidhi’s nephew) as well. The death of S.S. Rajendran (SSR) on October 24 at the age of 86, closes one chapter among the DMK’s ‘heavies’ of that era. This death leaves Karunanidhi alone, as the ‘last man standing’!
Difference between Madras and Bombay movies of 1950s
During the 1950s, there were two big differences between the movies produced in Madras and Bombay. First, Hindi movies produced in Bombay, in the spirit of newly independent India, the call was for unity and nation-building. Contrastingly, due to the influence of DMK’s then secessionist principle and its major players in the drama-movie world, Tamil movies promoted separate state idea for Tamils, and the separate culture of Northern Aryans and Southern Dravidians. Secondly, Muslims played a major role Hindi movies as actors (carrying masked Hindu stage names), play back singers, lyricists, music directors and directors. But, in Tamil movies, Muslims couldn’t gain a prominent strong hold. In 1950s, among the Muslims who shined in the Hindi movies the following deserve mention. Actors: Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan), Madhubala (Begum Mumtaz Jehan), Nargis (Fatima Rashid), Waheeda Rehman; Playback singer: Mohammed Rafi; Music director: Naushad Ali; Director: Mehboob (Ramjan Khan); Lyricist-director: Kamal Amrohi (Syed Amir Haider Kamal).
In the Tamil movies, there was one hero with Muslim name – G.M. Basheer. He couldn’t rise to the top rank. Another actor with a Muslim name, M.K. Mustapha, was in MGR’s drama troupe. Though he acted in a few Tamil movies, he couldn’t elevate himself as a top rank hero. Susequently, there was a stunt Muslim actor C.L. Anandan (as a masked name) who became a ‘hit’ for a few movies, but faded soon. Lyricist Ka. Mu. Sheriff, was the only one Muslim who was able gain distinct name recognition in 1950s. There was one music director with the name T.M. Ibrahim, who scored for a few Tamil movies. In his autobiography, MGR mentions briefly about this Ibrahim (as one “who is younger to me by one or two years”), who later became a music director, though he was more interested in acting and singing. Why Muslims couldn’t make it to the top in Tamil movies deserves an in-depth study. Not that, Hindu parochialism ruled the roost in Tamil Nadu. Afterall, DMK preached atheism and anti-Brahmin sentiments in 1950s.
Leading Heroes of Tamil Movies in 1950s
In chronological order of birth, the leading heroes of Tamil movies in 1950s were as follows: K.R. Ramasamy(1914-1971)–singer/actor, MGR (1917-1987), T.R. Ramachandran (1917?-1990), Gemini Ganesan (1920-2005), T.R. Mahalingam (1923-1978) – singer/actor, SSR (1928-2014), and Sivaji Ganesan (1928-2001). Comedian actor N.S. Krishan (1909-1957) should also be added to this list as a senior contemporary. Among these, five other than T.R. Ramachandran, Gemini Ganesan and T.R. Mahalingam were affiliated with DMK. Among the eight, K.R. Ramasamy, T.R. Mahalingam and N.S. Krishnan belonged to the old school of singer-actor category, and their opportunities waned in the late 1950s, with the rise of triumvirates of Tamil movies (MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan). N.S. Krishnan became an alcoholic and died prematurely in 1957. SSR held on his own, for his polished Tamil dialogue delivery style and occasionally appearing with Sivaji Ganesan, in movies. SSR also appeared with MGR in two costume-adventure movies, Raja Desingu (King Desingu, 1960) and Kaanchi Thalaivan (Leader of Kanchi, 1963).
Brief Chronology of Political and Cinema Activities of DMK Members (1954-59)
To summarize the activities of MGR’s contemporaries, I provide the following chronology, based on the sources (Film News Anandan, Kannan, Kannadasan, Karunanidhi and Sivaji Ganesan) cited at the end.
1954 March 3: release of Manohara (Manohara) movie, starring Sivaji Ganesan and SSR, scripted by Karunanidhi. A big success in box office.
1954 April 9: release of Illara Jothi (Light of Domesticity) movie, starring Sivaji Ganesan and scripted/lyrics by Kannadasan. A box office failure.
1954 May 25: release of Sorga Vasal (Heaven’s Gate) movie, starring K.R. Ramasamy and scripted by Anna. Moderately received, due to bad mauling by censors.
1954 June 22: First release of Kannadasan’s journal Thenral.
1954 July 22: release of Malai Kallan (Mountain Thief) movie, starring MGR and scripted by Karunanidhi. A big box office success.
1954 July 30: release of Thuli Vizham (Poison Drop) movie, starring K.R. Ramasamy (hero) and Sivaji Ganesan (villain), scripted and directed by A.S.A. Samy.
1954 Aug. 26: release of Koondu Kili (Caged Parrot) movie, starring MGR and Sivaji Ganesan. A box-office failure.
1954 October 15: release of Rathak Kanneer (Blood Tears) movie, starring M.R. Radha and SSR, with Chidambaram Jayaraman as music director. A big success
1955 July 29: release of Gul e Baghavali (Gul e Baghavali) movie, starring MGR. a big success.
1956 January 14: release of Alibabavum 40 Thirudarkalum (Alibaba and 40 Thieves) movie. The first Tamil movie to be produced in color (Geva). A big success.
1956 April 13: release of Madurai Veeran (Hero of Madurai) movie, starring MGR. A big successful movie for MGR, in which the hero character dies at the end!
1956 September 4: release of Thaiku Pin Thaaram (Wife after Mother) movie, starring MGR. The first successful movie in a social theme for MGR. A big success.
1956 November: Tamilnadu suffered from disruptive cyclone damage. DMK launced a fund drive to support victims. Sivaji Ganesan also became a victim of sibling rivalry and discord in receiving deserved recognition. The instigator of such a design, was not identified by him openly, but he hints Karunanidhi.
1957 March 31: Madras State Assembly election. DMK candidates contested for the first time, under Independent label. While Karunanidhi won at Kulithalai constituency, SSR and Kannadasan lost in their respective constituencies Theni and Thirukoshtiyur.
1957: Sivaji Ganesan sidelined from DMK and dissociate himself from the party, after a visit to Tirupathi temple. MGR receives prominent treatment. Kannadasan openly attacks Sivaji Ganesan, in his journal Thenral.
1957 August 30: death of comedian actor and senior contemporary N.S. Krishnan.
1957 December 9: Prime Minister Nehru delivers a speech at Tiruchirapalli that he was ready even for a war against secessionist tendencies promoted by DMK.
1958 January 6: Black Flag protest to prime minister Nehru during his visit to Madras. MGR detained at Madras jail with SSR.
1958 February 22-23: DMK’s regional conference held at Deva Kottai at Ramanathapuram district. Opening address delivered by SSR. Karunanidhi scripted drama ‘Rising Sun’ staged for the first time.
1958 March 1: DMK receives ‘Rising Sun’ as its official symbol from the Election Commission.
1958 June 27: release of Malai idda Mangai (A Virgin, who garlanded) movie, starring T.R. Mahalingam; produced by Kannadasan. Success in box office, but not for Kannadasan!
1958 August 22: release of Nadodi Mannan (Vagabond King) movie, the first movie under ‘MGR Pictures’ banner. A big success in box office.
1959 January: DMK wins prominently at the Madras municipal council elections. DMK candidates won 45 seats (compared to Congress Party candidates winning 37 seats) for 100 seat assembly. Subsequently A.P. Arasu of DMK was elected as the mayor of Madras city. At the felicitation meeting held, Kannadasan was disillusioned with the recognition Karunanidhi received from the hands of Anna.
1959 February: At the general council meeting of DMK held in Puthukottai, E.V.K. Sampath (then ranked no. 2 in DMK hierarchy) accused Anna and Nedunchezhiyan for not spreading the party message to other three (Andhra, Kannada and Kerala) states.
1959 May 6: release of Veera Pandiya Kattabomman (Heroic Pandiya Kattabomman) movie, starring Sivaji Ganesan in the title role. A big success in box office.
1959 May 19: release of Sivagankai Seemai (Distant land of Sivagankai) movie, starring SSR, produced by Kannadasan; failure in box office.
1959 June 16: Left leg injury to MGR at the drama stage in Sirkazhi.
In early 1950s, DMK was promoted in prose, poetry and stage as a ‘party of siblings’, following the leadership of leader Annadurai; a play on the leader’s personal name ‘Anna’ which means elder brother. As the above chronological synopsis indicates, generativity of DMK-affiliated artistes was unquestionable. But, such generativity also generated rivalry, jealousy and distrust among the participants. As a consequence, siblicide became a factor in eliminating weaklings.
Luckily, one can rely on the autobiographies of four principals – Kannadasan, MGR, Karunanidhi and Sivaji Ganesan – to learn about the inner currents which prevailed then. I have listed the four names in the chronological order they had recorded their versions. Truth has many shades, and one can infer what really happened by comparing notes. Reading these four autiobiographies, one finds that MGR had not mentioned about the friction he had with Sivaji Ganesan, which led to latter leaving DMK fold in 1957. Not only MGR, even Karunanidhi (in his volume 1, which covers his life up to 1968) and Kannadasan do not mention this conflict with Sivaji Ganesan. In a subsequent volume, Karunanidhi had implied that it was MGR who worked ‘behind’ actively to push Sivaji Ganesan out of DMK.
Sivaji Ganesan’s Gripe
I present Sivaji Ganesan’s version of truth, as he reminisced to his interviewer before his death.
“…in 1956, the mother of all storms hit Tamil Nadu and disrupted normal life for many persons. Arignar Anna appealed to all of us to raise funds for flood relief. I raised funds in my individual capacity. I spoke the Parasakthi dialogue in Virudhunagar and collected the money that was placed on the cloth that I spread out for this purpose. The first to donate was a man from the Nadar community. I handed over the collections to the party and left for Salem for a shoot. Anna was conducting a function to felicitate the person who raised the maximum collection…I waited at home presuming that someone would telephone or invite me personally for the function but there was no communication. The function took place at six in the evening and for the first time MGR was called on stage and honoured. Such irony! It was I who had collected maximum funds, but the honour went to MGR. Anna had apparently asked the party workers why I was not present and he was told that I was unable to make it! Some elements hovering around Anna wanted to send me away from him. Kalignar [i.e., Karunanidhi] was also present. We were so close, yet he was unable to insist that I be invited. Well! What could he do?
No one acknowledged my presence a fact which unsettled me. I had always been patient, and impervious to all insults but this incident drove me crazy. I had been part of this movement from the time I was very young, and without warning, I was dismissed as someone of no consequence and my anna MGR, admitted instead. He was not in the least bit connected with this movement at that point. They did this just to sideline me. This is the truth and I swear by it. Many were aware of these facts but for reasons best known to them kept the truth under wraps. I wish to disclose everything. This autobiography is like my last will, so I do not wish that anything be hidden.”
In Sivaji Ganesan’s version, both MGR and Karunanidhi were mentioned. But, he had noted, MGR “was not in the least bit connected with this movement at that point.” That more or less leaves Karunanidhi as the plotter in this episode. There are two more issues which deserve consideration. First, Sivaji Ganesan’s autobiography also indicates that he “have never been a member of the DMK…I accepted the principles for which the party stood, but did not become a member.” May be, giving the benefit of doubt to Karunanidhi, (as Sivaji Ganesan had remained outside the party membership since Dec. 1949), MGR who had joined DMK and become a member in 1953, it could be argued that Sivaji Ganesan was eliminated from consideration on a technical point! Secondly, as indicated in the chronological synopsis above, MGR’s three released movies of 1956 had box office success. It could be that he might have donated more funds ‘silently’ to the party coffers without any publicity, as his philanthropy came to be recognized later, even by his enemies. Thus, MGR’s contributions came to be publicly acknowledged. One also finds it difficult to accept, that this particular insult of not receiving due recognition made Sivaji Ganesan so bitter with DMK hierarchy. After all, he was not a stranger to such insults in the cut-throat world of Tamil cinema, before the success of his debut movie Parasakthi in 1952. It is on record that notable producers of that era like A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar, S.S. Vasan, director P. Neelakandan and cameraman Jeeva had ‘insulted’ him with words such as one with ‘horse face and fish mouth’!
Kannadasan did have serious sibling rivalry with Karunanidhi, since 1951. In his autobiography, Kannadasan had noted a few. He mentions that, in 1951 when he married second time (while his first wife, married in 1950, was alive), Karunanidhi had criticized him strongly, even though it was his personal affair. Karunanidhi also ordered him not to participate in the party conference. Kannadasan also mentions that in 1954, when the movie Illara Jothi starring Sivaji Ganesan was released, to which he had written the script, Karunanidhi had mixed ‘a little poison’ about him in his own journal, that a segment to that particular movie was scripted by himself (i.e, Karunanidhi). To this mischief, Kannadasan had mentioned that he delivered a zinger, comparing Karunanidhi to Shakespeare, with a caption ‘Shakespeare gained fame by stealing’! This was after he (Kannadasan) had learnt that even Shakespeare’s play plots were not original. Kannadasan mentioned that in those days, there was a common belief that the writings of Karunanidhi were not his own!
In the 1957 elections to the Madras Legislative Assembly, both SSR and Kannadasan lost. DMK didn’t receive official party recognition then. The election records show, Kannadasan came third, contesting Tirukoshtiyur (constituency 99) as an Independent. He received 9,389 votes (20.15% votes polled), against the victor N.V. Chockalingam’s (Congress Party) 20,611 votes (44.2% votes polled). In between these two, was the Communist Party candidate S. Shanmugam who polled 11,533 votes (24.75% votes polled). For this loss, Kannadasan blames his political naivete. Comparatively, SSR performed better, contesting Theni (constituency 134) as an Independent. He received 31,404 votes (21.9% polled) against the victor N. R. Thiagarajan (Congress Party) 38,185 votes (26.6%). In his autobiography, Karunanidhi had mentioned that the lack of a party symbol was a hindrance for the DMK candidates in that election. As ‘rising sun’ was an independent symbols, in some constituencies other Independent candidates not belonging to DMK had the same ‘rising sun’ symbol. Thus, it was difficult to ask for vote for the ‘rising sun’ symbol in some constituencies, and in other constituency (especially Salem, where DMK leader Nedunchezhiyan contested) another symbol had to be pleaded for voters. In that Salem constituency, Nedunchezhiyan contested under rooster symbol, as another independent candidate had received the ‘rising sun’ symbol.
To contest this 1957 election, Kannadasan had mentioned that he received a loan for 3,000 rupees. To retrieve this sum, he attempted to make a movie, having MGR in the hero role.
In his autobiography, Kannadasan adopted an unusal style, of referring himself in third person singular (he). Thus, depending on the context, in the translation of Kannadasan’s story, ‘he’ appears to reflect himself (Kannadasan) and his acquaintances as well. To quote, “He wrote a story entitled, ‘Oomaiyan Kottai’ [Fort of a Dumb Man]. One well known actor of the party was his close friend. [note by Sachi: Kannadasan do not mention MGR by name; but it was an open secret.] It was wrong to belief that he (MGR) was also a friend in day job; because of friendship, he had made contract with him. Because both were friends, another friend was willing to finance. He talked that ‘he would finish this movie, like that of his own’. But after two months, 62,000 rupees had been spent. The actor didn’t offer call sheets. He didn’t even talk to one’s face. The movie stopped abruptly. The financier lost trust, and he filed a case.”
Kannadasan continued his story further. I translate his story here, because he had provided real numbers for movie production costs during that period. “It was January 5th. The next morning, would be January 6th . On that day, DMK had planned to make Black Flag protest to Nehru. The news reached in Tiruchi on 5th that many had been arrested. He had received money and car. He feared that if he reach Chennai, he also would be arrested. He feared that those who lent money would distrust him. As such, rather than going to Chennai, he reached Bangalore. Only after the Black Flag protest events, he returned to Chennai. He wrote a poem about Black Flag protest, and escaped from the ‘sin’ of not participating in such a protest.
He had written a story based on Sarath Chandra’s ‘Chandranath’ and titled it as ‘Maalai idda Mangai’ (A Virgin, who garlanded). With 17 songs, he produced as a movie. It was over within three months. It brought him success. But, as he had sold the rights to another guy, all the profit moved to him. Then, he produced a movie with the title ‘Sivagankai Seemai’ (Distant land of Sivagankai). [note by Sachi: The hero of this movie was SSR] There was pro and con debate during the production of this movie. He produced it, in confrontation with another movie [note by Sachi: That movie was Veera Pandiya Katta bomman, with Sivaji Ganesan in title role. There was bad blood between Sivaji Ganesan and Kannadasan then.] Though that movie was of some quality, it flopped in box office, relatively to its competing movie. Credit had increased from 62,000 (rupees) to 150,000 (rupees).”
After describing his conflict and disatisfaction with Anna and Karunanidhi on how his efforts were ignored, following the 1959 Madras municipal council elections, Kannadasan had described his troubles as a third time producer. To quote, “Rather than the disgusting thing Annadurai did to him, what he did to himself was more disgusting! He produced his third movie, entitled, ‘Kavalai Illatha Manithan’ [A Man without any Troubles], as a shareholder. Uncomfortable mind. Couldn’t think seriously without worries. Situation was that one had to produce a movie in borrowed money. His partner would sign carelessly without checking what’s on the paper. Under these circumstances, he thought of something, but wrote another thing and produced it as a movie. All he had done for that movie was wrong. Troublesome story. Miscasting of actors…With all these complications, when the movie was released in September 1960, he became credit unworthy. He had lost, 590,000 rupees, in those days. Later, with interest, the amoung ballooned to 700,000 rupees.”
In sum, Kannadasan had antagonized Karunanidhi, Sivaji Ganesan and was not in good terms with MGR in late 1960s. Though I don’t have documents in my hand, I have read that singer-actor K.R. Ramasamy (who was a favorite of Anna, and senior to Karunanidhi by 10 years) was also sidelined in 1950s due to his conflict with Karunanidhi. Here is a tally, in which Karunanidhi had a dubious hand. Sivaji Ganesan quit his affiliation with DMK in 1957; K. R. Ramasamy was sidelined in DMK during late 1950s; Kannadasan quite DMK in 1961; SSR was sidelined in DMK during late 1960s; MGR was thrown out of DMK in 1972.
MGR and SSR in detention in January 1958
In his autobiography, MGR had described briefly about the time he spent in detention about that Black Flag protest event, which Kannadasan had deliberately avoided. Excerpts:
“That particular Black Flag demonstration was decided to criticize because [Nehru] had insulted Periyar’s [talk] as nonsense, and not for accepting the wishes of Tamilnadu people. Because, that demonstration was not directly decisive to nation’s welfare, artistes, lawyers and students were exempted from that protest. I returned home from shooting after midnight 12 o’ clock, and took notes for the next day’s shooting and went to bed around 2 am. I thought, I was being waked for next day’s shooting. Then only, I realized that it was the police personnel.
I asked him: ‘Where is thamby SSR? Where is Mr. KRR? Are you taking me to the place where they are? If so, I’m happy. ”[Initials KRR refers to actor K.R. Ramasamy.] I was greeted with silence. I was taken to Mylapore police station. The officer there asked me to sit in a bench, and took care of his work. Not a word with me.
After a while, thamby SSR also arrived. Like me, he also had asked the same questions. “Where are Mr. KRR and MGR?”
Mr. K.Subramaniam, late director and one who treated me like his elder son, worried much and talked with Mr. Bakthavatsalam [then a cabinet minister in Kamaraj ministry] to release artistes like us. We received a message that we had to express our apology for participating in Black Flag protest and hereafter we’ll not take part in such a protest. We had informed that we cannot offer such apology. We also received again a message, that if our nearest kin can offer such an apology, it would suffice. Though we wished to contact our nearest kin, we couldn’t contact them. Somehow, we were released next day afternoon.”
Nehru’s Firm Hand
M.J. Akbar, one of Nehru’s biographer, noted that in late 1950s, Nehru’s firmness on the question of Indian unity strengthened with time. Thus, by guile, Nehru deflated the separatists raising their heads in Kashmir (leader was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah), Nagaland (leader was Zapu Phizo) and the then Madras state (leader Annadurai). As far as DMK was concerned, Nehru was lucky in that he had Congress Party (then led by K. Kamaraj) in power. Karunanidhi’s ambition to raise himself to the top after Anna’s demise notwithstanding, in hindsight, one may wonder whether a couple of bureaucratic officials in alliance with the Congress Party in power manipulated defections of E.V.K. Sampath and Kannadasan from DMK in 1961. Why I pose this question is because, Karunanidhi himself had alluded to such ‘soft blackmailing’ by Central government’s tax officials dancing according to the whims of Indira Gandhi, in pulling MGR out of DMK in 1972. Creating friction between number One and number Two of rival parties has remained a time-tested Chanakiyan or Machiavallian strategy of political enemies. To the best of my knowledge, positive evidence for such a defection to deflate secessionist tendencies in Tamil Nadu has not been offered, but M.J. Akbar alludes to such Nehruvian guile in the cases of Nagaland and Kashmir. Two specific facts do provide meager support to the ‘soft blackmail’ theory. First, Sambath was one of the two DMK MPs elected in 1957. Thus, Central government officials might have had easy access to him at New Delhi. Secondly, after leaving DMK in 1961, Sambath in association with Kannadasan, floated a short-lived Tamil National Party (TNP) for a while, but merged his party with the Congress Party within a few years.
M.J. Akbar: Nehru – The Making of India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1989.
Film News Anandan: Sadhanaigal Padaitha Thamizhthiraipada Varalaru [Tamil Film History and its Achievements], Sivagami Publications, Chennai, 2004. (in Tamil)
Robert L. Hardgrave Jr: The DMK and the politics of Tamil Nationalism. Pacific Affairs, winter 1964-65; 37(4): 396-411.
Kannadasan: Vanavaasam [Forest Living], Vanathi Pathippagam, Chennai, 12th edition 1991 (originally published 1965). (in Tamil)
- Kannan: Anna – The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2010.
- Karunanidhi: Nejunkku Neethi [Justice for the Heart], vol.1, Thirumakal Pathippagam, Chennai, 2nd edition, 1985 (originally published 1975). (in Tamil).
Sheila J. Nayar: The values of fantasy – Indian popular cinema through Western scripts. Journal of Popular Culture, 1997; 31(1): 73-90.
Jacob Pandian: Re-Ethnogenesis – The quest for a Dravidian identity among the Tamils of India. Anthropos, 1998; 93: 545-552.
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen?(Why I was Born?) – autobiography, part 1, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, pp. 478-479.
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen?(Why I was Born?) – autobiography, part 2, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, pp.1180-1182.
Sivaji Ganesan: Autobiography of an Actor, Sivaji-Prabhu Charities Trust, Chennai, 2007.