Sri MGR Year 95, 16th January, Wednesday
Here is an interview that our beloved Leader MGR gave to Filmfare magazine in 1964. The same interview was reprinted in February 1988.
The interview pages were scanned by MGR Devotee Kaliyaperumal.
My Memorable Roles
Twenty nine years in films and before that, eleven years on the stage have filled my life with rich memories. I love my profession. Yet, there was time when I wanted to quit films for good and join the army. But somehow I have stayed on. The fascination of films is for me very much a reality.
I made my screen debut in 1935, just four years after the advent of talkies. The picture was Sathi Leelavathi, produced under the banner of Manorama Films. It dealt with the evils of liquor. I was glad to begin my career with a purposeful film which had a theme after my own heart. The story was by S.S.Vasan.
I had been assigned a fairly major role, that of a detective. But when I actually started work on the sets, I found that I was to play a lesser role – that of a police inspector. It was a bit disappointing. Perhaps as a compensation. I then had the joy of seeing a hundred rupee note for the first time in my life. It was part of my remuneration. I am grateful to M.Kandawamy Mudaliar (father of the then hero, M.K.Radha) my guru in the social stage-plays; without his help. I might never have joined films.
After my debut in Sathi Leelavathi, offers of screen roles started pouring in. I had bit roles in 18 films, among them Maya Machindra, in which I portrayed a virile character, Suryakethu, Sri Murugan, in which I played Lord Siva, and Abhimanyu (I played Arjuna). I particularly liked my role in Sri Murugan, for as Lord Siva I had to render those fine dances – Ananda Thandavam and Rudra Thandavam. I had enjoyed learning to dance and I was elated that my dances won all round appreciation.
I may say that whatever success came my way early in my screen career was entirely due to the experience I had gained on the stage. I had joined the theatre at the age of seven, because of poverty at home. The stage troupe, where I started work on a weekly salary of four annas (25 paise) was called Madurai Original Boys Company. To begin with, I was taught to dance and sing. Not a day passed without a beating from master for some slip or other. This failed to dampen my enthusiasm to make good on the stage. Taking my first acting lessons from the late Kali.N.Ratnam, a well known comedian, I made my stage debut in the role of Utharan in Mahabharata. After that I was cast in all sorts of role – even feminine ones – the successful interpretation of which increased my confidence in my ability.
It was a fairly easy jump from the stage to the screen. My first leading role on the screen was offered to me by Narayanan & Company of Devta fame. The film was Chaka, directed by the late Nandalal Jaswantlal. When the picture was half-way through, the producers, for reasons best known to themselves, wanted to replace me, but the genial director intervened on my behalf. The picture was finally shelved, also for reasons unknown. But Nandalal Jaswantlal, who had all along shown a deep interest in me, went all out to help me find a niche in the film world. Jaswantlal is no more but I can never forget his help during those early years of struggle.
The year 1947 saw the release of the first film in which I played a leading role. It was Jupiter Pictures folklore film Rajakumari, produced by M.Somasundram and S.K.Mohideen. The film, which proved a hit, was an Arabian Nights fantasy. A.S.A.Samy made his debut as a director in it. I played the role of a humble villager, who falls in love with a princess and finally wins her hand in marriage. My heroine was K.Malathi. I had excellent scope to show my fencing skill – in fact, I had myself conceived and arranged the fencing sequences.
Mohini, my second film as hero is also memorable, for it was in that film that I met my future wife V.N.Janaki, who played the heroine. Then came two costume films – Marutha Nattu Ilavarasi and Manthiri Kumari. In Manthiri Kumar, the story and dialogue by M.Karunanidhi were the highlights of the film. Both films turned out to be box office hits.
One of my successful films was Jupiter's Marma Yogi, which was later dubbed in Hindi under the title Ek Tha Raja. The picture, which was based on the adventures of Robin Hood, had good production values. Ace director K.Ramnoth's imaginative handling of the subject enhanced the film's appeal. I had a most dynamic role –that of a revolutionary – and my work came in for high praise. It was a role after my own heart. In private life, I have rebelled against the evils which the film sought to expose.
I have wonderful memories of my role in Asoka Films emotional drama En Thangai, which was later re-made in Hindi under the title Choti Bahen. The director, C.S.Narayanamurthi, knew his job well. I had a most satisfying role- that of the poor elder brother charged with the responsibility of looking after his blind younger sister (played by E.V.Saroja). That was the role interpreted by Balraj Sahni in Choti Bahen. I loved my role immensely and even today I consider it the best role I have ever portrayed.
My career suffered a set back in 1953, when as partner in Mekala Pictures I produced a social called Naam. I played the part of a revolutionary and I had to go about most of the time made up with a half burnt face. The gruesome make up hurt me terribly but the picture, which aimed at exposing the hollowness of pseudo-sanyasins failed miserably at the box office.
Luck turned in my favour with S.M.Sriramulu Naidu's Malaikkallan, which turned out to be a phenomenal money-spinner. Elated by the unprecedented success of that film, the producer made a Hindi version under the title Azad. I played the good hearted hero, the part enacted in the Hindi version by Dilip Kumar.
My co-star was Bhanumathi. It was a meaty role and the film's triumph wafted me to stardom.
In my next film Kundukili, I portrayed the large-hearted hero while Sivaji Ganesan played the villain. When the picture was finally released it proved to be a disappointment. The failure of the film was an eye opener to me.
My next film was Modern Theatres Alibaba and Forty thieves. It was the first full length colour film in Tamil and proved immensely successful.
The brightest period of my career opened up in the year 1958, when I directed and acted in my own film Nadodi Mannan, which was partly shot in colour. The basic idea for the film taken from the American film Prisoner of Zenda, but the treatment and presentation were entirely Indian and original. I take a lively interest in the stories and screenplays of films in which I agree to act. Since Nadodi Mannan happened to be my own film. I was at liberty to introduce my own ideas about the emancipation of the poor and downtrodden, into the screenplay. I had a dual role in the film.
There was a reason for my handling a subject like Nadodi Mannan. while I was working in Maya Machindra at Calcutta during the years 1937-38, I had seen the memorable English film If I Were King, in which Ronald Colman played the lead. I had liked the message of that film. I have experienced hunger and humiliation and I want others to be spared such hardship. That is why I decided to make Nadodi Mannan.
When the paper work for the film was almost ready, Bhanumathi informed me (at that time we were working on the sets of Alibaba and Forty Thieves) that she planned to produce a film on the same subject and insisted on my dropping it. I told her that I had made far greater preparations for my film than she had for hers and since my treatment and presentation were entirely different, I proposed to go ahead with my project and that she was free to go ahead with hers. A few days later, she gave me the comforting news that she had dropped the subject and that I was free to go ahead with my plans. I thanked her and eventually cast her in the feminine lead in my film.
During the production of Nadodi Mannan, skeptics and so called well wishers pooh-poohed my endeavour and circulated rumours to the effect that the picture would never be completed and it would make my downfall for ever. They even made sarcastic remarks about the inclusion of B.Saroja Devi (then practically a new comer), in the colour sequences. All these doubts proved false. The picture, when released, turned out be the biggest box office bonanza in the south. The very producers who had made sarcastic references to Saroja Devi, started making a bee-line to her house to sign up in their own films.
Thanks to the wonderful co-operation I received from artistes and workers, Nadodi Mannan turned out to be an outstanding movie and it captivated the hearts of picture goers through South India and outside in Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta – and even in Ceylon, Burma, Malaysia and the Far East.
Earlier, Gemini's Chandralekha had been considered at the time of its release as the biggest box office film ever on the South Indian screen. This record was beaten by my film Madurai Veeran and this, in turn was beaten by Nadodi Mannan. It broke all box office records and it is still popular today. With the film's success. B.Saroja Devi who was then at the lowest rung of the ladder, blossomed into a star.
It is said that excess of joy sometimes ends in pain and sorrow. This proved true in my case. As early as 1954, I had started my own dramatic troupe and staged plays like Inba Kanavu, Advocate Amaran, Sumaithangi and Pagaivanin Kathali. while acting in Inba Kanavu at a place called Sirkhazhi, I broke my left leg after colliding with co-actor on the stage. The accident which took place on June 15, 1959, put me out of gear for five months and film people and the public alike wondered whether I would complete my various under production films, which had to be suspended. My future as an actor was at stake. Thanks to the efforts of Dr.M.Natarajan, Chief of the Orthopedic Department of the General Hospital, Madras, I recovered.
As soon as my fractured leg regained strength. I reported on the sets of Thai Magalukku Kattiya Thali and had the satisfaction of seeing the film released by the end of 1959, the same year in which I had met with the accident. The film, in which Jamuna starred opposite me, was reasonably successful. I completed my other film assignments too.
In Thief of Baghdad I had the pleasure of co-starring with Vyjayanthimala, an artiste in the true sense of the term. I admire and appreciate her spirit of goodwill and co-operation. In the title role, which I portrayed, I had to wear a fantastic make-up and it sparked many a joke on the sets.
Another milestone film was A.L.S. Production's Thirudathae released three years ago. It was a purposeful film. I tried to instill moral values both in my dialogue and in the interpretation of my role. Director P.Neelakantan's deft touches and imaginative handling of the subject contributed to the box office success of the picture. My co star was B.Saroja Devi. We were both cast together in several films that followed.
Since the release of Thirudathae, I have acted in 19 films – making a total of 66 films so far. If my films inspire even a few to strive towards peace and happiness. I shall feel that my career has been worthwhile and that I have satisfactorily expressed my sense of gratitude to my motherland.
Filmfare February 1 -15 1988.