Madathil Thekkeppaattu Vasudevan Nair, popularly known as M T Vasudeavan Nair or just MT, an iconic figure in Malayalam literature and movie making, has been accused of plagiarising and stealing from the work of another writer of eminence.
MT who was honoured with the Jnanapeeth, the highest literary award in India, could be the only winner of this award facing charges of stealing from another person’s work. Nirmalyam (Yesterday’s Offerings), a 1973 movie scripted and directed by MT, had walked away with top honours in the 1974 National Film Awards. It was selected as the best feature film made in an Indian language and P J Antony, the protagonist was honoured with the Bharat award, the top honours a film actor could aspire for in India.
Forty three years after the movie was released in India and abroad, daughter of another writer in Malayalam has come out with allegations that the climax of the movie Normalyam has been plagiarised from a play authored by her father T Damodaran.
The movie Nirmalyam hogged national limelight for portraying the shot of an oracle spitting on the face of the idol of Goddess Durga whom he accuses of letting him down in spite of his relentless and unshaken belief in her. Though various Hindu organisations had expressed reservations over the portrayal of the scene at that time itself, it did not snowball into a controversy and MT laughed all the way to his bank. He had claimed at that time that the movie was based on Pallivaalum Kaalchilambum (The Sacred Sword and the Anklet) a short story authored by him. But the original short story does not have the climax scene which had been portrayed in the film.
Deedi Damodaran, a Left activist and daughter of T Damodaran, in her book T Damodaran: Life and his Works, says that the climax scene of Nirmalyam has been lifted from Broken Icons, a play authored by her late father.
Broken Icons (Udanja Vigrahangal) had a scene in which the main protagonist, the oracle inflicts many cuts on his head with the sacred sword and spitting the blood on the face of the idol of Goddess Devi. The Communist Party of India which thought of staging the play suggested to Damodaran that the last scene of the play may have to be re-worked as the original script would have faced stiff resistance from the viewers. The script was read out in the presence of EMS Nampoothirippadu, MT, K.T Mohammed, another playwright and Theekkodiyan, an eminent writer of yesteryears. But Damodaran was adamant and intransigent that he would not make any compromises or change the climax scenes. Because of his uncompromising nature, the CPI chose to look the other way and Broken Icons did not see the light of the day..
But when MT made Nirmalyam, he incorporated the climax of the play Broken Icons into his film without consulting Damodaran. This caused much anguish in the mind of Damodaran who raised the issue many times at many places. But his voice and revolt was steamrollered by the powerful literary lobby in Kerala because they wanted to extend support to MT, thanks to his glamour and brand name. Damodaran stopped writing plays once and for ever and started writing scripts for commercial films. It has to be accepted that all the films scripted by him turned out to be instant hits in the box offices. T Damodaran as script writer was a sure recipe for box office collection.
“The lifting of the climax scene from Broken Icons and incorporating the same in Nirmalyam is nothing but blunt plagiarism. It is condemnable,” said C M Ramachandran, noted writer and critic.
Interestingly, Deedi’s book on her late father comes at a time when MT is fully enmeshed in a controversy over his reported statement about demonetisation of high denomination currency notes. While taking part in a book release function, MT had lambasted Prime Minister Modi for demonetisation. This gave rise to a major controversy as the Sangh Parivar leaders questioned the locus standi of MT to challenge demonetisation. Both the CPI-M and the Congress find themselves on the same side of the fence in their opposition to demonetisation. The statement by MT was a god given chance to the CPI-M which does not waste a single opportunity to lambast Modi and his colleagues.
But the CPI-M took an entirely different stance when popular actor Mohan Lal praised the demonetisation announced by Prime Minister Modi in his address to the nation on November 8. The Marxists went overboard and criticised Lal whom they accused as a Sanghi and Hindu fundamentalist. Lal had written in his blog that the demonetisation would bring in ever lasting peace and put an end to the terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.