Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran born on January 17, 1917 and popularly known by his initials MGR, was an Indian film actor, producer and politician. Well known as a Tamil activist, he served as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from 1977 until his death in 1987.
MGR was born in Nawalapitiya near Kandy, British Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), to immigrant Keralite Nair parents Gopala Menon and Maruthur Satyabhama. (Nairs are traditionally matrilineal, hence he shares his matrilineal family surname “Maruthur”). His family was originally from Vadavannur, Palakkad, Kerala, but his father had migrated with his family to Ceylon. MGR was a Hindu and portrayed himself as a devotee of Lord Murugan, as is common practice for many Hindus in Sri Lanka.This was during his early days. Later, when he joined the DMK,a pro-rationalist party,he followed the rationalist ideology, though not appearing very aggressively atheistic.However,in later days after he founded his own party following his expulsion from the DMK, he seems to have shown some leaning towards religious faith. He had asked his followers to pray for the success of his AIADMK party.
His followers even prayed for him when it was determined that he had a kidney illness.After his demise, his wife opened up a temple in his name. After his father’s death, he joined a drama troupe called Original Boys. Later, he entered the world of cinema, becoming an actor, and later a director, producer, and editor.He also had affair with actress jayalalita, MGR married Bargavi also known as Thangamani who died early due to illness. He later married Sathanandavathi who also died soon due to Tuberculosis. M. G. R. married V. N. Janaki a former Tamil film actress as his third wife after the death of his second wife. Janaki divorced her husband Ganapati Bhat, to marry MGR.
Making his film debut in 1935, in the film Sati Leelavati, directed by Ellis Dungan, an American born film director, MGR dominated Tamil cinema during the Fifties and Sixties with multiple blockbusters. Generally starring in romance or action films, MGR got his big breakthrough in the 1947 film Rajakumaari, written by M. Karunanidhi. He rose to super-stardom in 1954 after Malai Kallan. Later, this film was used as a template for other films by playing roles that portrayed him as the saviour of the poor and the oppressed.
He had the maximum number of all-time blockbusters to his credit at that time viz. Nadodi Mannan, Enga Veetu Pillai and Adimai Pen. He was shot by fellow actor Mohan R. Radha, affecting his ability to speak clearly. He won the National Film Award for Best Actor for the film Rickshakaran. His film Nadodi Mannan, which was produced and directed by himself and released in 1956, was re-released in 2006 and ran to full houses.He also got Bharata ratna.
MGR was a member of the Congress Party till 1953 and he used to wear kathar. In 1953 MGR joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) with the help of M. Karunanidhi. He became a vocal Tamil and Dravidian nationalist and prominent member of the DMK] (“Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam” aka Dravidian Progressive Federation). He added glamour to the Dravidian movement which was sweeping Tamil Nadu. He became a member of the state Legislative Council in 1962. He was first elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in 1967. After the death of his mentor, Annadurai, MGR became the treasurer of DMK in 1969 after Karunanidhi became the chief minister.
In January 1967, he was shot in the neck by fellow actor M.R. Radha. The bullet was permanently lodged in his neck and his voice damaged. Within hours of the shooting, some 50,000-odd fans had gathered at the hospital where MGR had been taken. People cried in the streets; shops closed. For six weeks, he lay in the hospital as fans awaited each report of his health. He was visited by a steady stream of commoners and luminaries of film industry, polity and bureaucracy. The shooting was supposed to be conspired by his unannounced political rival, M.Karunanidhi. From his hospital bed, he conducted his campaign for Madras Legislative Assembly. He won twice the number of votes polled by his Congress rival and the largest vote polled by any candidate for the Assembly.
In 1972, DMK leader Karunanithi started project his first son M.K.Muthu in a big way in film industry and also in politics. Understanding the tactics played by Karunanithi to corner him, MGR started to claim that corruption had grown within the party after the demise of Annadurai and in a public meeting asked for the financial details of the party to be publicized which enraged the leadership of DMK. Consequently, as expected, MGR was expelled from the party, and floated a new party named Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK), later renamed All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the only powerful opponent of the DMK. He became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977, remaining in office till his death in 1987. In 1979, members of his party Satyavani Muthu and Aravinda Bala Pajanor, became the first non-Congress politicians from Tamil Nadu to be ministers in the Union Cabinet. The AIADMK won every state assembly election as long as MGR was alive. Although Anna Durai as well as Karunanidhi had acted in stage plays in trivial roles, in their younger days, before becoming chief minister, MGR was the first popular film actor to be a Chief Minister in India.
Once he became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, he placed great emphasis on social development, especially education. One of his most successful policies was the introduction of the “Mid-day Meal Scheme” introduced by the popular Congress Chief Minister and Kingmaker K Kamaraj to a nutritious Mid-day Meal Scheme in the Government-run and aided schools in Tamil Nadu, which encouraged underprivileged children to attend schools. He also introduced Women’s Special buses. He set up a free school for the Cinema Technicians children in Kodambakkam called MGR Primary & Higher Secondary School which provided Free Mid-Day meals in the 1950s.
In October 1984, MGR was diagnosed with kidney failure and rushed to the Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, United States for treatment, undergoing a kidney transplant. MGR died on December 24, 1987 after his prolonged illness. 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. The police had to resort issuing shoot-at-sight orders, something seldom seen or heard of in democratic India.The violence during the funeral alone left 29 people dead and 47 police personnel badly wounded. This state of affairs continued for almost a month all over the state of Tamil Nadu. Around one million people followed his remains, around 30 followers committed suicide and people had their heads tonsured. After his death, his political party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, split between his wife Janaki Ramachandran and his political protégé, J. Jayalalithaa; they later merged in 1988. In 1989 Dr. M. G. R. Home and Higher Secondary School for the Speech and Hearing Impaired was established in the erstwhile Residence MGR Gardens, Ramavaram, in accordance with his will dated January 17, 1986. His official residence at 27, Arcot Street, T.Nagar is now MGR Memorial House and is open for public viewing.
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