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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

MG Ramachandran ~ actor turned CM remembered !

Do you remember or know of a song which years after its release was screened in all the theatres of Tamilnadu in 1980s.  It was the song ‘Andavane unthan pathangalil naan kanneeral” from the film Oli Vilakku [ஒளி விளக்கு ] released in 1968. 

Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran (1917 – 1987) popularly known as MGR, was a legendary film actor who rose to dizzy heights of popularity becoming the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu successively for three terms. Those visiting Chennai from rural parts of Tamilnadu visit Marina  for visiting the samadhis of 4 CMs now .. ..

The Indo-China War  occurred in 1962. A disputed Himalayan border was the main pretext for war, but other issues played a role. There had been a series of violent border incidents after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when India had granted asylum to the Dalai Lama.  India was defeated in the war due to poor policies and lack of political will.  But when the Govt sought donations after the war, MGR rose to prominence by donating  Rs. 75,000/- [a very huge sum those days]  to the war fund.

The kind of adulation MGR enjoyed is unique and perhaps  continues undiminished even after 32 years of his death. MGR had with utmost care  created a screen image that corresponded to ‘the cultural presuppositions’ of Tamil Nadu’s subaltern classes as manifested in the state’s folk-hero ballads. The typical MGR hero is a low-status underdog who acquires the power to dispense justice, uses education as a tool of struggle, and defends the honour of women. All this held a tremendous appeal for the poor.  When he died after illness in Dec 1957, Madras  witnessed one of the  largest funeral processions.  Shops remained closed, transportation came to a halt, routine life was crippled and dozens committed suicide. Millions filled the streets as crowds travelled from all parts of the state for a final glimpse of the man called MGR.

That was the story of the man who rose from abject poverty, having been born in Kandy in 1917   as the fifth and the last child of Sathyabama and Gopala Menon, faced extreme poverty after losing his father before he was three. He lost two of his sisters and a brother to poverty, something he often mentioned to identify himself with the common man. He built an iconic image in tinseldom, the crowds followed him everywhere—when he was hospitalized after being shot by his co-actor M.R. Radha; when he suffered a paralytic stroke in October 1984.

Sathi Leelavathi, released in 1936 had MG Ramachandran in a supporting role but that was to change the fate of the State was not known for sure.  He graduated to leading roles and for the next three decades dominatin the tinseldom as ‘Do Gooder Hero’ who could nothing wrong and who would always care for the poor.  He became a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and rose rapidly through its ranks.  He successfully used his popularity as a film hero to build a large political base. In 1972, he  challenged those at the helm and was promptly expelled  from DMK, came out to  form his own party the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK).

In 1977 he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu - the first film actor in India to become the chief minister of a state. He remained as Chief minister till his death in 1987.  He had built a mass following and glorious  reputation for philanthropism idolized by his followers  as Puratchi Thalaivar ( Revolutionary leader).  MGR was posthumously honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award.

In October 1984, MGR was diagnosed with kidney failure, which was further complicated by diabetes, a mild heart attack and a massive stroke.  MGR died on December 24, 1987 after his prolonged illness. He was 70. His death sparked off a frenzy of looting and rioting all over the state of Tamil Nadu. Shops, movie theatres, buses and other public and private property became the target of violence let loose all over the state.  Around one million people followed his remains, around 30 followers committed suicide and people had their heads tonsured.

When he fell ill,   there were so many Cinema theatres and all of them were running full houses attracting people ~ before the start of every Cinema,  the  song ‘aandavane unthan pathangalil’  from the film ‘Oli Vilakku’ -   was screened as a prelude, more of the people of Tamilnadu praying to God for saving the life of CM MG Ramachandran, who though hailed from ‘rationalist party’ never spoke against God and at some point of time reportedly was a devotee of Kollur Mookambigai too…

After days of treatment  in Apollo [when Greames Road reportedly was not allowed for commoners ~ huge crowds thronged the Road to get nearer MGR, anxious of his health], on the night of 5th Nov 1984, MGR left for New York. It is another sad story that the then PM Indira Gandhi had visited MGR at hospital on 16/10/84.  Mrs Gandhi promised all help in treating him, including an aircraft to take him to hospital if needed.  The sad part was Mrs Indira could not see MGR recover as she was cruelly assassinated on 31st Oct 1984, a fortnight  after the meeting.  The planning and logistics involved in moving MGR was exceptional ~ again remember that air traffic was a microscopic % of what it is today !

Mrs Gandhi’s offer for aircraft was accepted by the TN Cabinet; a team of American doctors flew in by PM’s Indian Air Foce aircraft and stepped into Apollo Hospital on Oct 17;  Air India exclusively made available one Boeing aircraft and kept it  at Meenambakkam and by express orders the crew were staying on the craft itself, ready to fly any moment.  The leader of the Medical experts from America Dr Eli Friedman reportedly told that MGR was not fit for travel and will have to be observed for 10 days; the Boeing returned to  Bombay ~ before it went, a team of Doctors had an on board inspection suggesting the facilities that were required.

On Oct 19, came anxious moments as MGR lapsed into low levels of consciousness because of a tennis ball sized swelling in the brain.  Around this time, Dr Kanno, a Neurosurgeon from Japan was on his way from Tokyo.   They were brought to Madras in a chartered   350 seater aircraft –  during the journey, MGR was served with a special liquid diet; at London blood analysis was done; the results were obtained whilst airborne through radio from control tower at Heathrow airport. After all this, the flight safely landed at New York and was taken to Brooklyn Hospital by Dr Sreepada Rao.

That he returned back to Madras, won the elections in and ruled the State for some more time, eventually died on Dec 24, 1987 is history.  There are thousands of his followers who adore, admire and remember him still ~  32 years after  his death, today too, one could see people on roads  placing his picture and offering their obeisance on his death anniversary.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
24th Dec 2019.

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