Tomorrow is the 25th death anniversary of matinee idol and former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran. On this occasion, A. Srivathsan digs into The Hindu archives to piece together a two-part series on the intriguing events that led up to a murder attempt on MGR, back in 1967, and the sensational trial that followed
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.