S. Vijayan, an MGR fan, is a treasure trove of less known anecdotes about the iconic actor
Did you know that actor MGR's film Madurai Veeran released in 1956 ran for 100 days in all the 36 movie halls that screened it? “It's the first ever Tamil film to set such a record,” says S. Vijayan, a store house of information on MGR. He provides you with another nugget: “Young Kamal Hassan watched the film on all the 100 days in his native Paramakudi town”.
An ardent MGR fan since his childhood, Vijayan alias Ramakrishnan based in Chennai, is the editor and publisher of the monthly magazine Ithayakkani, dedicated to the actor-turned-chief minister. Launched in 2000, it is circulated in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bombay, some gulf countries and also in Malaysia, France and London. The website www.ithayakkani.com, active for four years now, packs in anecdotes and information about the actor's rise to stardom, his rare photographs, filmography, political life and more. “Now, people in over 65 countries enjoy reading about MGR,” he says.
There is a story about Malacca Governor Tun Mohd Khalil Yaakob, a diehard MGR fan. He re-enacted the late actor's role in the 1964 blockbuster Vettaikaran in a 45-minute drama and dazzled people in Malaysia. “He dressed up as MGR with his trademark cap and dark glasses. One of our readers spotted the story which appeared on page one of Star, a popular tabloid in Malaysia and sent it to us.”
Vijayan has watched all of the 138 MGR films. His weekly column “MGR Kadhai” was serialised for 58 weeks in Devi, a weekly magazine from Maalai Murasu publication after the demise of the actor. As a part of the life history series, Vijayan visited MGR's 200-year-old Tharavadu (ancestral house) in Vadavannur, near Palakkad in Kerala. It is called ‘Maruthur House'. A relative now lives in the rebuilt house. Vijayan has recorded MGR's life history as a docu-drama too. “MGR is believed to have renovated ‘Chandranantha Illam' in Kuzhal Mannam, the home of his second wife Sathanandavathi. They have preserved the cot used by MGR and the room is full of other memorabilia. His co-brother told me that the star visited the house as a CM in 1986, sat on the same cot, and cried.”
Yaanaiadi School in Kumbakonam (where the actor moved with his mother Sathyabama) is significant too.
“His school mate Denan recalled his memories with MGR. The school authorities have preserved the ledger which has the signature of M. G. Ramachandran who studied there in class III and IV.”
During his research Vijayan interacted with Raju Kaantham, Kali N. Ratnam's wife. Kali N. Ratnam is considered MGR's guru in theatre.
Vijayan has gathered thousands of rare photographs. It includes those of MGR without his cap and glasses, stills from his theatre days, family photographs, stills from his unreleased films, and from his political life. “Humility and public service defined his personality,” says Vijayan. He took good care of his body and exercised regularly, Vijayan learnt about this from his friends and relatives.
He mentions Malai Kallan (shot at Pakshiraja Studios in Coimbatore), Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum and Madurai Veeran as landmark films in his career.
“MGR was multi-faceted. He tried his hands at direction with Naadodi Mannan, Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban, and Maduraiai Meeta Sundara Pandian. He wrote the script for Kanavar, which is based on a Russian novel Wood Cutter.”
His films were noted for technical finesse too. “The ‘head mask' technique employed to show meeting of double roles were technically superior in his films Naadodi Mannan (where two MGR's shake hands) and Maatukara Velan (where the characters cross each other).”
Vijayan's series “Ellam Arintha MGR” that appeared in Ithayakkani has been brought out as a book by Vikatan Publications.
“His fight scenes, especially the silambu fight where he kneels down and twirls the sword are unique. MGR is the only actor who never used a knee cap against injuries. Such was his stamina,” he says.The website is regularly updated. People have often asked Vijayan how he finds so much to write about MGR. He answers, “He never wasted a single moment of his life. He is a man who has spent every hour of his life fruitfully.”