The Role of Communism in influencing Tamil Writers and Playwrights..

The traditional roots of Tamil Cinema have emerged from ‘Theatre’ and a series of Playwrights who wrote for  these stage plays. It was from theatre, that several stalwarts made it big into the Cinema Industry, and that includes several writers, actors, music composers and Directors, some of whom even made it into Politics.

In the 60s, there appears to have been a wave of communism that was sweeping the country. While in the long run, Communism never made any viable inroads into most of the Indian states, barring Kerala and West Bengal, and is even eroding as Globalisation and the dominance of the Private sector has fuelled immense growth in the nation and provided millions of jobs today, one must remember that in the 50s and 60s, millions of people who lived back then, did not have some of the luxuries that we have today, and most of them lived in penury and poverty in India.

This was also the time, when the World War had ended and Stalin had emerged as a symbol of victory over the evil Germans. ( All this perception of Stalin and Soviet Russia would change after the Collapse of the U.S.S.R and the BreakDown of the Berlin Wall.) As the Cold War was on, India’s Prime Minister along with Egypt’s Abdul Gemal Nasser opted for a stance of ‘Neutrality’. They would not take a stance for either the Capitalist ‘Americans’ nor the Communist ‘Russians’. They would maintain cordial diplomacy across both sides.

This was also the period where a lot of ‘cultural’ exchange took place between Russia and India. Millions of books published in Russia, most of them from ‘Progress Publishers, Moscow’ ( One of The Official Publishing houses, that toed the Soviet Government’s line?). Of them, I have an old copy with me, of the memoirs of Georgy Zhukov – Russia’s First Marshal and the man who defeated Adolf Hitler at Berlin, translated into English, and which was subsequently sold in India.

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Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru meet in India – 1957. Picture Source : Georgy Zhukov’s Memoirs. Progress Publishers. 

This cultural impact seems to have had a positive effect of Tamil literature, theatre and subsequently Tamil cinema, as well. A lot of writers of the 40s, 50s and 60s seem to have been strongly influenced by Communism and one can infer them in their works.

Director Rudrayya, the man who having made only 2 movies in his career is still considered a legend for making the movie ‘Aval Appadithaan’ which was way ahead of its time. In one of the scenes of the movie, you can see a wall poster, titled ‘Mamayev Hill’. This is the legendary ‘Mamayev Kurgan’ hill, the hill across Stalingrad where thousands of Russian lives were lost against possibly an equal number of German lives, as the Hill exchanged hands several times, in one of the most bitterly fought battles of the war – Stalingrad, which eventually changed the course of the Second World War.

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Director.Rudraiah of ‘AVAL APPADITHAN’ Fame.

Jayakanthan, a pillar of Tamil literature, the legend who passed away a few years ago is another example. I have no idea, about whether Jayakanthan actively endorsed the Communist movement or not, but the principles of communism were there and strongly etched in his characters. Most of his stories were based on people from the lower economic strata of society and rather than show them in a lower light, and use poverty as an excuse, he rather tried to show that even these people too have a sense of dignity, no matter, how poor they may be.

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Writer JayaKanthan is a Gnanpith Award winner and one of the most celebrated writers of Tamil literature. 

The 4 main characters in his well known ‘Unnai Pol Oruvan’ book – The Young boy ‘Chitti’, his mother ‘Thangam’, Thozhar DoraiKannu ( Thozhar is typically a communist terminology), The Aapa Kaara Aaya, and the man whom Thangam brings home as her second husband, are all very nice people, yet have a certain dignity and self respect amongst themselves. In his book, ‘Pride of Tamil Cinema’, G.Dhananjayan writes – ‘JayaKanthan was asked by many communist cadres when he attended the meetings, to make a good film. In addition, K.Vijayan, stage artist at that time ( he would become a popular Director later), and Na.Bhaskaran, a popular translator also asked JayaKanthan to make a film on his own. Jayakanthan’s comrades, after reading the Novel, UnnaiPol Oruvan mentioned to him that it best fits into their plan.

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JayaKanthan’s ‘Unnai Pol Oruvan’ novel has been translated in English as ‘Love and Loss’ by K.S.SUBRAMANYAM

Dhananjayan continues saying that “UnnaiPol Oruvan was released in Soviet Russia and earned Rs.30,000, apart from the Rs.25,000 it collected locally. “Several of his works became films, but I want to write that down as a seperate post, because that issue needs attention on its own merit. 

Komal Swaminathan is an award winning playwright and director. Of his several works, his story was adapted into a National Award Winning Movie, directed by K.Balachander – Thaneer Thaneer. Komal Swaminathan himself directed his own play, which had long been trouped and played around TamilNadu by communists to demonstrate the exploitation of the Lower working classes by the Upper Ones. The Movies titled ‘Oru Indhiya Kanavu’ tells the story of an educated women, who attempts to live with the Tribal people of ‘Javvadhu Malai’ and understand their problems and bring solutions to them against a corrupt bureaucrat system.

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Famed Playwright and Author – ‘Komal Swaminathan’. 

Thirty years later, this movie still holds its own relevance. Last week, there was a news about a police shoot out and that 20 innocent people had lost their lives. I do not want to get into the intricate details of that case, as I have no knowledge about it, and this is not a blog that wishes to comment on such issues, but based on the news report from IBN Live, I have also added a link to Komal Swaminathan’s ‘Oru Indhiya Kanavu’ for the viewer to judge for himself.

IBN LIVE’s REPORT:

KOMAL SWAMINATHAN’s ORU INDHIYA KANAVU