Malathi Rangarajan takes a trip down memory lane with octogenarian K.P. Ramakrishnan, who was closely associated with the legendary actor-politician MGR

From working at a milk vendor’s, to rising to the level of an actor who played MGR’s double in all his dual role films, besides character roles, and serving as a personal bodyguard of MGR for more than 30 years, K.P. Ramakrishnan’s life has seen many interesting turns. Though Ramakrishnan has worked with other heroes too, his life and career revolved around the pivot called M.G. Ramachandran. “He was Ramachandran, and I, Ramakrishnan,” chuckles the octogenarian, as we take off on a journey down his memory lane.

In April, Ramakrishnan was honoured for his devotion to and long association with MGR, as evinced in MGR Oru Sagaaptham, a book written by Ramakrishnan. The event, ‘MGR 96,’ was held in Malaysia, to celebrate the 96th birth anniversary of the charismatic actor-politician. The crowd went delirious when action sequences featuring MGR and KPR were beamed on a big screen in the auditorium. “They still believe that their hero is alive. Surrealistically, talking to me and holding my hands made them feel that they were connecting with MGR himself! Their awe and adulation for him are unbelievable,” observes Ramakrishnan.

Trained in martial arts

When MGR became a full-fledged politician, Ramakrishnan stopped doing films. “Cinema became secondary to me after MGR quit it. I was with him throughout. His well-being was my priority,” he says. Once while they were travelling on a train for an election campaign, a group of hooligans boarded it with the aim of attacking MGR. “After dinner we had retired to our berths. MGR was alone in his coupe, when the group pounced on him. By the time the melee woke us up, MGR was already fighting them single-handed. He could take them on because he was trained in various forms of Indian martial arts,” recalls Ramakrishnan.

As an expert in Kalari, Silambam, wrestling, boxing and other such, from his early years, Ramakrishnan should know. “I was 14 when I first saw MGR. He would come down every evening to the shop where I worked, for a glass of milk. The family, which included his brother Chakrapani and mother, lived on Walltax Road, then. I was blessed to be a guest at his home and served food by his mother.”

When MGR decided to shift his residence to Royapettah, the owners were slightly hesitant to let it out. “We visited Rajaji in his home. He made a call to them and that was it. The respect the two had for each other was mutual,” he remembers.

Genuine concern

Ramakrishnan had made a couple of appearances in cinema as a henchman earlier, but it was because of MGR that he was noticed.” From Nadodi Mannan to Neerum Neruppum, Ramakrishnan played MGR’s double in all his films that had the hero in dual roles. The respect it earned for him was immense. “I was not just a stuntman in cinema. I was replicating the great MGR in scenes where his face wasn’t to be seen,” Ramakrishnan’s face swells with joy. MGR would see to it that Ramakrishnan was provided the same kind of attire and accessories that he was using in a scene. If low-priced shoes were given to Ramakrishnan, MGR would have them replaced with ones similar to his. “As a man who has been his shadow for several decades, I was overawed by his kindness and hospitality even to strangers. The concern was genuine,” avers Ramakrishnan. Those who entered his home had to first head towards the dining area before they met him. His first query to every person was, “Were you given something to eat?”

Even at the shooting spot, after every shot he would ensure that the fighters in the action scene were fine. “Once I was supposed to turn around on a wheel and fight him. I slipped, my heel got twisted and leg was caught in the wheel. Even as MGR rushed towards me I managed to complete the shot. I was admitted to the hospital and was confined to bed for the next three months,” smiles Ramakrishnan. Hindi films such as Ghai Aur Gauri and the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Shehzaada and Malayalam films, including Chakravaham, had Ramakrishnan in them.

Not just MGR, Ramakrishnan has played Nambiar’s double too. “The on-screen villain was a thorough gentleman in real life,” Ramakrishnan showers encomiums on the late actor. “He was instrumental in helping me procure this piece of land in the heart of the city. ‘It’s worth it. If you are short of money let me know,’ he told me. I said I could manage and went ahead.”

The home, in the lane opposite Stella Maris College, is cosy and lively, with his son, Govindarajan, and grandchildren hovering around him. “I never once thought I should curry favours from MGR. His benevolence and affection were enough for me,” he soberly concludes.