MGR – the unforgettable hero!
1978 January 14. The movie – ‘Maduraiyai meetta Sundara Pandian’, the last one of MGR was released. And…, by this time he had already created a record in the political history of free India – being the first ever person from the tinsel world to be elected as the chief minister of a State.
MGR – was more than an actor; more than a political leader; more than a chief minister. In the millions of families all over Tamil Nadu, MGR was in effect, an ‘engaL veettu piLLai’ meaning ‘the son of our family’. It was not an empty slogan. It was all too real – in its real sense. Could anyone believe it?
To anyone like me who hails from a remote village of TN, the later part of 1960s and early yearly years of 1970s offered little in terms of ‘entertainment’ as it is understood today. With no access to radio or even a newspaper, ‘sinima’ was our only choice and ‘keeththuk kottaay’ (touring talkies) was our only ‘refuge’.
While the ‘learned’ people in towns would appreciate the acting, the story, the dialogues and other things of a movie, the whole lot of people in the villages would talk only about MGR. We knew nothing else and we never cared for anything else in a movie.
Watching an MGR film in a ‘keeththu kottaay’ was a great experience by itself. The amount of excitement that it produced is something that can never be brought out in words in any language. It would actually be an old film released 20 years ago and would be screened 7th or 8th time in our village. Yet, it is enough that it is an MGR movie. One can be sure of the entire village being present at the ‘kottaay’ that evening. Make no mistake – it would be like a festival and the joy and ecstasy for the ‘opening’ of an ‘MGR sinima’ would never once be missing.
The very first sight of MGR on screen would drive people mad. One could hear the ‘rapturous noise’ on the streets, far away from the ‘hall’. The next few days would be filled with the joy of sharing what they felt watching MGR in action.
Those were the days when education was not so widespread; many, if not all, were illiterates and so could not read the title cards at the beginning of the movie. Still, they could ‘feel’ the name of MGR in the title card.
Unbelievably, that period in Tamil cinema had excellent lyrics, extraordinary dialogues and electrifying themes too like the one of ‘Ayiraththil Oruvan’ – the slaves fighting against the tyranny, ‘Nam Naadu’ – weeding out corruption, ‘Padgotti’ – trying to unite the warring factions of fishermen; or ‘Nadodi Mannan’ – the need for a democratic rule.
To cap it all, there was ‘Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban’ that spoke about the need to use inventions of Science for constructive purposes and against its misuse to the detriment of the Mankind. This movie till date has been one of the very best in terms of its screen play, background music, visual effects and for the ingredients of an overall entertainment of a movie. It was produced and directed by MGR.
There are many critics too. Their main complaint is that in his movies of playing a dual role, MGR would have a small mole or a beard on his face and that would be the only ‘difference’ between the two characters. These ‘intellectual’ critics miserably fail to understand that with little difference as they say, MGR was able to clearly identify the dual role.
There was not a single person in the millions who had any doubt on which MGR played which character. People knew who was ‘annan’ and who was ‘thambi’; they knew who was good and who was the ‘bad’ one! There was never any confusion in any one’s mind about who was ‘Nadodi’ and who was ‘Mannan’!!! What more is needed?
Nowadays we hear so much about ‘professional’ make up men being brought from abroad and spending crores on making the character look ‘real’. MGR could do it without even changing his face or attire. The audience of MGR never needed a make-up man to make them understand things.
MGR has his own inimitable style of dialogue delivery. He would not shout at his ‘enemies’; but would speak very gently with an eternal smile on his face. Yes. That smile would do magic – irritate the villains and instantly capture the audience. How many ‘great’ actors have been able to be so subtle in conveying the confidence and authority of a hero over the villains as MGR so graciously did?
‘You know who I am?’ sort of ridiculous self trumpeting; ‘I am for people; I would give my life for people’ sort of self proclamations; ‘nobody can escape from me’ sort of childish challenges are something one could never find in the movies of MGR.
He would in fact very meticulously avoid bloodbath or killing in the fight scenes. In almost all his movies, when the opponent did not have a weapon or lost one in the fight, MGR would immediately throw the weapon in his hands and start fighting bare handed. It was a movie and it was all pre-conceived. Yet, MGR surely wanted to convey the ‘Dharma’ of fighting.
Ironically, he kept this ‘Dharma’ in his political outings too. Never once did MGR resort to personal attacks or personality damage. On and off the screen, MGR never indulged in hitting anyone below the belt. But his political opponents never once hesitated to violate the rule. They employed all sorts of cheap propaganda and utterly uncivilized campaign against him. Yet, MGR stood his ground. When it came to political decency and civility in public life, his main political opponent was nowhere near him. On this point, MGR remains an eternal winner.
As the chief Minister of Tamilnadu, MGR lived true to his image too. Immediately on taking over the charge on 30th June 1977, MGR lifted the ban of ‘pillion riding’ on the bicycle. Till then, ‘doubles’ was an offence. Seeing no merit in it being treated as an offence, MGR announced the lifting of the ban and that clearly announced the ‘arrival’ of MGR as the people’s Chief Minister as there was the great Kamaraj before him.
Tamilnadu has not seen a more ‘benevolent’ Chief Minister than MGR. He was all for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. People could feel the presence of MGR at the helm and he never let them down too. Ever since he became the Chief Minister for the first time in 1977 till he passed away in December 1987, MGR remained the unchallenged leader of the masses.
In terms of good governance and taking care of the common man’s problems and issues, MGR followed the principle of ‘easing the life of the poor’. That spelt the success of MGR.
While the stature and caliber of the selfless ‘Perum thalaivar’ Kamaraj is beyond comparison, the magic of MGR was his ability to remain ‘connected’ with the masses. They are the two leaders who kept the well being of the people above everything else.
MGR ,in short, was a leader – of the people, by the people and.. for the people.
Long live the legacy of MGR!
Author – Baskaran Krishnamurthy, Writer, Columnist & Income Tax officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
The author can be followed on Twitter @Baskaranitax