Royal Theatre plays host to a very special guest. It is MGR, and the people are flocking in to see their thalaivar in his blockbusters. K. Jeshi is struck by the intensity of love his fans still have for him

It’s festive at Royal Theatre on Big Bazaar Street. MGR beams out of the Rickshawkaaran poster. His fans wear matching smiles on their faces, and look worshipfully at the poster.

Some of them scramble all the way up and garland their MGR, who is dressed in blue with his signature scarf worn around the neck. Others are content to watch. “Whether he is alive or dead, our Thalaivar lives in our hearts,” says C. Venugopal. He has come all the way from Vellalore to catch the re-run of Rickshawkaaran. “I have watched it over 100 times but there is magic every time my Thalaivar appears on screen,” he adds.

Fans for life

Fans are dressed in their best, they whistle, and clap for every dialogue MGR speaks. When their hero romances Manjula in the songs ‘Azhagiya Tamil Magal Ival’ and ‘Kadal Oram Vaangiya Kaatru’, they start dancing. “He always spoke for the poor. He never forgot us. He is the only leader to have ruled for a 13-year term,” adds R. Sekhar from SIHS Colony, near Singanallur. “My father was associated with the party right from 1972. MGR survived three murder attempts and emerged victorious to serve the needy. He is immortal,” he adds. Sekhar wakes up every day to a larger-than-life photograph of MGR that hangs at his home.

Movies with a message

Most MGR films highlighted social issues, struck a chord with the audience, and became super hits. His film Padagoti dealt with problems of the fishermen community, Sirithu Vaazha Vendum highlighted the minorities, Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban spoke on using science for development and Thozhilaali dealt with the working class. In Rikshawkaaran, he fights for justice when a rickshawkaaran is killed. “The message he conveys is the worth of human life, he may be rich or poor, but he has the right to live. He also talks about women’s empowerment,” says Venugopal. They add that their idol worked to uplift society through his films and even when he became the chief minister. “He expressed his anger over the disparity towards poor in his dialogues. Even today, a percentage of earnings from his properties go to the poor. He still has the power to enthrall people.”

A night shift duty at the hospital and relatives camping at home haven’t stopped K. Mayil from Puliakulam to catch the morning show of Rickshawkaaran. “I grew up watching MGR films. I know all the scenes, songs and the dialogues from Rickshawkaaran, Oli Vilakku, Aayirithil Oruvan, Thaaikku Pin Thaaram, Naadodi Veeran… I don’t watch any of the new films. MGR films make me forget all my worries. Every film has a message for society. I feel so sad that he is no more,” she says wiping away her tears.

For P. Gopal from Chinniyampalayam, it’s MGR’s journey that draws him to the icon. “He came up the hard way, worked for the poor and set an example for good deeds and thoughts.”

“There is only one hero ever and that is my MGR,” says K. Karuppama, who refuses to take her eyes off MGR as he sings ‘Kadaloram…’

Royal Theatres came up with the idea to re-run old MGR films as the other films hardly ran for three days. “We found ourselves releasing new films on Friday and taking them off on Sundays, because of less crowds. One of the film distributors suggested we re-run MGR films. It was an eye-opener,” says RHR Ratnavelu. They showed seven MGR films for seven days — Nam Naadu, Adimai Pen, Maatukaara Velan, Ayirathil Oruvan, Kaavalkaaran, Kumari Kottam and En Annan — and every film opened to a rousing reception. “We saw huge crowds. It was encouraging. Whenever they see a MGR poster, they come here.”

Ratnavelu remembers MGR as a friend who visited their home and dined with them. “He lived for the public. In one of his films, Marudha Naatu Ilavarasi, when the heroine, a princess played by V.N. Janaki, (who later became his wife) asks the hero to elope with her, he rejects the offer and says… “My people are important to me.” He always keeps a promise. He promised to lay the foundation stone for our Hotel Thai. Though ill, he kept his word.”

MGR’s films Engu Veetu Pillai and Thaikku Pin Thaaram ran for more than 100 days at Royal Theatres even when it was first released. “MGR planned three mass entertainers in a year. Every film ran for more than 10 weeks.”

Royal Theatres have lined up a number of MGR blockbusters for re-run in the coming days.