Movies

The magic of MGR, through a series of 100 books

A little over a year ago, C Rajeswari, kick-started a unique project: to write one book a month on popular film star and stalwart politician of the Dravidian movement, MG Ramachandran. So far, she has penned 14 in Tamil in a series of 100 that she plans. “It will take me eight years to complete this,” says the Madurai-based translator and teacher-turned author.

Her first English title Unique Nature of MGR Fans is slated for launch on September 18 in Chennai. “Non resident Tamils have established MGR associations in every part of the world and many do not read Tamil, but want to know more about the cult figure that he was. So I am writing in English too and have planned 15 books,” she says.

For her Tamil series of 100 books, Rajeswari has identified subjects she wants to highlight. “It is not difficult to discover a new thing about MGR each time I meet a fan of his. There is a bit of MGR in each fan,” she says. It is the intriguing characteristics of MGR lovers that inspired her to analyse his on-and-off-screen persona.

“This is not because I’m a fan myself,” she says. Rajeswari’s father belonged to the Justice Party and took her to many MGR movies in the 1970s as they were mostly about family and relationships, bonding and love, ethical values and social messages. “MGR was an impactful actor and that is what makes his fans different from those of any other star’s,” she says and asks, “Which other actor’s old movies are re-released regularly?”

According to her Royal, Delight and Shanmuga theatre in Coimbatore top in re-releasing the most number of MGR movies every week followed by the Central, Meenakshi and Kalaivani theatre in Madurai. “These theatres run old MGR movies every Sunday for matinee and evening shows and it is profitable. In many Tamil Nadu cities, members of MGR fans associations meet regularly to recall and appreciate how MGR always helped the disadvantaged.

It was at the launch of MGR Ulaka Peravai in July 2018 that Rajeswari decided on her compendium. “Even three decades after his death, it is fascinating how much the actor-turned-politician is loved and revered as a philanthropist,” she says. The first three books she published were compilations of 10 articles each that she wrote for a column in Vikatan.

Rajeswari says she began researching on MGR in the 1990s when she was doing her PhD and was asked to assist Rev CRW David, the communications head at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Madurai, for his thesis on communicative value of MGR solo songs. “I collected MGR songs and did the content analysis.”

Later, when she began teaching Tamil to foreign research scholars in colleges affliated to Madurai Kamaraj University, she was often asked if Indian actors joined politics only because of their popularity. This made her take a deeper look at Kollywood movies of the 1940s to 1970s. “I found two things interesting; MGR was not a swashbuckling hero but popular for his generosity both in real and reel life. Whatever he did in his movies proved true in some way.”

Rajeswari cites 1958 flick, Nadodi Mannan, with which MGR debuted as a film maker. “Like the vagabond in the film who impersonates the king and implements social and economic reforms to uplift the poor, MGR came from Ceylon, took 10 years to establish himself as an actor and eventually went on to rule Tamil Nadu,” she compares.

As part of her research, Rajeswari reads books and newspaper articles, watches MGR interviews and meets hundreds of fans from all walks of life, including rickshaw pullers and tea kiosk owners. She visited the MGR temple in Thiruninravur, 15 kilometres from Chennai to understand the mindset of his fans. She came across ‘devotees’ who consider MGR deivam, chant 108 namahas in his name and observe 25 days abstinence from December 24 (when MGR died) to January 17, when they visit the temple on his birthday.

The more she met people including those who worked with him like his tailor, photographer, personal cook, Rajeswari found MGR’s life, behaviour, attitude towards people and work set him apart. The best anecdotes were shared by his three nieces Geetha, Latha and Sudha and his adopted daughter Radha. They described him as someone who remained popular among the poor and was friends of the wealthy too, conversed only in Tamil and was passionate about upholding the legacy of Tamil culture and literature.

Rajeswari’s books talk about MGR’s strict regimen for all the children at home, his protectiveness towards women in general and how his films treated women, his public image, how he fed everybody who visited his home and implemented the noon meal scheme in schools, how he selected his roles in films and as a politician upgraded education in the State, his sense of spirituality and his power to convince people about all things right.

“My books are apolitical and in simple language analyse the phenomenon of MGR,” she says. “His fans love him for his confidence and optimism and also exempt him from being culpable for anything.”

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:51:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/madurai-based-tamil-linguist-c-rajeswari-presents-fascinating-insights-into-the-minds-of-fans-of-the-superstar-turned-politician-through-a-series-of-100-books/article29415679.ece

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