by Sachi Sri Kantha, April 29, 2014
As I had mentioned at the ending of the previous part, to celebrate the memory of MGR, Kannadasan Pathippagam (publishers) had released MGR’s autobiography on January 17th of this year – to coincide with MGR’s 97th birthday. Thus, it is opportune to offer a review of two volumes here. There is no doubt that the two volumes of this autobiography is a manna for millions of MGR’s fans.
MGR’s autobiography was first serialized in Ananda Vikatan Tamil weekly between early 1970 and October 1972. At that time. MGR had passed 50, and was 53 to 55 years old. When he stopped the series immediately after inaugurating his new political party Anna DMK, his 117th movie ‘Idaya Veenai’ had been released in October 1972. He still had to release 16 more movies between 1973 and January 1978. Now, 26 years after MGR’s death, and 44 years after its first serialized publication, his autobiography sees the light. It had a sort-of ‘aborted release’ in 2003, and ran into copyrights trouble and a Court Case between cousins. One party was V.N. Janaki’s son Surendran. The other party was, Sudha Vijayakumar (a daughter of V.N. Janaki’s sibling, and one of the three adopted daughters of MGR).
A Synopsis of the Copyright Infringement Case on the Autobiography
Though MGR retained the exclusive copyright of what appeared in the Ananda Vikatan weekly, his registered will dated January 18, 1987, excluded the copyright of the material that appeared in the Ananda Vikatan. After his death, V.N. Janaki acquired the rights as MGR’s nearest kin. Though she also prepared her will, the copyright of MGR’s autobiography material was excluded in it too. When Janaki died in 1996, none took the trouble to bother about the copyright status of MGR’s autobiography. Then, Janaki’s niece Sudha Vijayakumar took it upon herself to print 1,000 copies in 2003. According to a report that appeared under a byline of P.C. Vinoj Kumar in Feb.1, 2004, in the copyright infringement case filed by Janaki’s son Surendran at the Madras High Court that asked for a restrain order, it was revealed that among the 1,000 copies printed by Rajarajan Pathipagam (Chennai), only 50 copies were sold to the public. Another 18 copies were passed to the media and an additional 17 copies were sold at a Salem book fair. Sudha Vijayakumar had received 100 copies. This makes up to 185 copies. It was also mentioned by Vinoj Kumar that 723 copies were ‘in the process of binding’. Cumulatively, it adds up to 908 copies. Remaining 92 copies were seized by P. Nallathai, an advocate commissioner in late January 2004! In Feb. 2008, Surendran also filed a contempt petition No.330 of 2004, at Madras High Court, against Mrs. Sudha Vijayakumar, M. Nandan (proprietor, Rajarajan Pathipagam) and R. Radhakrishnamoorthy (Managing Director, New Century Book House, Chennai). It stated that while the Court had passed an order of injunction on Jan.21, 2004, the book in question was sold at New Century Book House at Coimbatore. Finally, in June 21, 2012, Justice P.R.Shivakumar had ruled that J. Surendran is the “absolute and exclusive owner of the entire copyright of M.G. Ramachandran’s autobiography ‘Naan Yaen Piranthaen’ – Why I was Born.” Subsequently, poet Kannadasan’s publisher-son Gandhi had negotiated terms with Surendran to publish the autobiography under his Kannadasan Pathippagam label.
Meat of the Book
Volume 1 of MGR’s autobiography, completing the first 63 chapters extends for 719 pages, with supplemented photos. Volume 2, picking up from chapter 64, continues until 1480 pages (also with more photos) and ends with chapter 134. Final 8 pages are supplemented with photos from Surendran’s family album and some notable personalities with whom MGR interacted. The merit of this autobiography lies on the fact that it is a reasonably uncontestable record of Tamilnadu’s stage drama history from circa 1925 to 1960 and Tamil movie industry from mid 1930s to 1960 by one who was a primary participant-observer to the changing trends and the careers of notable and colorful personalities stage and cinema. There have been other books published by indigenous and foreign scholars on Tamilnadu’s stage and movie industry, but none can compete with the weight, longevity, respect and popular fame, MGR carried for his contributions to these fields. MGR recounts his association with elite stage and cinema actors, some of whom served as his mentors – Kali N. Ratnam, M.K. Radha, M.R. Radha, K.P. Kesavan, N.S. Krishnan, P.U. Chinappa, T.S. Balaiah, K.R. Ramasamy, M.N. Nambiar, and last but not the least, his own elder brother M.G. Chakrapani. Other noteworthy individuals belonging to Tamil stage and cinema who also have received mention include (in alphabetical listing) script writer and mentor C.N. Annadurai, actress-singer U.R. Jeevaratnam, actor-lyricist K.P. Kamatchi, lyricist Kannadasan, script-writer M. Karunanidhi, legendary stage singer S.G. Kittappa, lyricist C.A. Laksmana Das, lyricist Muthukoothan, actor M.G. Nadaraja Pillai, actor D.V. Narayanaswamy, director P. Neelakandan, actor K.K. Perumal, stage-cinema actor S.V. Sahasranamam, director A.S.A. Samy, cinema pioneer Raja Sandow, heroine B. Saroja Devi, stage pioneer T.K. Shanmugam, producer Sandow M.M. A. Sinnappa Devar, producer M. Somasundaram, music director S.M. Subbiah Naidu, director K. Subramaniam, singer-actress K.B. Sundarambal, movie mogul S.S. Vasan and actor P.G. Venkatesan. This is only a select list.
Psychoanalyst Eric Erikson (1902-1992) identified eight stage of human life in 1950, as follows:
Stage 1: Infancy stage (age 0-2)
Stage 2: Early Childhood stage (age 2-4)
Stage 3: Play stage (age 4-5)
Stage 4: School stage (age 5-12)
Stage 5: Adolescence stage (age 13-19)
Stage 6: Young adulthood stage (age 20-39)
Stage 7: Adulthood stage (age 40-64)
Stage 8: Old Age stage (age >65)
MGR’s autobiography spans from Erikson stages 2 to 7, with stage 7 stopping at age 55. Among my readings, as of now there has been only three solid autobiographies with ‘meat’ in Tamil written by those who were trained in the Dravidian tradition and politics. These were, poet Kannadasan (2 volumes), MGR (2 volumes) and script writer-lyricist Karunanidhi (4 volumes, as of now). Kannadasan died in 1981 at the age of 54. MGR died in 1987 at the age of 70. Karunanidhi is still living, and will reach 90, in June 3rd this year. In book versions, Kannadasan’s autobiography was first published in 1962. Karunanidhi’s autobiography was first published in 1975. MGR’s autobiography sees light only this year. What is significant in MGR’s autobiography is, it is more self-introspective in details in family relationships, compared to other two. While Kannadasan’s autobiography was indeed self-introspective as per personal foibles and deeds, compared to that of Karunanidhi, but his autobiography begins at Ericson stage 5; he had tactfully hidden his relationships with his two wives. MGR was more open in his relationships with his wives compared to Kannadasan and Karunanidhi.
In chapter 1, MGR writes, “The instruments that I’ve carried in my past life struggles are patience, self-confidence and courage. These three traits have helped me always. But, I cannot answer whether I’ve achieved completeness in handling these character traits. Why I came to write my autobiography was my focus that others have to be blessed fully with these three character traits.
The primary focus of this self-introspective autobiography was on four women who shaped MGR’s life; namely, his mother Sathyabama, and three wives (Bhargavi, Sadanandavathi and V.N. Janaki). True to his life conviction, MGR had given prominence to these four women who had shaped his life and thoughts. Mother Sathyabama was his life guard (and God) and disciplinarian until her death in 1952. There is a delight for many readers, including this reviewer, when reading young MGR’s interactions with his mother, even though occasionally he had to disagree with her – but never disobeyed her. Apart from these four, three more women characters did play notable roles in young MGR’s life. Two are identified by name. These being, his second mother-in-law Mookambikai (shortened to Mookami; mother of 2nd wife Sadanandavathi) and actress S.D. Subbulakshmi (and wife of director K. Subramaniam). But, my favorite woman character was MGR’s first love, who had not been identified by name but lived as his neighbor. Suppose if this woman is still living, she may be 93-94 years old!
MGR tells the story of his first love humorously in chapters 69 and 73, which had to end in disaster due to the disciplinary actions of his mother. When he was around 15 (circa 1932), he was playing lead roles in a popular stage drama ‘Sathiawan-Savithri’. His love interest was next door Tamil girl, aged around 12 or 13. To attract her attention, each morning he would sit with a harmonium and sing repeatedly with elaborative improvisations only the first two lines of the song which is sung by the hero Sathiavan’s character.
“Yeno Yenai ezuppalaanai – mada mane
Enakathanai uraikkavenum isaithu ketpaen naane”
are the ‘pick up’ lines of MGR’s heart. In translation, it reads ‘Why did you wake me up a timid deer – You’d tell me, I’d plead with you dear’. Teenage MGR’s ploy of practicing his drama song lines couldn’t fool his disciplinarian mother. Her morning prayers were disturbed badly by our hero’s ‘pick-up line’song and the harmonium box sound. One day, she took prompt action, and dumped a bucket of cold water on him. What MGR had described, is as follows:
“ ‘What is this nonsense song you are singing? Especially when young girls are around here? If I hear you singing this song in this house, that’s the end. If you want to practice, go to a sea beach and sing any damn thing! If anyone gives you something, why not take it?…What nonsense – why you wake me up? You are the one who is waking everyone here?’ She told this and kicked the harmonium box and went to take her bath! ”
As MGR humorously recollects, his main concern then was not that he was showered by cold bath, but that whether his love interest shouldn’t have watched it! Later, our still love-lorn hero adopted another ruse. His friends advised MGR to write a letter. He was scared, ‘Suppose what happens, if it lands in someone else’s hand?’ Even for this, his friends prepared an escape route. What MGR did was to tear an end of a newspaper, and scribbled, “When it is feasible to talk [with you]?” The letter(?) was only that much. He had grabbed her hand when she came out, and pressed it into her palms. First time, she didn’t accept it. Our love-lorn hero still persisted. Next time, he repeated the act, and succeeded. Her hands were shaking. Then, he was awaiting for a reply from her for that one line question, which never came! Few days later, unexpectedly, an opening gambit arrived. Our hero holds her hand firmly and asks, ‘Why no reply?” To this, she quietly responded, “Leave my hands! Someone may look badly on us.” and released her hands and left. As she hadn’t screamed or made any noise, our hero inferred, “She’s willing…but scared. Poor soul”. I stop here about what happened to MGR’s first love, because I don’t wish to spoil the interest of the readers.
Here is MGR’s thoughts as a movie actor. “This cinema film is mysterious, but at the same time has a dangerous trait too. If it is incomplete, or even if completed but not released, even if it had gulped hundreds of thousands [rupees] in production, it will be considered only as a ‘celluloid’, but not given any recognition. Only when a film is completed and released, it receives recognition.” Having entered the Tamil cinema at the age of 16 or 17 (circa 1933-34), MGR had his share of not-completed movies. The first one which receives recognition in his autobiography was ‘Chaaya’ in which he was first featured as a hero, around 1941-42. Though he had completed 7 movies by then in subsidiary roles, the last one was Ashokumar, starring the then singing superstar M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, he became dejected that he couldn’t gain the hero role. He writes, “I lost self-confidence that I’ll not get a hero chance and was aiming to join the army at the monthly salary of 125 rupees. Then, I was offered a hero role [in Chaaya movie] at the monthly salary of 350 rupees plus sundry expenses 35 rupees to a total of 385 rupees”. As fate would have it, this movie was not completed, and MGR had to wait for another five years, for the hero role. While struggling to get work, in combination with personal life troubles of losing his young first wife and a misunderstanding caused by locating a half-empty brandy bottle at his house, MGR also had suicidal thoughts in early 1940s, which he unabashedly includes. Telling this episode also focuses on MGR’s dedication to alcohol prohibition in his life.
Though he had completed 117 movies by the time when this autobiography came to an abrupt stop in late 1972, among these movies, MGR specifically focus on 4 movies in which he starred as a hero. These four were, Rajakumari (The Princess, 1947), Maruthanattu Ilavarasi (The Princess of Marutha Land, 1950), Genoa (Genoa, 1953) and Thirudathe (Do Not Steal, 1961). Of course, he does includes some episodes from his other movies too, but probably he learnt more lessons from these four movies for elevating his professional career.
While knowing his strengths in climbing the ladder to success in movies, MGR was also aware about his weakness too. One issue, which receive repetitive mention was his lack of singing ability. From 1930s to early 1950s, until paradigm shift occurred in Tamil movies due to powerful script writing by DMK literati (Annadurai and Karunanidhi), MGR couldn’t rise above the then dominant ‘singing stars’. Even though, P.U. Chinappa, one of his mentors and a reputed singing star of that era, encouraged MGR to sing in movies with the words that ‘You had already sung in stages, and singing in cinema was not that demanding unlike doing a musical performance’, MGR knew his limits and tactfully never indulged in this vanity for his movies. Thus, for all his movies, a ‘play back’ singer was needed. Curiously, I found no mention about any of the play back singers (M.M. Mariappa, Tiruchi Loganathan, C.S. Jayaraman, Sirkazhi Govindarajan, A.M. Rajah, T.M. Soundararajan and S.P. Balasubramaniam) who had lent their voices to MGR, in this autobiography.
Of course, there are some notable omissions. I can identify two. First, lack of details on the shooting incident involving M.R. Radha on January 12, 1967, in which MGR nearly lost his life. He does mentions about his debilitations following that incident. Secondly, no mention about his visit (with actress B. Saroja Devi) to his land of birth, the then Ceylon in late 1965. In the last chapter (chapter 134), MGR mentions as follows:
“[We are] born somewhere. [We] grow somewhere. [We] die somewhere. Like this, somewhere! Somewhere!! My life has been structured. Born in Ceylon, nurtured in Tamilnadu, recently I experienced a new happening. It cannot be rejected that every human faces tests…” This was what MGR wrote as a farewell note to his readers, after he was thrown out of DMK party, then led by his friend M. Karunanidhi in late 1972.
Naturally, comparisons are inevitable. After MGR abruptly stopped his autobiography, Karunanidhi began to serialize his autobiography Nenjukku Neethi [Justice for Heart] in 1973, when he was 49. In his first volume, consisting of 754 pages [released in 1975], Karunanidhi covered his life from 1924 to 1969. His second volume, consisting of 586 pages was released in 1987. I mention the differences between MGR’s and Karunanidhi’s autobiographies. First, compared to Karunanidhi’s autobiographical volumes, I find that MGR’s autobiography was more self-introspective. Secondly, while Karunanidhi had focused more on his political involvement and less on stage-movie career, MGR had focused more on his stage-movie career, and less on his political involvement.
MGR also had not failed to include his trouble with the nosy press media. He had to serve defamation notice to Blitz daily, published from Bombay. In Tamilnadu itself, he had identified weeklies such as Kumudam, Thinamanikathir and Thuglak (edited by comedian Cho Ramasamy) as ‘trouble makers’ which picked on him to increase their circulations. Lack of a good name index is a demerit for these two volumes. It seems that publishers of Tamil books never bother to serve readers’ interests in preparing indices to bulky books like these.
Missing Farewell Note
As I had indicated previously in this series, I have a collection of 12 original chapters between 120 and 135, when they appeared in the Ananda Vikatan in 1972. The published volume ends at chapter 134. But, in the final chapter 135, with MGR’s name and dateline Oct.27, 1972, had been omitted in printing. I provide a scan of this one page farewell note nearby. In this farewell note, he had written as follows: “My respected readers, elders, women seniors, friends, – Now all of you know what a big burden had been placed on me. Therefore, I’m unable to continue writing this week’s section on ‘Why I was Born?’. With humiliation, I let you know that from next week, I plan to continue to write ‘My Past Political Path’ under this ‘Why I was Born’ series. I have sincerely recognized that your help and trust are always available to me. Thus, I offer to all of you my heartfelt thanks and greetings now.” [emphasis, as in the original]
Unfortunately, MGR couldn’t keep his word to his supporters and fans, due to his multiple schedules and tasks hanging over his shoulder that deserved his urgent attention. The ultimate losers were his millions of fans.
The publisher Kannadhasan Pathippagam provide a ‘Notice’ in the front pages of both volumes about copyright infringement. In the 2nd volume, publishing editor Gandhi Kannadhasan also makes an appeal by name about copyright infringement and adds that ‘all are requested to respect MGR’s sentiments on copyright infringement’. This appears fine, as long as the text material is concerned. As I have mentioned above, I did check the original text material with the published version now. But, when it comes to photos incorporated in the book, it would have been ideal, if the publisher had presented the original photos that appeared when the text was serialized between 1970 and 1972. As a stickler for detail, MGR would have chosen the photo he wanted to present to the readers and had permitted the use of only one photo per chapter. In the printed version, I find that the original photos (approved by MGR for publication) had been replaced with irrelevant photos from family albums! I refer specifically to those appearing between pages 1482 and 1484. I do agree that photos of some individuals who are mentioned in the text (especially MGR’s mentors Kali N. Ratnam and K.P. Kesavan, and MGR’s personal physician Dr. P.R. Subramaniam) are more than welcome. But, why include photos of individuals, who are not mentioned in the text at all. My point is that, the publisher had erred in respecting MGR’s sentiments first.
P.C.Vinoj Kumar: MGR book kicks up a row. www.mid-day.com/news/nation/2004/february/75357.htm [accessed Nov.25, 2004]
Anon. Janaki’s son alone has copyright to MGR’s autobiography: court. The Hindu (Chennai), July 4, 2012.
Subramani A. M.G. Ramachandran autobiography copyright belongs to Janaki son, rules HC. Times of India (Chennai), July 4, 2012.