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MGR - A Life

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MGR - A Life
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MGR - A Life

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Item Code: NAO894
Author: R. Kannan
Publisher: Penguin Random House India Pvt Ltd
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9780143429340
Pages: 310 (22 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 450 gms
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About The Book

'In prose that is as brisk as it is through, R. Kannan tells not only the compelling story of MGR's transformation from poverty in legend, but also the riverting tale of modern Tamilagen itself –through turbulent currents of history and time's.

"This biography, rich in detail, insight back on the life and times of one of the most fascinating mass political leader of twentieth –centuary India – a genuine superstar in the intertwined worlds of Tamil film and politics who, despite his many flaws and a reputation for superficiality, was hugely consequential in shaping the course of the state's and, to some extent, the nation's politics. The MGR story, researched with rate diligence and told with critical empathy by R. Kannan, will help readers make better sense of the ongoing Tamil Nadu political drama and, more genrally, the role of charisma in public life.'

'This is a timely publication of MGR's life story. A story told in a voice similar to MGR's –not given to hyperbole or icon bashing, R. Kannan's MGR: A life is a very interesting read, I Knew a most of the story, but I was aghast to learn some Truths. I had a personal bond with both MGR and Sivaji Ganesan… and I am glad that parts of Sivaji's life also figure in this book. This very fact is proof of the balance and honesty of the author'

Marudar Gopalan Ramachandran, or MGR –AIADMK founer, three –time chief minister, Bhart Ratna recipient –dominated Tamil Nadu's stratosphere for four decades.

In this richly detailed biography of the man often called vathiyar or teacher, R. Kannan traces MGR's life from his poverty –ridden years –he was a Class Three dropout –to his rise as a matine idol, before becoming a politician of repute. He examines MGR's lifelong association with mentor C.N Annadurai and other Dravidhan cultural icons, and his tumultuous political friendship with Kalaignar Karunanidhi and J.Jayalalithaa, his cine heroine and political protage.

This book dissets the actor –politician's years in power; his early administration, the legendary middly meal scheme launched in 1982 that fed 65.7 lakh school children and others, his well –intentioned farm subsides and freebies that strained the exchequer, his largesse to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as well as his unabashed sponshership of liquior barons and private medical and engineering colleges that aided the transformation of the state, but also fuelled corruption.

Honest and insightful. MGR: A Life provides a portrait of a warm larger –than –life figure, whose legacy has left an indelible stamp on Dravidian politics.

About The Author

R. Kannan is a child of the Dravian movement and has long been a commentator on Dravidian politics. His first book, Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai, received critical acclaim. Raised and educated in Chennai, Kannan completed his L.L.M from the University of Georgia and Phd in international relations form the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tuffs University. He has served in various espacities for nearly a quarter of a century, He presently heads the Bastra office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.

Kannan is married and has two children.


I owe this book to Kamini Mahadevan, who planted the seed of the idea following the publication of Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai, I Must confess that I was not enthusiastic initially. Although, like many of my time, I too had run to catch a glimpse of MGR –the matinee idol –followed his every move and savoured the moment, I still could not easily bring my self to write about a politician whose identity was so deeply rooted in film. Eventually, I gave in, even as author, politician and former diplomat Pavan Varma encouraged me to take up the challenge, MGR had the power to draw crowds on par with Mahatma Gandhi, Jwahar Lal Nehru, Annadurai and Indira Gandhi. He was a colossus. His life is inextricably interwinded, with the Dravidation movement, and I believed his biography could, in a way tell the story of the movement up until 1987 –his death.

At the end of his exercise, MGR, human and fallible, emerges as a great humanist and an increadibly fascinating man with a keen native intelligence and unlike the popular portrayal of him, as an astute politician. His life of poverty, struggle, success and fame, and his god like status, is unique and could seve as an inspiration and an example. To me, he is much like Caliph Harun al –Rashid of the Thousand and One Nights fame. William Montgomery Watt writes that Caliph Harun (the honorific title 'al –Rashid' means 'the one following the right path') 'was neither a great ruler nor a man of prepossessing character, through he was a lavish patron of the arts. He owes his fame to the wealth and to his place in Arabic legend.' 1 Much like the caliph, MGR's renown came from his huge heart, his charisma, his parent Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and his carefully cultivated screen image as a do-gooder and a man who fought the mighty for the suppressed and oppressed, the weak and the poor. Yet, iromically, research studies have shown that while MGR's welfare schemes benefited the poor the they failed to lift them out of the morass of poverty.

My introduction to the Dravidian movement goes back to my childhood in Washermenpet, Madras –the birthplace and the citadel of the DMK –and my family's association with its stalwants. I have seen Perasiriyar (professor) K. Anbazhagen (general secretary of the DMK) visit my material grandfather, M. Ramasamy (EVR) apparently had been a guest in my grandfather S. Karuppiah's home at Aruppukkottai. My introduction to MGR, his films, and the DMK and post –DMK politics began with my cousin G. Lakshmanaswamy, an ardent MGR's fan, and the tenants in my grand father's house. I was so hooked on MGR's films that once, in 1976 or so, my father punished me for refusing to go out with the family, preferring instead to stay back and watch Gulebakavali (1955)2 being shown on the newly launched state television, Doordarshan. The following year, I saw MGR in person, campaigining from his open –top van. He looked like a celestrial being in that 4 p.m. sun. In 1980, T. Ramalingam , an advocate and a young leader of the Janata Party, introduced me to Tamil literature, to Kannadasan's poetry and his writings on his time with the DMK and the Janata Party's brand of nationalist politics. I owe him much. At the same time, my friend Ramalinga Jothi of the Congress (I) gave me an insight into the workings of his party. With my friend V. Jayaprakash from a Sarvodya family, I discussed both the nationalist and the Dravidian movements. DMK's working in the field for me. Meanwhile, Tamil servant,civil servant and public speaker Dr Avvai Natrajan took me under his wing and mentored me in public speaking with fatherly affection.

Between 1980 and 1986, as a student leader and debater, I came into contact with a number of leaders of the Dravidation movement. In 1988, on my return from the US after from the US after completing my LLM degree, Dr L. Venugopal Virumbi the son of Dr Lakshmanswami Mudaliar, one of the celebrated Arcot docter twins, arranged for me to call on Kalaignar (Karunanidhi was given this title, which means 'artist'). (I had the good fortune to be delivered by Dr Mudaliar in 1962.) Much like Ekalavya from the Mahabhartha, I had admired, observed and learnt from Kalaignar –but only from a distance. Finally, face to face with the legend, I could feel his presence and, in retrospect, understand why MGR was so preoccupied with him till the end. Professor T.K.S. Villalan, Rasipuram Vellapatti K. Arulmani, a fellow student in the US, Dr R. Balasundaram, his late father, K. Ramaswamy and the late R. N. Nallathambi and his wife helped strengthen this relationship with the DMK leadership in the years that followed. I owe my gratitude to each and every one of them for their contribution to my formative years.

I have, however, not allowed this association to come in the way of this book, And, in retrospect, I am happy that I agreed to Kamini's prosposition. Many would be happy that I agreed to write the book. Some of them are not with me today: my father, my father –in –law, Kaviarasar Ponnivalavan, Congress man Aru. Shankar, economist and civil servant S. Guhan, activist Savithri Raghavendra and a third cousin R. Prem Kumar are among them.

This book talks about MGR's life and chronicles his rise as a film star, his public career, his careful image making, his contribution to the Dravidian movement, his break from his parent DMK and the founding of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham (AIADMK), Culminating in his becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu, his adopted state,3 not once but thrice. MGR never lost a general election to the Legislative Assembly and more significantly, never felt the need to buy votes either. His political appeal transcended such electoral consideration. The Country's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was posthumanously bestowed on him 26 January 1988. The Union Government declared a national holiday on the day of his death and in millions of Tamil homes around the world there was a sense of personal loss. For someone who had quit school after class Three because of poverty, the extraordianary adulation he enjoyed was no mean achievement.


Preface ix
1. The First 'Stage' 1
2. Stepping into Cinema and Marriage 28
3. The Lure of the Dravidian Movement 51
4. 'God on Earth': The Zealous Convert 77
5. From Kingmaker to King 145
6. Chief Minister MGR 223
7. Prince of Population 287
8. An MGR Not in Charge 353
Notes 397
Biblography 465
Index 471

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