MGR Illam gives a glimpse into a charismatic actor-politician’s life

Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) bequeathed his personal office to develop a memorial for him

Updated - January 07, 2024 10:29 pm IST

Published - January 07, 2024 11:56 am IST - CHENNAI

MGR bequeathed the house that he used as his office according to a will.

MGR bequeathed the house that he used as his office according to a will. | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

His iconic blue Ambassador car. The number plate 4777 is unique as it was on July 4, 1977, that he assumed office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

His iconic blue Ambassador car. The number plate 4777 is unique as it was on July 4, 1977, that he assumed office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. | Photo Credit: Akhila Easwaran

It is a place that can be easily missed in T. Nagar unless you look for it specifically.

In Arcot Street off Thanikachalam Road around 500 feet away from the Pondy Bazaar pedestrian plaza is MGR Illam, a museum that former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (generally known as MGR) bequeathed to his fans and followers.

It is a nondescript place with just a blue metal arch proclaiming its presence besides a board at the entrance to the street. On many days the place is quiet. But on MGR’s birthday on January 17 and on his death anniversary on December 24 people flock to the place.

The two-storey structure, built probably in the mid-20th century, has soft yellow polished mosaic floors. Visitors must leave their footwear outside before entering the building. The outside is sparse with a bust of the former Chief Minister facing the road inside a mandapam.

There are nearly a dozen rooms inside the building. On the ground floor are gifts and awards presented to him by his fans and members of the political party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that he founded.

Blue Ambassador car

The blue Ambassador car that he owned takes pride of place. The number plate 4777 is unique as it was on July 4, 1977, that he assumed office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The car is fitted with a television as well. Television was a rarity until early 1990s in middle class households even in Chennai. The man who keeps an eye on the visitors, P. Palani Andavar, says the car would run if the battery were installed.

Many of the items on display are from his political admirers. Each display gives an idea of the huge fan following the actor had. Fans stop by some of the photographs to read the legends below them or recall an associated anecdote. In the background, songs from MGR films play softly and fans hum along as they walk through the rooms.

On January 5, a group of young women visited the house. T. Jeeva, who trains school students in arts and crafts, is from Saligramam and for her, this is the first visit. She had many questions that E. Sukumar, a middle-aged man, who accompanied her, patiently answered.

Mr. Sukumar is an ardent fan of the actor. The women said they were returning from a training session in Guntur Subbiah School on Venkatnarayana Road and Mr. Sukumar decided to give them a tour of the house.

MGR bequeathed the house that he used as his office according to a will that was made public a few months after his death on December 24, 1987. According to reports in The Hindu, the former Chief Minister did not want the government to spend on a memorial for him. He also left ₹7 lakh to be used for its maintenance, including salary for a watchman and a housekeeper.

Litigation despite clear will

Despite a clear will, there was litigation with a group alleging that MGR’s wife Janaki had tried to misuse it as party office. “Back then there was hardly any restriction on movement around the place. There were no barricades or police restrictions,” said R.K. Ramasamy, a resident of the neighbouring street for several decades.

Inside the house, MGR’s office room and visitors’ room have been retained in their pristine state. As one descends to exit are two rooms – one with photographs of the actor with his heroines from his movies. His acting career began with Sati Leelavathi (the photo features only him).

In the next room are a set of photographs with political leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, indicating his close association with the Nehru-Gandhi family. The chatter of the group in the house rose as it watched the displays on the first floor and as they exited, the group took photos.

Inside the building, cellphone photography is prohibited. Mr. Andavar is the official photographer who takes photos if people want to take home memories. A photograph costs ₹40.

The building is now being maintained by MGR Charities.

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