MGR: Three Letters That Stood for ‘Superstar’ and ‘Charisma’
(This article was first published on 16 January 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the birth anniversary of MGR.)
MGR – the charismatic film superstar and beloved Tamil Nadu CM – was born a 100 years ago.
Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran was a little boy when he lost his father Maradhur Gopala Menon in that far-off land of tea-plantations, a country he could not call his own. So his widowed mother Satyabhama brought her sons to India. But schooling and playtime were not 'affordable luxuries'. So he began acting in plays.
After a few years in theatre, he made his film debut in the 1936 film Sathi Leelavathi in a supporting role.
Incidentally, MR Radha, who played the hero in that film, later made an attempt on MGR’s life on 12 October 1967.
That gun shot had created so much of political drama that DMK member MGR filed his nomination for the Assembly elections from his hospital bed and won.
M Karunanidhi, who went to serve as Tamil Nadu CM, was his colleague in the Tamil film industry and a fellow member of CN Annadurai’s DMK. In fact, Karunanidhis’ script for a 1950 film Manthiri Kumari played a key role in MGR becoming a superstar.
However, in 1972, after Annadurai’s death, M Karunanidhi expelled MGR from the DMK. The superstar went on to found the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK), later renamed the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the only potent rival to the DMK.
MGR stormed to power in 1977 and went on to serve as the state’s CM and the people’s Puratchi Thalaivar (revolutionary leader) till his death ten years later.
In 1982, when MGR was CM, he invited his former co-star J Jayalalithaa to join the AIADMK. The two had starred in 28 films and shared a crackling screen chemistry. Now, their political relationship as mentor-protege too took off famously.
On 24 December 1987, MGR passed away, plunging his legions of ardent supporters in grief and shock. His death also sparked fierce riots that raged for weeks.
A bitter succession battle also erupted. There simply was no second rung of leadership in AIADMK. Initially, his wife VN Janaki made winning strides, But eventually it was Jayalalithaa who inherited MGR’s political mantle. And she went on to helm both the party and the state, fashioning herself as the Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) after her iconic mentor.