Politics and cinema are like twins in Tamil Nadu. The road to St George Fort goes through Kodambakkam, the centre of the Tamil film industry in Chennai, and the journey is often accompanied by songs whose lyrics and situations glorify politically ambitious movie stars and communicate their message to their viewers and intended voters.
Songs praising film personalities as superhumans are fixtures at political meetings in Tamil Nadu. Movie tunes played a vital role in MG Ramachandran’s political career. He had an extraordinary music director in MS Viswanathan and two great lyricists in Kannadasan and Vaali to provide him with memorable numbers. The best example is the song Naan Aanaiyittal Athu Nadanthuvittal (If what I order happens) from Ungal Veetu Pillai (1965). When he broke away from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and floated the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, this song became an anthem of sorts.
Now that Kamal Haasan has taken the political plunge, songs from his movies are bound to get a new dimension at his events. If MGR had MSV, Kamal Haasan has Ilaiyaraaja. The actor has benefitted immensely from the talents of the legendary composer, and they have collaborated in close to a hundred movies.
When Haasan launched his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam on Wednesday, he said that his party would try and turn eight villages into models for the rest of the state. This was the central idea of K Balachander’s 1988 movie Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (Yes you can, brother). The title comes from the song whose lyrics preach against alcoholism and accuse rulers of promoting excessive drinking. The song talks to the younger generation, giving them hope that things can be changed with effort.
“Kudichavan bodhayil nippaan
Kudumbaththai veethiyil veippaan
Thaduppadhu yaarendru konjam nee kelada
Kallu kadai kaasila thaanda katchi kodi yeruthu poda”
“The drunkard will stand intoxicated
Will bring his family to the streets
Ask who will stop this
Party flags fly in the cash from toddy shops”
In his speech, Haasan also declared that corruption in Tamil Nadu over the years had compelled him to set up a political party. This thought is present in one of two immensely popular songs from Singeetam Srinavasa Rao’s Apoorva Sagotharargal (1989). Haasan plays a pair of brothers, one of whom is a dwarf.
In Annaatha Aadurar Othiko, Haasan’s character describes himself as a man who should not be provoked. If he is, he will pounce. The use of folk drums make the song a great dance number.
“Ada paasam vechale vaalatti nippene naipola hoi
Mosam senjaale kollama kolvene peipola maarithan
Ullam ippothum eppothum kondene poovaga hoi
Nyayam illatha pollarai saipene puliaaga maarithan”
“I will wag my tail like a dog if you show affection
I will kill like a demon if you betray
I have always had a flower-like heart
I will bring down the unjust like a tiger”
The movie also has Raaja Kaiya Vetcha. The song talks about his magical touch, which corrects all wrongs.
In 1992, Haasan joined hands with his idol Sivaji Ganesan in Thevar Magan. As the name suggests, the movie glorifies the Thevar community, a powerful vote bloc in south Tamil Nadu. Yet again, Ilaiyaraaja provides two stirring songs that hail the characters. In Santhu Pottu, Haasan asserts his Tamil identity and his global exposure.
“Suththa Thamizh veeram raththathula oorum
Singa Thamizhan thanga Thamizhan
Eththanayo naadu suththi vandha aalu
Budhdhi irukku sakthi irukku”
“With pure Tamil bravery in the blood
I am a lion-like Tamil, a gold-like Tamil
I have travelled across countries
I have brains and valour”
Pottri Padadi Ponne from Thevar Magan, which glorifies the Thevars, has become a compulsory feature at community functions. The song portrays the Thevars as people who value honour more than their lives. The song will come in handy for Haasan when he campaigns in south Tamil Nadu. However, Thevar Magan has been criticised for starting a trend of community-based movies that normalised caste violence on the screen.
“Nammuyirkku mela maanam mariyaadhai
Maanam izhandhaale vazha theriyaadhe
Perisallaam sonnaanga sonnabadi ninnaanga
Gunaththaal manaththaal kalai maan aanaanga”
“Honour is greater than our lives
We do not how to live when we lose honour
Our ancestors stood by their words
By character and heart they became legends”
In 2003, Haasan starred in Anbe Sivam, a commercial flop but a critical hit. The movie features Haasan as a trade unionist who organises workers against an exploitative businessman. The song Natukkoru Seithi Solla, composed by Vidyasagar, unfolds as a street play in which Haasan’s character, Nallasivam, exhorts workers to protest on the streets. Songs such as this one made Tamilians regards Haasan as a Leftist. (On Wednesday, he declared he was neither Left nor Right.)
“Kuraindha patcha koolikkendru
Adhil paisa kuraikkalaagaadhunu
Satta thittam 100 100 irundha podhilum
Silar ishtampola oodhiyaththa
Yaezhaiya kadichchu muzhunguvaar”
There is a law for minimum wages
With a scheme that says you cannot give less
Despite hundreds of laws
Some reduce wages according to their whims
They bite and swallow the poor