wiki:DMK Film

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DMK Film

Unique and extraordinarily influential type of propaganda cinema pioneered in Tamil Nadu by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Histories of the DMK trace the party’s ancestry to 19th C. reform literature in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, where writers like Subramanya Bharati (1882-1921; sometimes considered the greatest modern Tamil poet) extended their reformist politics to advocate a specifically Tamil nationalism. After the establishment of the Justice Party aka the South Indian Liberation Federation (Est: 1917), this nationalism retained a strongly anti-Aryan thrust in its claim to represent the indigenous cultures of South India, attempting e.g. to rewrite Indian history to trace the Tamil influence back to the Indus Valley civilisation. The Justice Party had a strategic alliance with the pro-imperialist landed élite but also advocated bourgeois-democratic reformism opposing e.g. caste oppression.

The party broadened its base in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, esp. when contesting the provincial elections after the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms (1919) on an anti-Brahmin platform. The Party was transformed in the post-WW2 era by one of the most influential politicians in 20th C. Tamil Nadu, Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker (1879-1973), a former Congress Party member who founded the Self-Respect Movement (1926), a social action group aimed at eradicating Untouchability and caste and advocating an atheist politics. According to Charles Ryerson, at that time the movement deployed five principles: no God, no religion, no Gandhi, no Congress and no Brahmins. In 1944, Periyar transformed the Justice Party into the separatist Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and later called for India’s first Independence Day in 1947 to be declared a day of mourning, since his demand for an independent Dravida Nadu or Tamil state remained unrealised. In 1949, his chief disciple, the playwright and scenarist C.N. Annadurai broke away to found the DMK. The DMK was elected to the TN state assembly in 1967, mainly on an anti-Hindi platform, repeating their victory in 1971 through a conditional alliance with Indira Gandhi’s Congress. The DMK split once again when its most famous member, film star MGR, was expelled for indiscipline and launched the Anna-DMK (ADMK) in 1972, which later became the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), winning power along with the Congress in 1977 and making MGR the Chief Minister. The DMK under Karunanidhireturned to power in 1988 after MGR died, but was dismissed by the Congress (I)-backed minority government in 1990 and then decimated in the 1991 elections following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination which brought into power MGR’s former heroine Jayalalitha as the new AIADMK leader and Chief Minister.The DMK Film genre is the most spectacular of the party’s propaganda fronts and helped make five film personalities Chief Ministers (Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, his wife and former star V.N. Janaki, and Jayalalitha)since 1967. Annadurai launched the genre adapting his own play Velaikkari to the screen, followed by his script for Nallathambi (both 1949). The films, esp. Nallathambi, were major hits and spawned many more as the party decided to use film as its main propaganda medium with writers like A.V.P. Asaithambi (dialogue for T.R. Sundaram’s Sarvadhikari, 1951), A.K. Velan and the DMK poet Kannadasan who also produced the propaganda hit Sivagangai Seemai (1959). Karunanidhi scripted Manthiri Kumari (1950) as MGR’s first folk legend for directly political purposes. He also wrote and contributed lyrics for the most famous DMK film, Parasakthi (1952), Sivaji Ganesan’s début. A string of hits followed, often starring MGR or Ganesan: Marmayogi and Sarvadhikari (both 1951), Sorgavasal (1954), and the MGR-directed Nadodi Mannan (1958). Annadurai had codified an elaborately plotted and highly charged melodramatic idiom promoting an iconoclastic ‘rationalism’ and an anti-Brahmin, Tamil-nationalist ideology. The films incorporated numerous references to Party symbols and colours, anagrams of Party leaders’ names and characters reciting whole passages from Annadurai’s speeches (cf. Pandharibai in Parasakthi). These devices are part of a very rhetorical visual and literary style as the hero, usually in the courtroom at the end of the film, presents his (and his Party’s) case in a speech that could last up to 30’. The success of the DMK Film idiom has been linked (see Bhaskaran and Sivathamby) to the fact that the cinema was an important social equaliser in Tamil Nadu, where the other performing arts traditions were rigidly demarcated along class/ caste lines. The old Congress Party’s attempt (e.g. by C. Rajagopalachari) to continue that élitism in the cinema allowed its DMK opponents to present cinema as a people’s art.

Numerous studies have been devoted to the DMK Film: K. Sivathamby’s The Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication (1981); Robert Hardgrave’s When Stars Displace the Gods: The Folk Culture of Cinema in Tamil Nadu (1975); Hardgrave and Anthony Neidhart, Film and Political Consciousness in Tamil Nadu (1975); S. Theodore Baskaran’s The Message Bearers (1981) which deals with the pre-DMK history of political film; Ka. Thirunavukkarasu’s Dravidar Iyakkamum Thiraipada Ulagamum (1990); M.S.S. Pandian’s The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics (1992). For histories of the DMK Party and Tamil politics, see Margaret Ross- Barnett’s The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India (1976) and Charles Ryerson’s Regionalism and Religion: The Tamil Renaissance and Popular Hinduism (1988).

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