Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran popularly known as M.G.R. went on to become one of the most dominating personalities of Tamilnadu state in India. He served as the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu between 1977 and 1987. He was awarded the highest honour of India, the Bharat Ratna award, posthumously in 1988. All this did not happen by chance.
It happened after a long and illustrious career in Tamil cinema, wherein M.G.R. acted in a variety of roles right from a farmer, to a soldier to a family person...to a saviour and many other roles. It was through tremendous talent and hard work that M.G.R. built himself into one of the enduring great personalities of Tamil cinema and of the Tamil political scene. He was a contemporary of the insuperable actor, Thiru. Sivaji Ganesan and the romantic hero, Gemini Ganesan in Tamil cinema.
The story of M.G.R. is one of the most inspiring stories of modern times. M.G.R was born in Kandy in British Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) to Melakkath Gopalan Menon and Maruthur Satyabhama, both originally from Kerala in India. After his father’s demise, M.G.R’s mother brought him and his brother, M.G.Chakrapani to Kerala in India. However, she did not receive proper support from relatives in Kerala. So, the trio relocated to Kumbakonam in Tamilnadu. That single move of his mother was a game changer. Tamil Nadu, the land of good and illustrious people as well as great culture was to bestow upon him, much fame and respect. He was known to be greatly attached to his mother, Satyabhama. M.G.R started acting in the Boys Company Drama Troupe, while in school. After he joined Tamil Cinema, he slowly and surely rose to prominence. The first few movies were medium level successes.
He acted in many movies, starting from Sathi Leelavathi in 1936. He went on to star in a number of other movies such as Veera Jagathis in 1938 and Harichandra in 1944 and in commercially successful movies like Manthiri Kumari in 1950, Malaikkallan in 1954, Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum in 1956, Madurai Veeran in 1956, Pudhumai Pithan in 1957, Nadodi Mannan in 1958, Baghdad Thirudan in 1960 and then a series of super hit movies like Nallavan Vazhvan in 1961, Maadappura in 1962, Vettaikaran in 1964, Enga Veetu Pillai in 1965, Aayirathil Oruvan in 1965, Anbe Va in 1966, Mugarasi in 1966, Parakkum Paavai in 1966, Ragasiya Police 115 in 1968, Adimai Penn in 1969, Nam Naadu in 1969 and Rickshawkaran in 1971. The other important movies of M.G.R. were Ulagam Sutrum Valiban in 1973, Netru Indru Nalai in 1974, which were all big box office hits. One can understand that the 1960’s were the years, which brought tremendous success to MGR.
Ragasiya Police 115 is a lovely movie with impeccable performances by M.G.R and J.Jayalalithaa. Parakkum Pavai is a memorable movie, too. Kanavan is a very sensitive portrayal of Tamil family sentiments in matters of marriage. Both M.G.R and J.Jayalalitha were one of the best ‘on-screen couples’ of Tamil cinema. Their goodness, beauty and compassion were very real, both on-screen and off-screen. The masses loved the lovely on-screen couple. In later years, both M.G.R and J.Jayalalitha became Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu. They were both extremely charismatic and good looking people and had their own fans as well as followers.
One is able to notice certain trends, very clearly. During the 1950’s, M.G.R was just an actor filled with creative spirit. With the beginning of the 1960’s, one notices that the M.G.R movies are interspersed with political messaging. One notices that he begins to play the quintessential Hero – saving women, fighting against a decadent caste system, being kind to the poor and vulnerable etc.
Malaikkallan is the 1954 Tamil film, which gave his big break in Tamil Cinema. It appears to have heralded the beginning of the self realisation of M.G.R that he was cut out for something more. He had started to realise that people loved him, when he essayed brave characters with panache. Nadodi Mannan is another gripping historical film and one of the early M.G.R double action movies. This black and white movie is full of palace intrigues, wherein M.G.R essays the role of both a King and a Commoner, who look alike. M.G.R essays the role of the King with aplomb. This late 1950’s movie appears to mark the beginning of the political aspirations of M.G.R. The commoner is shown sympathising with the poor. Ayarathil Oruvan marks the maturing of M.G.R’s political ambitions. With Enga Veetu Pillai and Aayirathil Oruvan, the political messaging became very clear. Here was the emerging Hero, who cared for the poor, alleviated the sufferings of the masses, took on authoritarian rule, who respected women, who was compassionate to the poor, old, lonely, diseased and handicapped as well as the vulnerable people among other things. Anbe Va was one of the best movies of M.G.R. He has acted in some fine comedy scenes in the movie. Anbe Va sets the tone for the future C.M of T.N. M.G.R won the National Film Award for Best Actor for the film, Rickshawkaran in 1972. Movies like Netru Indru Naalai(1974) and Idhayakani(1975) promoted his political career.
While his Cinema journey was full of super-hit movies, his personal life was full of sorrow. He lost his first and then his second wife in quick succession His first two wives, Chitarikulam Bargavi known as Thangamani and Sathyanandavathi both passed away rather early. It was his third wife, V.N.Janaki , who was also an actress in Tamil cinema, who outlived M.G.R. His third and last marriage was the lasting marriage of his life.
Shri. M.G.R joined the Indian National Congress and stuck with it till 1953 and then he joined the DMK or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Later, he went on to be the founder of the AIADMK- All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on the 17th of October in 1972 after the demise of his Political Mentor, Shri.C.N.Annadurai. Thiru. M.G.R suspected Thiru. M.Karunanidhi of financial irregularities, while he was in the D.M.K. During M.G.R’s time, the AIADMK was still known as ADMK or Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Thiru.M.G.R was the real disciple of Arignar Anna. M.G.R did not join politics to earn money but to do service to the people of Tamilnadu unlike some of his cunning contemporaries. M.G.R won a state assembly constituency( St.Thomas Mount) for the first time in 1967 at the age of 50 as a member of the DMK. After he founded the ADMK in 1972, M.G.R led the ADMK to success in the 1977 elections. He became Chief Minister of Tamilnadu in 1977. The AIADMK won every state assembly election as long as M.G.R. was alive. He remained as Chief Minister of Tamilnadu till his demise in 1987. M.G.R led the ADMK to continuous success in the 1977, 1980 and 1984 Tamilnadu state assembly elections. The sky high popularity of M.G.R in Tamilnadu can be gauged from the fact that he won from Andipatti assembly constituency in Tamilnadu in 1984 without campaigning in the state of Tamilnadu as he was recovering from an illness in America. He must be the only leader in the history of India or even in the world to have won an election without campaigning! Such is the greatness of the Tamil People, Tamil Land, Tamil Language and Tamil Culture that once they give their heart to a leader, they remain loyal to the leader till his death! Most probably, if M.G.R had lived longer, M.Karunanidhi would never have become Chief Minister for even a second term ever. Thiru.M.G.R was the first leader of Tamilnadu to win a re-election as C.M. He was known for his centralised decision making system, a legacy which his protégé, J.Jayalalithaa also continued.
One of the big achievements of M.G.R was his successful conversion of the former Tamilnadu Chief Minister K. Kamaraj’s ‘Mid-Day Meal Scheme’ into ‘Nutritious Meal Scheme’. This meal scheme was a roaring success and has been replicated all over India. The main beneficiaries of the nutritious mid-day meal scheme were school going children from poor families. He also introduced a liquor ban in Tamilnadu. ‘Bharat Ratna’ M.G.R. was the saviour of the poor. He was kind and generous to the poor. M.G.R had a soft corner for Tamilians not just in Tamilnadu but also for Sri. Lankan Tamils was well known. He won several laurels and awards in both his cinema career as well as his political career. Thiru. M.G.R is revered till today in Tamilnadu as the man with the heart of gold. He is known as ‘Ponmanachemmal’. He is remembered with love, loyalty and gratitude by the Tamil masses for his pro-poor attitude and successful execution of several welfare schemes in Tamilnadu.
He is fondly remembered as ‘Makkal Thilagam’ or the ‘People’s King’ and as ‘Puratchi Thalaivar’ or ‘Revolutionary Leader.’ Today, there are two major landmarks in Chennai named after him. The Chennai Central Railway Station was renamed Puratchi Thalaivar Dr.M.G.Ramachandran Central Railway Station in 2019 and the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus at Koyambedu in Chennai was renamed Puratchi Thalaivar Dr.MGR Bus Terminus in 2018. Similarly, Salem Central Bus stand was renamed Bharat Ratna Dr.M.G.R. Central Bus Stand and a number of roads and parks have been named after M.G.R. Thiru. M.G.R left us many legacies – the most important of which were his wide ranging movies, the nutritious mid-day meal scheme, welfare measures for the poor and the Monolith Political Structure- AIADMK, which he almost single-handedly created. He was most charismatic, kind, strong and a true patriot. Thiru.M.G.R was the Giant Colossus of both Tamil Cinema and Tamil Politics.