On January 12, 1967, Tamils were in for a shock from a high-profile crime in Madras. A reel life hero was shot at by a reel life villain. The hero was none other than M.G. Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, who went on to be the Chief Minister. The villain was M.R. Radha, a versatile actor, whose prime was past him. The crime happened when the State was facing a crucial Assembly election.
MGR was the star campaigner for the DMK, an off-shoot of Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam, which was trying to defeat the Congress, which was ruling the State since Independence. Apart from the popularity of party president C.N. Annadurai and the brilliant oratorical skills of his band of brothers like M. Karunanidhi, the DMK was looking to tap into the massive popularity of MGR, the darling of the masses. MGR was also the DMK candidate in St. Thomas Mount. His film Petral Than Pillaiya, produced by K.K. Vasu, was a super-hit. MGR was the hero in the film and Radha was the villain.
Discussions on a new film
Around 4.15 p.m. that day, Radha, accompanied by Vasu, reached MGR’s residence at Ramavaram to discuss a new film, with MGR in the lead. When the discussions were on, Radha suddenly whipped up a revolver from his dhoti and shot at MGR. Vasu quickly overpowered him. However, Radha managed to wriggle out and shot himself twice. This was the version of the police and the prosecution. After being shot at, MGR got into his car and asked his driver to take him to Government Royapettah Hospital. The bullet had entered his left ear. Meanwhile, though he was injured, Radha managed to reach his farm located nearby and with the help of workers he reached the Saidapet police station. Radha complained to the police that MGR had shot at him. The police took him to Government Royapettah Hospital. Soon, the news spread like wildfire. A huge crowd of MGR fans gathered at the hospital. It hurled stones at public properties and policemen. A mob barged into Radha’s garden and torched a shed. The police had to resort to a lathi-charge and fire tear-gas shells. Policemen were also injured in the melee.
MGR had a miraculous escape. Initially doctors did not remove the bullet, fearing further damage (The removal of the bullet later led to his speech impairment). But they were able to remove two bullets from Radha: one from the temporal region and the other from the neck. Both gained consciousness the following day. The St. Thomas Mount police registered a case and arrested Radha on the charge of attempting to murder MGR. The police recovered the revolvers from both and while MGR had renewed the licence periodically, Radha did not. Both had bought their weapons the same day. The case was investigated by G.K. Ranganathan, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch. On February 27, the police filed a charge sheet accusing Radha of an attempt to murder MGR and attempt suicide. A picture of MGR sitting on a hospital bed with a heavily bandaged neck was widely circulated during the election campaign and the DMK won the election and formed the government. MGR also won by an impressive margin.
K.K. Vasu intervened
During the trial, conducted before Special Sessions Judge P. Lakshmanan, MGR said that when they were talking, he felt something, with the sound of a thunder, piercing near his left ear. After he understood that Radha had shot at him, Vasu rushed across and shouted at Radha: “Ada pavi, chandala, sathikara”. Vasu tried to hold Radha by both hands. Radha went back a few steps and shot himself with his revolver. MGR said he went to the portico, closing the wound with his left hand, and told the driver to bring the car.
Also Read | MGR explains how shooting took place
But Radha testified that while they were talking at the reception, he turned aside when he heard a bang. Suddenly he felt giddy and applied his hands to his temple. He found blood oozing out. Radha said he slowly turned and saw MGR with a revolver in his hand. He realised the position and wanted to save himself. He rushed towards MGR and snatched the revolver after a struggle. He also fired a shot, but did not know whether it hit MGR. He fell down and did not know anything for some time. But he had a feeling that another bullet was passing through him. He could not say who fired this shot.
Also Read | M.R. Radha’s version of the shooting incident
On November 4, 1967, Sessions Judge Lakshmanan sentenced Radha to seven-year rigorous imprisonment for having attempted to murder MGR. In his 262-page judgment, the judge rejected the defence argument of MGR having fired the first shot, the struggle between Radha and MGR, and the accidental shooting at MGR by Radha. He upheld the prosecution version that Radha shot at MGR from behind his back and MGR providentially escaped death. There was no accidental firing by Radha, nor was there any scope for self-defence.
Referring to the prosecution evidence to show that the financial frustration of Radha was also a motive, the judge said it was seen from the testimony of prosecution witnesses that Radha had liabilities totalling ₹7.36 lakh. According to the evidence, despite his age, MGR was acting as hero and earning a lot of money, whereas Radha was unable to earn and his acting career was declining and he was facing mounting debts. Hence, the possibility of Radha being jealous of MGR could not be ruled out, the judge said.
Also Read | MGR operated on again
The judge said he was satisfied that there was an ample political motive for Radha to murder MGR. The document, titled En Mudivu, which, according to the prosecution, the accused handed over to the head constable at the Royapettah hospital, showed his political motive and his grudge against MGR and his obsession that MGR was planning to murder Congress leader Kamaraj. That such an obsession was baseless was evident from the fact that MGR had taken part in the birthday celebrations of Kamaraj.
‘Implicit faith in violence’
The judge said Radha, though was not a Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) member, was an ardent supporter of that organisation and a follower of its leader Periyar. Ahead of the general election, the DK had supported the Congress. Evidently, Radha wanted to die as a martyr in the cause of the DK which was supporting the Congress in Madras State prior to the Assembly election. Radha seemed to have lost faith in the propaganda to be done by party leaders or its members to win votes. On the contrary, he placed an implicit faith in violent acts, the judge said.
Also Read | M.R. Radha’s sentence reduced by Supreme Court
The High Court dismissed Radha’s appeal. He went to the Supreme Court, which reduced his sentence to five years on humanitarian grounds. On April 29, 1971, the DMK government freed Radha one month ahead of the scheduled date of release. MGR became the Chief Minister in 1977. After coming out, Radha resumed his career. P. Saron, who made a documentary on Radha, said both actors did not disclosed the real reason for the shooting in their lifetime. Radha and MGR met four times at public events later. They showed an unusual bonhomie and MGR took Radha’s criticism positively.
(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104, Tele-MANAS 14416, and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050)