When MR Radha shot MGR.... [MR Radha's statement Video]

M.G. Ramachandran takes oath from his hospital bed while recuperating from injuries caused in the shooting.

Thursday 12 January 1967

January of 1967 in Madras was excitingly busy. The Madras Corporation was preparing to host a grand reception for noted singer M.S. Subbulakshmi who had just delivered a concert at the United Nations.

Political parties were stepping up campaigning for the impending elections, and cricket enthusiasts were seeking out tickets to watch the third test between West Indies and India.

For fans of MGR, however, the release of his new film Thaiukku Thalaimagan was the most important event in the month. On January 12, they were getting ready to put up festoons and celebrate the release the following day. But things took a different turn that day.

To their shock, agony and anger, MGR was shot by fellow actor M.R. Radha at the former’s residence in Nandambakkam, St. Thomas Mount, around 5 p.m.

Many rushed to Government Royappetah hospital where he was taken for emergency treatment. Chanting ‘long live MGR,’ they pelted stones and went on a rampage that lasted till about 9 p.m. News spread that Radha, who shot MGR, had tried to commit suicide by shooting himself and was admitted to the same hospital for treatment.

A group of MGR fans descended on Radha’s house in St. Thomas Mount and vandalized the property. A prohibitory order was promulgated.

Both the actors had to be shifted to Government General Hospital for surgery. The bullet that entered near MGR’s left ear had ‘lodged itself behind the first vertebra’. In the case of Radha, one bullet fired at the right temple ‘had caused an injury and fractured the skull. Another fired in the neck got embedded at the rear part of the neck’.

But it was impossible for any vehicle to plough through the crowd outside Royapettah GH. The police had to forcefully clear the way and by 10.15 p.m., both the actors were moved to the GH in the same ambulance.

Doctors removed the bullets from Radha’s body but in the case of MGR, they feared dislodging the bullet would cause further damage to the first cervical vertebra. They decided not to touch the bullet. Both actors gained consciousness by 11 a.m. the following day.

Anxious fans were on the edge through the night. Anxious well-wishers and fans welcomed news of the actors’ well-being the next day.

The shooting case was not as simple as it seemed. The investigation and lengthy trail that followed unfolded a complicated story.

K.K. Vasu, who was with Radha in MGR’s house when the shooting took place, was the key witness. He was a film producer, and in 1966, had borrowed money from Radha to produce a movie titled Petralthan Pillaya with MGR in the lead.

The movie did well and Vasu repaid the loan with interest. In January 1967, Radha approached Vasu to produce another film with MGR in the lead again. On the morning of January 12, both met to discuss the project.

By 4.30 that evening, both reached MGR’s house in Nandambakkam. They were seated in the reception hall. Radha placed the leather bag he was carrying on the table and waited for MGR to show.

The story is clear up to this point and all the parties broadly agreed with the narration. But the accounts began to vary here on.
As Vasu and MGR recalled in court, when they were discussing the details of the proposed movie, Radha stood up. MGR asked Radha to be seated, but he did not heed the words. MGR and Vasu continued talking when all of a sudden, they heard a loud noise.

MGR felt a shooting pain and covered his left ear with his palm to feel blood ooze out. He looked up and saw Radha standing with a revolver in his hand. Radha stepped back, shot himself in the right temple, and then in the neck. MGR managed to walk to the portico and asked his driver to take him to the hospital.

Radha, however, had a different story. According to him, when MGR met them in the reception hall, the matinee idol scolded Radha for writing negative articles about him.

“Brother, you are writing articles saying that I am conspiring to kill Mr. Kamaraj (then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu). Thereafter you are threatening to shoot. It does not prevent me from talking on the same lines,” MGR allegedly said.

But Radha denied it. Even as they were engaged in a heated argument, Radha heard a loud noise and felt giddy. He realized he had been shot in the temple and saw MGR pointing a gun at him.

Radha claimed that, as a reflex, he rushed towards MGR, snatched the gun and fired a shot in return. Radha was in the hospital until January 30. After that he was in the A-class prison of Madras Central jail.

The election campaign was in full swing by then and the iconic picture of MGR sitting on a hospital bed with a heavily bandaged neck was widely circulated.

Election results were announced on February 23 and DMK trounced Congress to form a new government. MGR defeated his Congress rival by an impressive margin.

On February 27, the police filed a chargesheet accusing Radha of a murder attempt on MGR, and a suicide bid. The police also said Radha owned the revolver used in the shooting. Its licence had expired in 1964. The trial was to follow.
- article by The Hindu

What witness says (from his blog)

I was duty assistant surgeon for the day in the Govt Royapettah Hospital, Madras. I was in my room after evening OP. It had been an unusually quiet day. Traffic accidents in that busy residential district and on the main arterial Mount Road that runs close by usually come straight to GRH. In those days general surgeons had to see all surgical emergences for though Orthopaedics, ENT and other departments existed they did not have sufficient number of assistants for night duty postings. At about 5 PM the casualty medical officer called wanting me to come urgently to the department. 'MGR has been brought here after a shooting accident,' he said.

I was in the casualty soon after. The familiar figure of MGR was on one of the two couches of the casualty theatre. Without makeup and wig he looked more handsome than he did on the screen. I asked him what happened and he said that M.R. Radha (the popular movie villain/comedian) had shot him in the ear. I had come with the notion that during film shooting an accident had occurred. Apparently it was not an accident and the shooting was not with camera by with a gun. I examined the ear wound. There was tattooing round the entry wound indicating that the nozzle of the gun was almost touching the skin when the trigger was pulled.

For a person who has received a bullet into his head from such close quarters MGR was quite comfortable. He was not agitated by an event that could well have ended his life and there is no doubt that the passage of the bullet into the sensitive tissues of the back of the throat would have been severely discomforting. But his total nonchalance was quite remarkable. In true life he proved to be the as much the hero he was on the silver screen.

MGR could hear my watch in the affected ear and there was no facial paralysis His familiar voice was unchanged. Some weeks later when he emerged from hospital his voice was slurred. As the first doctor to have seen him after the injury I can say with certainty that the nerve damage that caused the slurring was not by the bullet. (The Wikipedia entry that says he was shot in the throat and that affected his voice is incorrect.)

The casualty officer now came in with the news that M.R. Radha the person who had shot MGR was being wheeled into the casualty. It appears that he had shot himself in the temple after shooting MGR. I moved to the passage. Radha lay on the stretcher eyes open and alert. He spoke in his familiar rasping voice.

"Naan thaan sutteen. Policeukku statement koduthacchu." (I was the one who shot. I have given statement to the police.)

There was a bullet entry hole in the temple and a swelling surrounding the wound. Both had been shot from close quarters but other than the entry wound neither had any other demonstrable damage to their tissues. The bullets had lodged in the tissues for there were no exit wounds. Later it came to be known that the pistol and bullets had remained unused for years. As I was examining him Radha spoke again. In movies he had two voices. His usual voice was the rasping one. He had another shriller voice much loved by audiences that he used for his punch lines. He now spoke in that voice.

"Are any of you Brahmins?" he asked. Even though he was a high profile member of E.V. Ramawamy Periyar's anti-Brahmin DK party it was very surprising that a man who had just tried to kill himself should raise that question. In trauma wards accident victims cowering with fear or being hysterical is a common sight. Here two men with fresh bullets in their heads were unconcerned about it. Show business must be a good training ground for meeting crises in life. A lifetime spent pandering to the unpredictable tastes of the fickle public is good training ground for political life too. When actors take to political leadership no doubt they do well. Radha soon found himself on the other couch next to where MGR lay. There were only two couches in the casualty. The aggressor and victim lay hardly a metre from each other. This is not an uncommon situation in hospital trauma wards. It never causes problems.

It was then that I noted that the news had spread and a crowd was gathering. In fact in that short while the crowd had become quite dense. The hospital compound was kept relatively free by police but Westcott road in front of the hospital was jam packed and blocked by a mass of humanity. People packed the veranda and terrace of the YMCA building opposite. Senior police officers were active in the casualty. Leading Madras doctors appeared as if by magic though none was called in consultation except my chief Dr. Saratchandra. The ENT surgeon appeared with his head mirror. He demanded that his name must be entered in the accident register. 'I must be called to court to give evidence,' he said. The desire for publicity is not confined to those in the show business. MGR personal doctor Dr. B.R. Subramanium now joined the team that had unofficially formed. With the hospital superintendent Dr. M.V. Krishamurthi in charge my role as duty surgeon was not mine anymore not that there was anything to be done in the casualty. I saw to it that only medical personal entered the casualty theatre.

There were two unusual visitors. A middle aged woman of a rural cast rushed in anxiously asking if Radha was in danger. The nurse assured her that he was not and sent her away with some difficulty. Soon another woman came in with the same agitated query. We reassured her also of Radha's safety and sent her away. Off duty nurses from the quarters now came in a group to see the matinee idol suitably dressed for the occasion. I asked them to have a peep and then go away lest they be mistaken for M.R. Radha's friends. They took the hint and left.

Four men were standing at the casualty theatre door in clear view of the patients. They stood there with respect to hospital regulations without trying to get in though they would have been bursting with desire to have a word with MGR. Three of them I recognized. One was actor Asokan. He was visibly upset. The other was C.N. Annadurai head of the DMK party of which MGR was a prominent member and was in fact a candidate in the election due shortly. Standing by his side was M. Karunanithi. I have attended C.N. Annadurai's meetings and heard his fiery speeches. I have not seen M. Karunanithi before. He was youthful and handsome and in spite of his relatively small size had a presence. They stood there quite calm and collected. If anyone had told me at that moment that three future Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu were in within metres of each other in that small space I would have put that man down as a lunatic.

The DMK party was then not a force in Madras state politics. (It was not Tamilnadu then. Annadurai had it renamed Tamilnadu in 1968). The seats they won in successive assembly elections were too small for them to make an impact as an opposition. In every election the people voted Kamaraj's Congress into power by large majorities. It was not expected to be different in the election that was due in a month's time. The DMK was so sure of NOT winning that their leader C.N. Annadurai was standing not for the state assembly as a prospective Chief Ministers would but for the Lok Sabha.

Kamaraj however had no doubts of the results. Injured in a car accident he lay in a Tirunelveli hospital. When reporters asked him if his absence in campaigning will affect his party he made one of those statements one can never live down: 'I can win lying in my hospital bed,' he said. What happened is history. Kamaraj lost his seat to an unknown DMK candidate as did the Chief Minister M Bakthavatsalam and other Congress stalwarts. The DMK won in a landslide. Politicians and pundits, the losers and particularly the victors had no clue of why it happened. Bakthavatsalam said that a virus has affected the voters. (When the public objected he said that he really meant not virus but bacteria!) Kamaraj said they will abide by the decision of the electorate as if he had a choice.

But why did Congress lose? What happened between the previous election and this election that voters should change preferences so drastically? Apparently one has to think 'out of the box' which many learned political commentators did not. Something very significant had in fact happened in between. Nehru was dead (1964) his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri had passed away too (1966) and Nehru's daughter Indira was the Prime Minister. The passing of Nehru was a factor of utmost importance but it could not be the complete answer for after all Tamilnadu Congress was not bereft of leadership. The gigantic figure of Kamaraj, now an All-India figure, was dominating the political scene.

Kamaraj and others of his party gradually veered to the view that the result of the election was an aberration that they can set aright in the next election. Kamaraj, a master in tactics, left no stone unturned. Recognising the value of association with the movie world in politics he recruited Sivaji Ganesan to his cause. He organized DMK type rallies and processions and when five years later the next election was on he was prepared. Kamaraj had reason to hope for reversal of fortune. Intelligence gathered by the civil service and the police showed a strong trend towards a Congress victory so much so that the Chief Secretary Royappa and the Inspector General of police Mahadevan were emboldened to visit Kamaraj in his home and garland him. (This childish gesture effectively ended their careers.)

On the last day of electioneering Kamaraj organized a meeting in the beach. A crowd of a million for a political meeting had never gathered in marina beach before or since. On the podium were Kamaraj and Rajaji. The finale was dramatic with Rajaji planting a tilak on Kamaraj's forehead in a blessing of victory. Once again the prediction of pundits went wrong; DMK won in a landslide. The writing was on the wall for the Congress party. It now had no choice but to accept a peripheral status in Tamilnadu politics and there the party has remained for the four decades that have followed.

A strange phenomenon that occurred after the election may give a clue of what went wrong with the Congress. Swarms of common people from all over the state descended on Fort St. George walking the Secretariat corridors and the halls with the confidence of people who owned the place. They seemed to feel it was now their government. Kamaraj and his mostly bureaucratic type cabinet colleagues were aloof from the public. They gave good government, efficient and incorruptible, but then so had the British.

Back in GRH it was apparent that the patients needed to be in the General Hospital. Soon a convoy led by a lorry packed with MGR fans with the president of the fans association standing on top shouting slogans left for General Hospital. Westcott road reopened to the public and once again asthmatics could come to the casualty for their injections. In GH surgeons failed to extract the bullet. Some days after discharge feeling something loose in the back of his throat MGR went back to hospital where a surgeon removed the bullet by a simple incision. The bullet had loosened and eroded towards the surface as foreign bodies often do. In the court case that followed M.R. Radha was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He was released in due course and died a free man. C.N. Annadurai became chief minister but he passed away within two years (3 Feb 1969) and M. Karunanithi took over. The M. Karunanithi - MGR rivalry that followed is too fresh to need retelling. MGR's splinter party won the election in 1977 and he was Chief Minister till his death in 1987 after a long illness. M. Karunanithi again became Chief Minister and now in his eighties continues in the post as alert and nimble of speech as ever.

I was happy that the patients had left for a very special reason. I had tickets for the test match in nearby Chepauk grounds that was to start the next day when India was to meet the West Indies led by Sobers with Kanhai and Wes Hall in the team. The next five playing days the packed stadium watched exhilarating cricket. On day one Engineer missed a century before lunch by 4 runs, Kanhai scored 80 and Sobers scored 95 in the first innings and a match saving 75 not out in the second. The sight that endures in memory is that of Sobers standing languidly bat in hand facing Chandrasekar, and Bedi and Prasanna. The cover point and mid off fielders are on the boundary. When Sobers is on song he times his drives with such ferocity that only boundary riders have any hope of fielding the ball.


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