( 55 th Death Anniversary of CN Annadurai on 3 Feb 2024)
Former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai may have been instrumental in shaping the course of Tamil Nadu’s political history. But his artistic and literary persona played a major role in his achieving the rare iconic status he enjoyed.
His contributions as a writer and actor undoubtedly aided him in his propaganda all the way. However, when viewed sans the political agenda, his work can be seen as having made very significant contributions to Tamil theatre, cinema and literature.
Some of Anna’s plays were made into films and are regarded as very important productions in Kollywood. ’Velaikkari’ and ’Or Iravu’ are two of his most popular films.
Both were stage plays penned by him that were later made into films which also had Anna penning the story and dialogue. In fact, at one point producers began capitalising on the audience’s response to mere mention of ’Kadai, Vasanam – C.N.Annadurai’ on the title cards. So much so that it would precede even the actors’ and directors’ names.
One particular scene in the film ’Velaikkari’, in which the character Anandan argues with Kaali, the presiding deity at the neighbourhood temple, was perceived by many as a rather powerful dosage of atheistic views. Jupiter Pictures, which produced ‘Velaikkari’ is said to have been a little apprehensive about releasing the film which had portions like this that strongly critiqued some contemporary practices. But, Anna was quite confident of his skills as a writer and more so, of the ideology voiced in his writing. He told the producers to go ahead with the release and not to worry. The film which was released on February 25, 1949, is said to have done remarkably well at the box office.
For his production ‘Nallathambi,’ actor N.S.Krishnan requested Anna to pen the dialogues. This film which was released in 1949 did reasonably well, but many of Anna’s close associates and Anna himself felt that his lines had been distorted. Consequently, when NSK approached Anna to write the script for his next project, ‘Thambidurai,’ it is said that the writer showed no interest.
A legend gets a title
Another play written by Anna, ‘Sivaji Kanda Indhu Samrajyam’, had interesting consequences. V.C.Ganesan, an upcoming stage actor, played the protagonist. Watching his impressive performance, E.V. Ramasami gave him the title ‘Sivaji’, which would soon become the inimitable Sivaji Ganesan. It was in this play that actor Manorama also played a role. “Those were the days when Tamil theatre flourished. Anna played the role of a madadipathi in that play,” she reminisces.
Then, it was common to have celebrities presiding over Tamil plays. On one such occasion, Anna was the chief guest at ‘Manimagudam’, a play written by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. The role of Alli played by Manorama impressed him very much. “When he spoke later, he commended my performance and said it was important to have such women in politics, too,” Ms. Manorama says.
Besides inspiring and drawing great talent to politics, Anna also has the credit of inspiring many youngsters to take up theatre and cinema.
Director K. Balachander says that plays such as ‘Velaikkari’ and ‘Or Iravu’ has a marked impact on him in his student-days. “I was amazed by CNA’s mastery over language. I enjoyed his emphatic way of expressing his views,” he says.
“Though I did not completely agree with his ideology, I was quite enamoured by his language prowess.” Mr. Balachander also points to Anna’s eye for detail and openness in commending others’ works.
“He presided over my play ‘Major Chandrakanth’. As a timid youngster, I stood behind the curtains on the stage and quietly watched his expressions. After the play, he came on stage and spoke. It was such a brilliant review of the play, highlighting even the nuances. It was such a thrill.”
The director, who was making his play ’Yedir neechal’ into a film, was eager to screen the film to Anna, who had seen the original play. “He was ailing then and we thought he would not come. But to our surprise, he came, saw the film and told us he liked it more than the play. That is possibly the last film he saw,” says Mr. Balachander.
In a tribute of sorts, the director included a scene in his ’Iru Kodugal’ where a character [played by Sowkar Janaki] would want to meet the Chief Minister. “I couldn’t think of a dupe in his place. But I wanted to bring in Anna somehow.” He did, and that scene was received with thunderous applause. With a voice sounding just like his, a pair of glasses on the table and a pen in the foreground, the audience knew it had to be him!