Sri MGR Year 96, 20th August, Tuesday
The concluding part, an article written by Randor Guy
Acting in movies was not peaches and cream and life for MGR was as tough as ever. In those days cinema in Madras was still an infant mulling and puking in nurses arms. Not many movies were being made and roles were few and far between. Tears and tension, privation and penury, stress and strain, life seemed to be only all that and some more. But undaunted MGR toiled sorrowing, rejoicing he went ahead. Minor but significant roles in successful films, he did them all with sincerity.
The MGR charisma was already blossoming and making waves. Even though he was not a star or box office draw yet, he was drawing attention and his popularity was now spreading. His good lucks, his sinewy physique… a rare event indeed in Tamil films where paunchy plumpness was more a rule than an exception… his skills in doing orchestrated fights with swords, fists and all… all these and a dash of personal magnetism marked him out as a man destined to go places.
In 1947, MGR made the grade as hero in Rajakumari a folk-tale swashbuckler which turned out to be a box office hit. MGR, muscular and manly was hailed as an action hero, compared to Douglas Fairbanks who had been a source of inspiration for MGR.
Thus it began and MGR zoomed forward to new heights. Still he was not yet superstar, a status that would come to him within a few years.
Love of his fellowmen, affection for the poor, downtrodden oppressed and exploited an urge to do his bit for the have-nots, all these have been impregnated in his personality. He had known the pangs of hunger. He had undergone the pinch of poverty. No wonder he took up cudgels to fight for his convictions. He joined the Congress and wore Khadder and followed Gandhism.
And instead of waiting like a Fabian for the inevitability of gradualness, he decided to shake, move the world around him. As an intelligent man he realised the power of his chosen field, movies. He understood that the medium was the best for his message and events proved him right in ample measure.
MGR is not as many, think a film actor who clicked in politics. Indeed he is a shrewd politician, socially conscious who exploited the medium of cinema to drive home his message to mould his public, to make them think and change. Like Rousseau used his pen, Karl Marx his ‘Das Kapital’ MGR used the movie screen. Herein lies the secret of his success.
MGR’s movies are by and large hits, money-spinners. Flops are rare. Some of them like Nadodi Mannan, Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban, Enga Veetu Pillai, Adimai Penn scaled rare peaks of success. His movies have clean, inspiring message – oriented titles… Nallavan Vaazhvan (Good Man succeeds in life)… Dharmam Thalai Kakkum (Dharma Ever protects) Thaai Sollai Thattathey (Never disobey Mother).
The plot line is his movies is simple, clear and moral based. A do-gooder, often poor, a dutiful son brought up by his mother. helps the poor, downtrodden and weak. Fights the idle rich, greedy, unscrupulous anti-social being… exposes evil and misdeeds.. wins battle and lives happily thereafter with his lady love. And the happy mother, his only god, a god he sees, exuding love, affection and kindness. Mother is all…
Another significant factor responsible for the MGR phenomenon is the total absence of the usual vices associated with film folks, especially superstars. He does not drink. No smoking. Not even coffee or tea. In fact, even in his movies he has never smoked. His do-good hero has no addictive habits of any kind and goes out of the way to help damsels in distress, fighting goondas, wolves in sheep’s clothing and their country cousins.
One more reason for his films to click is that they are first class entertainers. Fast paced, funny and his message is given in sweet chewable tablets, MGR who exercise rigid control over his films is an excellent film technician. He knows all about scenarios, 360 degree pan shots and jump cutting. Indeed he is good director who knows his craft and his audiences.
During the furious fifties many significant changes took place in the Tamil Nadu political scene, which would soon have far-reaching consequences. Men like Congress man turned atheist, social rebel, Periyar E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker and rustic-looking scholar, silver tongued orator, savant, C.N.Annadurai, later deified as Anna developed huge followings stirring the masses with their fiery writing and seductive speeches in sweet scintillating alliterative Tamil prose.
Anna’s party DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) was on its way to become a forge – ahead force. And it received a boost when MGR joined the party. It is no exaggeration to say that MGR is one of the contributing factors for the rapid rise of the DMK. Indeed Anna in one of his memorable speeches hailed MGR as the Idayak Kani (the fruit of his heart). MGR’s charisma, his popularity as a film star, his capacity to draw crowds, helped his party to raise funds for fighting the general elections. And as DMK grew in size, strength and stature, MGR’s image as a super star and popular leader burgeoned. And then, DMK captured power in Tamil Nadu and occupied the Fort St. George. Anna became the Chief Minister. MGR did not seek office, which he could have had for the mere asking. But he was happy acting and making his message movies and spreading his do-good philosophy. And with his drawing power and superstar status he was now a living legend.
During 1972 October, a major event of far-reaching consequence occurred. Charismatic leader, master tactician, super orator writer Muthuvel Karunanidhi more popularly known as Kalaignar was the head of the state and though the two had rubbed shoulders in the world of movies and politics for years, MGR had acted in many movies written and also produced by Mr.Karunanidhi, serious cracks developed in their political relationship. They could not see eye to eye on many issues and MGR accused his old friend of gross corruption, nepotism and such in a retaliatory move Karunanidhi suspended MGR from DMK.
Masses were stunned. Thunder rolled. Hills around St.Thomas Mount shook. And MGR founded his own party. Anna DMK (ADMK) later renamed as All India Anna DMK. Five years later MGR swept the polls in Tamil Nadu and became the Chief Minister.
Before he could complete his term Indira Gandhi unseated him dismissing his ministry. And when fresh elections held, MGR swept the polls once more and returned to the Gadi. Such is his charisma.
His concern for the common man has endeared him to the masses. Many years ago when MGR had his dramatic troupe MGR Nataka Mandram, he had thought of buying a plot of 10 acres. There was a large tract of valuable land nearly 100 acres, at the outskirts of Madras, then in the process of rapid boundary stretching growth. The land belonging to a successful insurance magnate was offered to MGR at a competitive price. MGR felt he could buy and keeping 10 acres for himself give the balance to the members of his troupe. With this objective he visited the site. He found many poor people had been living on the land in dismal huts and his buying would result in their painful eviction. No, no deal built on the tears of the poor, MGR told the surprised vendor and happily forgot all about the land deal. If he had gone ahead like most would have done he could have made a packet in the light of soaring prices of suburban land in Madras. But to MGR, human beings, their feelings and sentiments matter most, not profits and prosperity.
His love for his workers in movies is well known. No light boy, no gofer is too small for him and often he had pulled up his producers for not taking care, not providing good food and such, for the ill paid members of the crew who usually remain anonymous or even invisible to most film stars.
Wherever destruction lashes out, harming the poor, he rushes in to help. He is perhaps one of the very few persons in the movie world paying up the donations announced. Many movie folks announce donations in the flashlights glare of press publicity and develop amnesia after wards MGR donates without fanfare.
MGR weilds a facile besides being a powerful, persuasive speaker. He has served as a newspaper editor and even with his chief Ministership and all, he wrote in the wee hours of the nights for Tamil weekly Thai.
In his seventies, his energy, stamina and all are amazing, especially when viewed in the light of his recent illness. That shows the Man… The Man of the Masses, for the Masses… a real phenomenon indeed the likes of whom, we have not seen in recent history.