MGR - The legend lives on

It may be 33 years since his last film was released and 23 years since he died. But the legacy of the legend called MGR lives on and doesn’t seem to end in the near future. The magic spell of MGR can be clearly seen even today from the number of re-runs of his old movies and the people who throng his memorial in Marina beach every year in the months of December and January.

It won’t be a contested if one says MGR is the only actor in the world who has more devotees than mere fans.

If you follow the ascent of MGR from his early days to later eminence you will be surprised to know that in the early stages MGR was never expected to become an icon as he is revered today. MGR’s first film Sathileelavthi was released in 1936. MGR played a very minor role of a police officer. When that film was released only one person on earth would have dreamt of MGR’s beatific status after 50 years. That would have been only MGR himself. He continued to do minor roles in films like Ashokkumar with MK Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar and Meera with MS Subbulakshmi waiting for the big time.

After his fist film in 1936 his big break came only in 1947. Rajakumari directed by ASA Samy was the first film in which MGR played the main role. That is 10 long years after his first film. Even after Rajakumari doing very well at the box office MGR’s life did not change overnight as it changes for the film heroes of today. Even after giving a super hit MGR still continued to do secondary roles in films like Abhimanyu, Paithiyakaran, Rajamukthi and Rathnakumar. Success was playing a truant with MGR although he had good films like Marutha Naatu Iavarasi, Manthirikumari and Marmayogi during this period. He even did a movie Panakkari in which he was an anti-hero – hard to believe for many. He even showcased his histrionic skills and acting prowess in films like En Thangai, Naam and Andhman Kaidi. If the present generation watches these films they will be in admiration and amazed to know how an actor of dramatic talents is remembered only as a mass action hero today.

MGR’s winning formula is still not fully understood by anybody. And that is one of his achievements. He actually shattered all the myths woven around him by both his fans and critics. The way people look at MGR is a classic modern day example of the old adage of how blind men felt an elephant.

MGR’s meteoric rise should also be attributed to his acumen for carefully identifying the best for him.

Best lyricists, best playback singers, best co-stars and MGR had the best for him. He even came down his pedestal to pick up the best for him. If he had a problem with TMS or MSV he will strike a compromise in a way he doesn’t lose their talent. Same is with Kannadasan. But at the end of the day it is his self confidence which will rule. He had many super hits without the proven combination of MSV-TMS-Kannadasan. Films like Idhayaveenai was very success full with Shankar Ganesh. Padahoti was seen and heard for its songs by Vaali. Songs in films like Ooruku Uzhaippavan and Nalai Namadhe were chart busters well ahead of TMS songs from other films. In Urimaikural, KJ Yesudas sung ‘Vizhiye Katha Yezhthu’ was a bigger hit than the TMS numbers. In films like Netru Intru Naalai SP Balasubramaniam left TMS a distant second with songs like ‘Paadum pothu naan Thentral katru’. So ultimately people decided by what MGR did on screen.

No hero ever had the golden run of MGR in Tamil cinema. He is the only one who has not seen a downward trend in Tamil film industry. He had a role wittingly or unwittingly in every change Tamil cinema faced in the last fifty years. In fact it may not be too much to say Sivaji Ganesan started losing his revered place after 1977 only because he did not have the company of MGR. Even the new breed of superstars like Kamal and RAjini emerged only when MGR voluntarily ended his direct role in film making. When Sivaji and MGR were in full flow actors like Jaishankar, Ravichandran came but they could not become a Rajni or Kamal.  Such is the sway of MGR over the masses.

Even today his popularity has not waned a bit. Look at the craze for using the symbols of MGR and his films by the GenX actors of today. His film titles are one the most sought after things by the film industry. Nadodi Mannan, Namnadu, Anbe Vaa, Puthimaipithan, Rahasia Police, Raman Thediya Seethai, Netru Intru Naalai, Vettaikaran, some of the MGR titles used so far. But if you notice carefully you will find a common thread among all these films. None of these films were successful at the box office. Ayirathil Oruvan has just released. This goes on to prove the merely choosing a MGR title will not guarantee success and you must be inspired by the wholesome entertainment values of MGR films. Also the maximum numbers of songs which are remixed today are from MGR films. Not just remixes. Listen to the SJ Surya song ‘Netru Intru Naalai’ in the film ‘New’. It sums the popularity of MGR even today in films.

One assessor had said MGR had the movie magic of John Wayne, the political success of Ronald Reagan and the messiah appeal of Martin Luther King Jr. But to the Tamil people across the globe MGR may stand one step above these greats for what he has done to them both on screen and off screen

The legend will live on an on and on.


Most Recent