70th Anniversary Remembrance
by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 16, 2022
The iconic Tamil movie ‘Parasakthi’, based on a stage play by Pavalar M.S. Balasundaram, and scripted by Muthuvel Karunanidhi (1924-2018), then a 28 year old DMK party activist, opened in Tamil Nadu cinema theaters as a Deepavali release on October 17, 1952. In this 70th anniversary essay, I revisit its impact on Tamil culture and politics. The movie’s iconic status was buttressed by the fact that it was the debut movie for Viluppuram Chinnaiah Ganesamoorthy (aka, Sivaji Ganesan, 1928-2001), then aged 24.
For a comparison, I can state that ‘Parasakthi’ (1952) was to Tamil cinema what ‘Casablanca’ (1942) wasto Hollywood cinema; both, joined with a common thread – ‘Idealism cloaked as cynicism’. A difference to be noted is that Parasakthi was not a romantic love story like that of Casablanca’s Ric Blaine and Ilsa Lund; but a sibling love story spinning the lives of three brothers and their younger sister. A similarity between Parasakthi and Casablanca was that the heroines in both movies were not played by natives of the portrayed culture. While the role of Ilsa, Casablanca movie’s heroine was played by Ingrid Bergman (Swedish-German parentage), Parasakthi’s heroine Kalyani’s role was played by Sriranjani Jr. (a Telugu native). Even, Parasakthi’s second heroine Vimala’s role was played by Pandaribai (a Kannada native). One coincidence: Casablanca was released in 1942. The plot for Parasakthi was also set in 1942, with Tamil Nadu (India) and Burma as the focal spots. Both movies are in black and white. While the running time of Casablanca was a little less than 100 min, Parasakthi’s running time was 188 min – typical for a Tamil movieqqq2qx34445.
While it took less than three months (between May 1942 and Aug 3, 1942) to complete the shooting of the Casablanca movie, Parasakthi was in production for two years, from 1950 to 1952. This was primarily due to objections and doubts raised by co-producer of the movie A.V. Meiyappa Chettiar (1907-1979) and sound engineers, on having an untested ‘new face’, Ganesan, as the hero. [see below, for Ganesan’s impressions on this.]. In addition, there were changes in the personnel in handling the direction and script writing for the movie. Originally assigned director A.S.A. Samy (1915-1998) was replaced by director duo R. Krishnan (1909-1997) -S. Panju/Panjabi (1915-1984). DMK activist M. Karunanidhi was brought into the team, as a script writer to replace the originally signed Tiruvaroor K. Tangarasu (1927-2014), a Dravida Kazhagam (DK) activist.
Previously, sociologist and DMK observer, Dr. M.S.S, Pandian had authored an essay on ‘Parasakthi’s influence in Tamil Nadu politics, and opposition to the movie that led to the demand of banning it, after it’s release. It contained 37 ‘notes’ at the end. Pandian concluded his essay with the thoughts, “Parasakthi stood in 1952 as a sign of the coming days of a parliamentary Dravidian movement. While the film still carried some of the radical tendencies found in the early Dravidian movement, it was at once a signboard in the historical course of the Dravidian movement, pointing to the consensual politics the DMK was destined to play in Tamil Nadu.”
Unlike Pandian’s angle, in this retrospective essay, I focus on ‘Parasakthi’, the movie itself.
Story Plot of Parasakthi [reproduced from ‘Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema’]
The original play, scripted by M.S. Balasundaram, has been acted on stage.
“Ganesan’s debut in a classic DMK film scripted in line with party policies by the future chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Three brothers, based in Rangoon, go home to Madurai when their youngest sister is to be married. WW2 is declared and the brothers are separated, the eldest, Chandrasekharan (Sahasranamam) becoming a judge, the second, Gnanasekharan (Rajendran), a representative of the beggars’ community. Gunasekharan (Ganesan) arrives home to find their father dead and his newly married sister Kalyani (Sriranjani) widowed and homeless. Concealing his identity, he looks after her like a guardian. In the film’s dramatic as well as political highlight, he wounds a villainous priest who tries to rape Kalyani in the deity Parasakthi’s temple. Signficantly, for the DMK’s anti-religious stance, the hero first pretends to be the temple deity and then reveals it to be just a piece of stone. Gunasekharan’s girlfriend Vimala (Pandharibai) represents, with her politically activist brother, the voice of the DMK, esp. that of its chief Annadurai. When she isn’t lecturing Gunasekharan on Annadurai’s works, she goes boating in the river, thus finding herself well placed to rescue Kalyani’s child thrown into the river by its mother (recalling the legend of Nallathangal who threw her seven children into a well). Kalyani, accused of infanticide, comes to trial, in a classic DMK formula, before her eldest brother, the judge. When she tells her story, the brother recognizes her and has a heart attack. Gunasekharan, accused of the priest’s murder, gets his turn in court to make a speech. This is probably one of the most elaborately plotted melodramas in the Indian cinema and glorifies the Dravidian heritage, contrasted with the ‘pitiable’ state of contemporary Tamil Nadu. The film advocates (e.g. when Gunasekharan is robbed by s vamp with elitist views on the cinema played by Kannamma) traditional kinship relations while castigating caste discrimination, the Brahmin class, superstition and WW2 black marketeering. Almost banned, heavily censored for the temple scene, it was a spectacular commercial hit. Ganesan became the dominant icon of the DMK, replacing K. R. Ramasamy who had achieved that status through Annadurai’s film, Velaikkari (1949).”
The lead players in the Movie
Sivaji Ganesan (1928-2001) – as Gunasekharan
S.V.Sahasranamam (1913-1988) – as Chandrasekharan
S.S. Rajendran (1928-2014) – as Gnanasekharan
V.K. Ramasamy (1926-2002) – as Narayana Pillai
K.P. Kamakshisundaram (? – 1955) – as poojari (temple priest)
T.K. Ramachandran (? – 1993) – as Venu
D.V. Narayanasami – as Thambidurai
Duraisami – as Manickam Pillai
Venkatraman – as Thangappan
M.N. Krishnan – as Kuppan (Karuppan)
V.K.Kartigeyan – as Tamil pundit
Sakthivel – as the servant
Kannadasan (uncredited) – as the judge
Sriranjani Jr (1927-1974) – as Kalyani
Pandaribai (1930-2003) – as Vimala
K.S. Angamuthu (1914-1994) – as fruit vendor
T.P. Muthulakshmi (1931-2008) – as Kantha
Susheela – as Saraswathi
Kannamma – as Jolly
A.S.Jaya – as Parvathi
T.D. Kusalakumari (1937-2019) – as Bharathanatyam dancer
Kumari Kamala (b. 1934) – as vamp dancer.
Pre-production story of Parasakthi and En Thangai [rivalry between Sivaji Ganesan and MGR]
I provide below a translation of the pre-production story of two movies, Parasakthi (Goddess Parasakthi, with Sivaji Ganesan) and En Thangai (My Sister, with MGR), released in 1952, as told by Tamil film historian Aranthai Narayanan.
“In the Parasakthi story, brother Gunasekharan suffers various indignities on behalf of his sister. While this movie was in production, another movie was also in production simultaneously. It was ‘En Thangai’.
To preside the drama ‘En Thangai’ staged in Dindigul by K.N. Ratnam, A.S.A. Samy went, at the request of the play’s author T.S. Natarajan. The actor who played the role attracted the attention of Samy. After he returned from Dindigul, he talked with the Jupiter Picture’s boss Somu, about the play and the actor. Then, Somu had asked Samy to make the En Thangai play into a movie and direct it. As Samy was involved with three movies for Jupiters, he had suggested another director to take over Somu’s request. This director went to see the drama in Dindigul, and it was not to his liking.
Few months later, P.A. Perumal, the boss of National Pictures requested Samy to write the movie script for the Parasakthi. As there was similarities between the story lines of En Thangai and Parasakthi, based on the sister of hero, Samy’s thoughts went along the lines of combining both story plots. Then, Perumal and Samy went to Tiruchi, to see the ‘En Thangai’ drama. The next day, both met the drama’s author T.S. Nadarajan, at the house of Aru Ramanathan, the editor of ‘Kathal’ magazine. Nadarajan did not agree to combine the stories of both En Thangai and Parasakthi.
On hearing the news that, Parasakthi movie is being produced by Perumal, in collaboration with AVM, with the hero of En Thangai drama, Asoka Pictures bought the rights for ‘En Thangai’ drama and began producing it as a movie. They arranged for M.G. Ramachandran to play the role Sivaji Ganesan did for the drama. Pathos of pathos. Brother Rajendran lives for his sister who had lost her sight. The sister, not to be a burden to his brother commits suicide. Finally, Rajendran carrying the corpse of his sister also drowns himself in the sea.
Asoka Pictures released their ‘En Thangai’ movie before Parasakthi’s release, on May 31, 1952. M.G. Ramachandran played the role of brother, and E.V Saroja played the role of sight-challenged sister. Other players were, Narasimha Bharathi, P.S. Govindan, Madhuri Devi, M.G. Chakrapani, C.S. Pandian and M.N. Rajam. It was directed by C.H. Narayanamoorthy.”
Sivaji Ganesan’s Impressions on his debut movie
In his posthumously published 2007 memoir, Sivaji Ganesan had reminisced his Parasakthi memories and the film industry personnel who were against his entry and a few who stood by him, as follows:
“The Devi Nataka Sabha was staging a play called Parasakti. It was the work of Pavalar Balasundaram. The role of Kalyani (the heroine of the play) was played by a boy, Veerasamy. It featured many good artistes like Samikannu and others and was a major commercial success.
My boss, P.A. Perumal, was a distributor for many of the movies produced under the AVM banner. Even today he owns a theatre called National Talkies in Vellore. Perumal wanted to make a film out of the play Parasakti. He approached the AVM Company and secured a partnership with them to produce the film. They procured the rights of the script from Pavalar and looked around for a new face for the lead role.
It was at this time that Perumal Mudaliyar recollected my performances, which he had seen at Vellore. At that point of time, we were staging plays at Periyakulam and later shifted to Trichy where I was invited to act in the film Parasakti. A.S.A. Swamy, the writer and director, was commissioned to direct the film. The producers had sent him to Trichy to assess my suitability for the role. A.S.A.Swamy noticed my performance on stage and whisked me away to Madras the very next day.
The AVM studios conducted screen tests on me. Thiruvaroor Thangarajan did the screenplay for this film and not Pavalar as expected. I met Tiruvaroor Thangarajan long after I came to Chennai although I was acquainted with him right from my early theatre days.
There were strategic shifts made by the producers. Instead of A.S.A.Swamy they commissioned directors Krishnan and Panju, and for the dialogue writing, their choice was M. Karunanidhi in place of Thiruvaroor Thangaraju. I am not in a position to detail the circumstances that led to these changes.
During my first voice test, I was asked to say the word, ‘success’, which I said. It was a time when sound engineers dominated the studios and were considered almost on part with directors. At times they bossed even the respected A.V. Meyappa Chettiar. One of them went up to Krishnan-Panju and joked, ‘What’s this! This new boy is saying ‘sadat, sadat’.”
He was criticizing the way I pronounced the word ‘success’. Imagine my humiliation! I had been a king in theatre. Whether I had enough to eat or not, and no matter what difficulties I faced, I played the lead male roles. Here they were finding fault with every single word I said. When I began delivering the dialogues I was not aware of how time flew. Another sound engineer commented that the new boy was opening his mouth like a fish whilst speaking. This is because they were unaware of my talent and accomplishments. They were old times who were used to shooting films with ten to twenty songs and very little dialogue.
Who go so far? Forget about the sound engineers and directors. Even A.V. Meyappa Chettiar, who was a genius in the cinema industry and who has created thousands of people like me, commented, ‘Why are you people conducting an acid test? Why don’t you all just engage a well known actor like K.R. Ramasamy or T.R. Mahalingam and complete the project?’ I am not saying this to accuse anyone, but merely recounting the truth which relating my life story.
My role in Parasakti was an unconventional and demanding one. I was working ver hard to live up to expectations in acting and dialogue delivery. People like T.R. Mahalingam and K.R. Ramasamy were accomplished singers and that is probably why AVM might have made that statement. The same person while shooting the film ‘Andha Naal’ years later, said, ‘Why are you people conducting an acid test trying to engage someone else? Just shoot the film with Sivaji.’ AVM Chettiar has admitted this is in his autobiography and I quote, ‘While making the film Parasakti, I was not aware of Sivaji Ganesan’s potential as an actor. That is why I made such a statement. Now I understand his capacity.’ This is an example of his graciousness.
During the Parasakti shoot, everyone teased me when I came into the studio. In those days people worked in the privacy of separate rooms. There were many people on the sets. There were a few people around the director and other sycophants around the producer. One man would say, ‘This boy is so thin. Will he be suitable for cinema?’ Another man would ask, ‘Why has Perumal Mudaliar selected this boy with a horse-like face? Will he be suitable?’ If I put on just a little weight, they would remark that I had become fat. ‘Will he be suitable?’ was their favorite chant. Thus, the people around the producer always raised doubts and sounded alarm bells to influence the producer’s decisions to remove me from the film.
If I went out to watch a film they would complain to Krishnan-Panju, ‘This boy is roaming around the town. Will he remain focused to do a good job in the film?’ When I heard these comments, I used to burst into tears. I used to literally sob my heart out. You could say that the neem trees at the AVM studios were watered by my tears. I faced untold difficulties during my maiden venture.
One day when I was crying I felt the touch of a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see director Krishnan (the senior of the two): ‘Are you getting worried Ganesa?’ he asked. At that point I was not addressed as Sivaji Ganesan, simply Ganesan. Although I had received the title Sivaji Ganesan from Periyar years ago, my name appeared as plain Ganesan in the film’s title cards. [note by Sachi: I guess, Sivaji Ganesan’s memory had lapsed here. In the Parasakthi movie’s title credits, his name indeed appears as Sivaji Ganesan.] ‘Don’t worry Ganesa. This is an acid test for new entrants,’ he said in order to mollify me.
‘It will be difficult in the beginning. Just work and act well in this film and you will be successful. In future you will find that cinema companies will be after you.’ said director Krishnan. His prediction came true.
I concluded that the age of a person did not decide their greatness. The people who are magnanimous and wish others well are really the greats who have to be venerated. One such venerable person is annan Krishnan. The film, Parasakti, took two years to complete, and my co-stars in the film were S.V. Sahasranamam, S.S. Rajendran, V.K. Ramasamy, Pandaribai and Ranjani.
After heaping all this humiliation on me, they tried to compel P.A.P. to find a substitute for me and tried their best to oust me. P.A.P., whom I revere as God, had the foresight to remain unyielding to these demands. ‘Whatever happens, we need to finish the project only with Ganesan.’ he said firmly. It was his steadfast faith in my potential that boosted my career as an actor. It was his confidence that gave me a hold in the industry. I was commissioned to act in the film Parasakti in the year 1950 and the film was released in 1952….P.A.Perumal had started another film project – Ratha Kanneer – and this delayed the release of Parasakti by six months.
The highest salary I got those days was two hundred and fifty rupees per month. This was my remuneration for Parasakti.’…Parasakti was the first film where ideas like widow remarriage, uprooting evils of society, national spirit and the like were addressed.
In those days the censors were very stringent with the rules whereas now the Board has eased them. The Censor Board, at that time, did not want the film to be released and there were many additional members on the board to scrutinise the film. Stalin Srinivasan served as a member of the Censor Board. He was a very strict man and was referred to as Bombay Tamizhan. He watched every frame vigilantly. Somehow the AVM people managed to release the film. Even after its release it was rumoured that the film was going to be banned. This rumour served as publicity for the film and the film became a major box office success. Parasakti turned the people’s attention to social fiery dialogue. As far as I am concerned, goddess Parasakti directed my success as a cinema artiste.”
Script writer Karunanidhi’s Impressions on criticism by Congress Folks
In the first volume of his autobiography, Karunanidhi had reminished his feeling in early 1953, as follows: “When the ‘Parasakthi’ which I had scripted was creating a revolution in Tamil Nadu by running over 100 days, Dinamani Kathir journal had published a very long criticism of the movie, that was no less than ten pages. In it, I was attacked line by line. The Congress Party conducted many meetings criticizing me and the Parasakthi movie. Also, the cover of the journal carried a cartoon of a woman with ruffled clothes, to ridicule ‘Parasakthi’. The title of this cartoon was ‘parabhramam’. And below that, it was written: ‘story: Vasavu Dayanithi’.
I was not upset with this criticism. What I did was, I wrote a drama script with the same title ‘Parabhramam’ of that cartoon and we staged it many villages as a propaganda ploy for our party.”
The word ‘parabhramam’ is a derisive usage common in Tamil Brahmin community to tag someone as ‘an all knowing idiot’. And, as one could read – ‘Vasavu Dayanithi’ is a play on Karunanidhi’s name, with ‘abuse’ (vasavu) as a prefix. That Karunanidhi’s second wife’s name is Dayalu also contributed some resonance to this attack.
In his 1991 essay, Pandian had identified the prominent Congress critics of ‘Parasakthi’ movie. These included
‘a 25 year old youth with the pseudonym ‘Tamilan’
Parambi Lonappan – Ex-high court judge and ex-minister of Cochin state
Chinnasamy – a salt and oil merchant and a truck owner
P.S.Subbaraman – proprietor of ‘Kamadhenu’ Fertilisers
K.R. Doraisamy – a cloth merchant from Chittode
P.E.Murugeasan – the vice president of Choolai Seva Sangam
Umapathi – a corporation councillor of Congress Party and a printing press owner
Subramaniam – a councilor from Tiruchi
Arunachalam and Palanimalai – secretaries of Desiya Seva Sangam, Madurai
A memorandum signed by 325 individuals from Rajapalayam town.
Lakshmanaswamy – from Mannady, Madras.
Anna’s biographer Kannan had inferred that Parasakthi’s “invisible hero was the forty-three year old Arignar Anna and the party’s ideas, captured with great finesse and subtlety.” History records that Anna stood by Ganesan, when there were intrigues of switching Ganesan with an established DMK star K.R. Ramasamy, advocated by Ganesan’s detractors during production of the movie. G. Umapathi, one of the protestors mentioned above, subsequently did produce a biopic movie ‘Rajaraja Cholan’ starring Sivaji Ganesan in 1973.
Lyrics, Songs and Dance
Still what remains as enchanting, after 70 years, in this digital era accentuated by Youtube clips, are the eleven superb lyrics of songs (9 solo songs and 2 duets) tuned by music director Ramakrishna Sudharsanam (1914-1991). In fact, Sudharsanam’s native tongue is Telugu. All the eleven songs were sung with gusto by Chidambaram S. Jayaraman (1917-1995), T.S. Bhagavathi (1925- ?), M.S. Rajeswari (1932-2018) and M.L. Vasanthakumari (1928-1990). All four received recognition as great playback singers of 1950s.
Among these 11 songs, three have been identified as burrowed from Hindi/Urdu tunes. (1) Song identified below as #4, a love duet of heroine Sriranjani and her husband was adopted from a Hindi tune sung by Mukesh and Shamshad Begum for a 1949 Hindi movie ‘Sunehre Din’ starring Raj Kapoor. It was sung by a less recognized singer M.H. Hussain and T.S.Bhagavathi. (2) Song identified below as #5, a solo song of hero Ganesan’s love interest Pandaribai (picturized as a dream sequence), was adopted from a Hindi duet by C. Ramachandra and Shamshad Begum for a 1949 Hindi movie ‘Patanga’, for a dance sequence by Burmese women in Rangoon. (3) Song identified below as #9, a solo lullaby song sung by heroine Sriranjani, written by Karunanidhi was adopted from a 1952 Urdu movie ‘Dupatta’ sung by Noor Jehan, with the lines ‘Sanwariya tohe koi pukare’.
I provide below the details of these 11 songs (title, lyricist, singer/s and available Youtube links).
- Thesam Gnanam Kalvi – Udumalai Narayana Kavi, C.S. Jayaraman
- Ka Ka Ka – Udumalai Narayana Kavi, C.S. Jayaraman
- Nenju porukuthilaiye – Subramanya Bharathi – C.S. Jayaraman
- Il vazhvinile – Bharathidasan – M.. Hussain and T.S. Bhagavathi
- Puthu pennin manathai toddu – K.P. Kamatchisundaram – M.S.Rajeswari
- O’ –rasikum seemaane – K.P. Kamatchisundaram – M.S. Rajeswari
- Konju Mozhi – K.P. Kamatchisundaram – T.S. Bhagavathi
- Porule Illarku thollaiya – K.P. Kamatchisundaram – T.S. Bhagavathi
- Poomaalai Neeye – M. Karunanidhi – T.S. Bhagavathi
- Vaazha Vaazha Ve – Bharathidasan – M.L Vasanthakumari
- Ellorum Vaazhavendum – Annal Thango – T.S.Bhagavathi and M.S.Rajeswari
For a movie, that promoted the then DMK ideals of anti-Brahmanism and the aggression of Northerners against the Dravidians, picking the tunes of 3 songs included in the movies from Hindi/Urdu languages, seems a bit disconcerting and jarring now.
Song #11, scripted by Annal Thango (aka, K.M. Swaminathan, 1904-1974), a duet by T.S. Bhagawathi and M.S. Rajeswari closes the movie, with archival footages of political leaders of all hue – including Anna, then chief minister of Madras province Rajaji, E.V.Ramasamy Naicker (Periyar), Ma. Po. Sivagnanam, Karunanidhi. Most probably, this song was added a sop to blunt the political oppositions against the movie.
Among the 11 songs, two (#10 and #6) were dance numbers. Song #10, which opens the movie, sung by Carnatic diva M.L. Vasanthakumari, featured dancer T.D. Kusalakumari. Song #6, sung by M.S. Rajeswari, featured dancer Kamala Laxman (first wife of ace cartoonist R.K. Laxman), as a vamp. Both were excellent bharata natyam dancers. But it had been noted by a critic, that as an anti-Brahmin political message promoted in the movie, while Kamala (a Brahmin by birth) was made to dance a vamp number, Kusalakumari (born into lowly Isai Vellalar caste) was chosen to dance a bharata natyam sequence.
Chidambaram Jayaraman’s three solo songs, for the hero character that had gained immortality, cannot be overlooked easily. Subramania Bharathy’s emotional anguish poem on the prevalence of cowardice among Tamil folks, ‘Nenju Porukuthillaiye’ (#3) had elegance in expression of pathos, that only the genius of Jayaraman could establish. Udumalai Narayana Kavi’s ‘Thesam Gnanam Kalvi’ (#1) lyric was set in the tempo of a preaching with a folk dance, reminiscent of Hindu Saivite mystics (called Chittars). Choice of Jayaraman to sing this song is also appropriate, because one of the sobriquets earned by Jayaraman was ‘Tamil Isai Chittar’ (mystic of Tamil music). Narayana Kavi’s second lyric ‘Ka Ka Ka’ (#2), a sarcasm-tinged criticism on human behavior, based on the habits shown by crows in sharing the available food, also became very popular for its meaning and rendition.
One of the weak points in Parasakthi movie, was it’s contribution to comedy. Though there were three recognized comedians (V.K. Ramasamy, K.S. Angamuthu and T.P.Muthulakshmi), as V.K. Ramasamy played one of the villain’s role, there were no recognized male comedian(s). As such, hero Sivaji Ganesan was burdened to offer glimpses of comedy occasionally, especially in scenes with veteran fruit vendor K.S. Angamuthu and a male vendor of ‘murukku vadai’ short eats. To elicit humor, his character had to pretend as a lunatic, to rob petty cash and chase the ‘murukku vadai’ vendor from claiming his due payment for sale. The Youtube clip for such a scene is,
In the above noted comedy-tinged educational song #1, ‘Thesam Gnanam Kalvi’ of Chidambaram S, Jayaraman, Sivaji Ganesan was also made to imitate Chaplinesque walk.
Comparative Statistics in 1952
According to the available statistics published by Eric Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy, a total of 233 films were censored for release in India in 1952, in all Indian languages as well as non-Indian languages (including German, Persian, Malay, Pushtu, Thai and Sinhalese). Among these, major languages in which films were produced included Hindi (102), Bengali (43), Tamil (32), Telugu (25), Marathi (21), Malayalam (11) and Gujarati (6). Thus, Parasakthi was one of the 32 Tamil movies. Film News Anandan had presented release details for only 30 movies. Maybe, missing two movies were not released in the 1952 calendar year. Nearby, I provide a table listing these 30 movies, their release dates and the heroes featured in each of these movies. MGR’s 3 movies were released before Parasakthi, between April and May, and two (En Thangai and Andaman Kaithi, both derived from stage plays) were popular hits. In fact, En Thangai (another pathos-tinged sibling love story) was produced as a rival movie to Parasakthi, and it got released 4 months earlier than Parasakthi. Sivaji Ganesan had his 2nd movie Panam (Money) movie released two months after Parasakthi. Five movies of the 1940s singing stars (Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar, T.R. Mahalingam and K.R. Ramasamy) didn’t fare well in the box office. Two other movies (Valaiyapathi and Elai Uzhavan) which were released on the same day as that of Parasakthi, flopped.
In early 1950s, before the establishment of linguistic states in India, Madras was the main center for film production of four major south Indian languages. As such, actors with a native tongue other than Tamil, such as Telugu (N.T. Rama Rao, A. Nageswara Rao and Mukkamala Krishnamurthy) and Malayalam (Prem Nazir, Tikkurissi Sukumaran Nair and Satyan) also starred as heroes in Tamil films. It had been noted that after the arrival of DMK-promoted stars (Sivaji Ganesan and S.S. Rajendran), and delivery of polished Tamil dialogue becoming a trend, led to the eclipse of non-Tamil heroes accepting lead roles in Tamil films, since 1953.
After 70 years, two highlights that elevated ‘Parasakthi’ movie then had lost their shine. These were, (1) alliterative Tamil dialogue of Karunanidhi, spoken for minutes at a stretch. (2) Sivaji Ganesan’s over-expressionist acting, transferred directly from the stage. For the Tamil audience whose ears were tuned to listen to numerous songs, mostly sung in classical fashion, for the previous two decades (1931-1951), these two newly introduced items turned out to be alluring then.
It’s rather unfortunate that in the post-1969 period of DMK history, expediency options taken by its leader Karunanidhi in aligning with the national political powers in New Delhi had blunted Parasakthi’s political message of 1952. In addition, the subsequent political path of hero Sivaji Ganesan, was overall pathetic; quitting DMK in 1956, hopping into Tamil National Party of E.V.K. Sampath in 1961, and moving into Congress Party in 1964. Following Kamaraj’s death in 1975, Ganesan switched his alliance to Indira Congress, then forming his own short-lived party Tamilaga Munnetra Munnani in 1988 and finally ending in Janata Dal, from 1989 to 1993. Nevertheless, he carried on, long past his prime as an actor until 1999, to a career total of 287 movies; Among these 276 were Tamil movies.
Here is my bottom line on the Parasakthi movie. While Karunanidhi’s alliterative Tamil dialogue and Sivaji Ganesan’s over expressionist drama-style acting had dated, what remains refreshing are the wonderful songs tuned by Sudharsanam. Akin to, Casablanca movie memories being buffeted by the tune ‘You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss’ that was NOT specifically written for the movie, Parasakthi movie will always be remembered for Bharathiyar’s ‘Nenju porukkuthillaiye’ anguish poem on the plight of contemporary Tamils, that predated Tamil cinema.
As of now (Oct 2022), almost all the lead players and contributors to the Parasakthi movie had passed into history, with the exception of dancer Kumari Kamala (b. 1934). The first to depart in 1955 was lyricist-actor K.P. Kamatchisundaram, who played the villainous temple priest role in the movie, and also penned memorable lyrics to this movie. As gifted he was, like many of his contemporaries N.S. Krishnan, Kambadasan and Tanjai Ramaiahdas, he succumbed to alcoholism.
Film News Anandan: Sadhanaigal padaith Thamzh thirapada Varalaru, Sivagami Publications, Chennai, 2004, pp. 282-288.
Kannan: Anna – The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 194-197.
Karunanidhi: Nenjukku Neethi [Justice to the Heart], vol.1, 2nd ed., Thirumagal Nilayam, Chennai, 1985, p. 193.
Frank Miller: Casablanca – As Time Goes By – 50th anniversary commemorative, Virgin Books, London, 1992.
Aranthai Narayanan: Thamizh Cinemavin Kathai, 3rd ed., New Century Book House, Chennai, 2008, pp. 390-391, 395-399.
T.S.Narayana Swamy (ed): Autobiography of an Actor Sivaji Ganesan, English version by Sabita Radhakrishna, Sivaji Prabhu Charities Trust, Chennai, 2007, pp. 74-8.
M.S.S. Pandian: Parasakthi – Life and times of a DMK film. Economic Political Weekly, annual number March 1991, 26(11-12): pp. 759-761, 763-765, 767, 769-770.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen: Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, new revised edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, pp. 327-328.