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Mardur Gopalan Ramachandran was the face that could do no wrong in the public eye. He was the golden poster child of the DMK until his fall from grace. His expulsion triggered a massive backlash from his fan base (aside of being considered they were primarily from low-income groups.) When he founded the ADMK, he insisted that he was the party that stood for the values upheld by Annadurai, therefore undermining the leadership and legitimacy of the then DMK. His fans believed in their infallible hero, he who would raise them from poverty, defend them from oppressors, and fight injustice for them. He remained until death their Saviour. Bharathy Singaravel contemplates his legend.

There is a curious coincidence I could begin with. He had his claim to ‘godship’ quite early in his life. R. Kannan in his biography of MGR, observes that following the death of the cine star’s sister and father when he was only a boy, his mother branded him ‘mudikalan’ or the ‘extinguisher of lives’, which is Yama. In 1967 fellow actor M. R. Radha shot MGR before attempting to end his own life, or at least this was the version of events that were largely believed. MGR miraculously survived. The bullet lodged in his third vertebrae and then moved into his throat, from where the surgeons managed to remove it. He returned to his career in a year’s time - his speech slurred and difficult to follow. This resurrectionist act only furthered the depth of his fans’ obsession with him, not to mention his own screen affectations. In Engal Thangam (Our Treasure, 1970), he bounds out of a coffin singing ‘naan sethu pozha chavenda, yamanai pathu siripavanda’ (he is the one who has returned to life, he is the one who laughs in the face of yama). When he steps in front of a statue of what appears to be Bhadrakali Amman he mimics the idol’s wide-eyed expression of avenging fury.

The choice of god speaks volumes: Bhadrakali or the good Kali is not a high Vedic god. Like most forms of Amman worship, she belongs to the lower castes (and classes). She is terrifying and fierce. She is also known by this name only in the South. As he prances around a group of thugs, there is a moment when the music turns choral and the shadow of a cross and a crucified figure falls across the ground. The camera pans upwards to MGR holding a silambam stick across his shoulders while he gently sings, “siluvaiyil yaesu marainjaaru, makkal siththamellaam vandhu nirainjaaru, gundugal pottu thulaichchaanga aanaa Gandhiyum Lincoln-um nilaichchaanga sandhana pettiyil urangugiraar Anna ..” ..” (Christ died at Cavalry, Lincoln and Gandhi were riddled with bullets but yet they outlived their bodies, and Annadurai rests in a coffin) at which point MGR, quite overcome with emotion, falls to his knees, arms outstretched. Here is the political backdrop: Anna had died only a year ago, M. Karunanidhi was the interim CM and MGR was appointed Treasurer. The DMK was gearing up for the 1971 Assembly Elections in the following year and their main contender would be the INC(O), which had Tamil Nadu’s own Kamaraj at its helm.

He goes on to extol the virtues and strengths of the Dravidar. ‘Odum railai iddai maraithu, athan paathaiyil thananthu thalai vaithu’ probably refers to a part of the three-pronged agitation of 1953 aimed at the INC, when trains were brought to a halt by party cadres (including Karunanidhi) lying across the tracks in protest. MGR applauds the bravery of such an act of dissent. The larger point here seems to be the need to emphasise the State’s opposition to the Congress-led Centre’s highhandedness.