by Sachi Sri Kantha, May 7, 2015
Losses of Unexpected Kind
Excluding one chapter towards the end, in which MGR describes the political vivacity of his friend P. U. Shanmugam (1924-2007; who was one of the 15 DMK candidates to be elected at the 1957 State Assembly Elections of Madras State), for some reason, MGR had failed to mention much about 1957 election in his autobiography. In addition, MGR had noted, “Respected Kamaraj publicly announced that at the end of 1962 general elections, there will be news that all 15 DMK MLAs had lost. Except Kalaignar (aka, M. Karunanidhi), the current chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the rest 14 did lose in that election. The principle of late Anna that claiming a victory even in defeat, did triumph even in these defeats. At the same legislative assembly, 50 representatives sat, in place of 15.”
The 1962 State Assembly Elections of Madras State receive specific mention in MGR’s autobiography, apart from the gratitude mentality of P.U. Shanmugam to his constituents who defeated him in 1962. Reasons could be, (1) The death of his 2nd wife Sathanandavathi on Feb.25, 1962, few days after the election date of Feb. 21st. She was his wife for 20 years. (2) It was the first election in which MGR actively campaigned for DMK seriously, though he was not a candidate himself. Not to be ignored was the recurrent taunts by E.V.K. Sampath (the then No.2 of DMK) in the preceding years, on the growing influence of movie stars in DMK. After Sampath deserted the DMK in April 1961, in collusion with poet Kannadasan and Sivaji Ganesan to form a splinter Tamil National Party (TNP), MGR might have taken the taunts of Sampath as a prestige issue to test his political standing and influence among the Tamil masses as a ‘crowd puller’ for the DMK. In his autobiography (chapter 131), MGR passingly mentioned that Sampath as well as poet Kannadasan (when both were in DMK) felt irritated on him because of this ‘crowd puller’ image that their speeches were routinely disrupted by the crowd behavior, when MGR entered the stage.
I provide translated excerpts from two chapters of MGR’s autobiography.
“That Night (chapter 109)
During February 1962 General Elections, I toured many towns to speak at Kazhagam (aka, DMK) meetings. Tentatively, I spoke 30 to 40 meetings per day. If I was scheduled to speak at 10 meetings, there would be another 30 in which I was stopped to speak without any prior information. While I was traveling like that, my wife Sathanandavathi was fighting for her life with Lord Yama.
Her wish was also that I should speak at Kazhagam’s propaganda meetings. Though I had many worries in my mind about her, in the faith and confidence that she wouldn’t leave, whenever I had the opportunity in any town, I was in phone contact about her.
If anyone known to me approached the stage, my mind got panicky. They may be coming to tell me the sad story about Sathanandhavathi, I did worry. When they told alternate news such as about the schedule for next meeting or about a flag raising ceremony, I did sigh with a loud breath ‘Uhm’. Like this, as the elders used to admonish, ‘Daily danger – Long Life’, I was dying all time, but still living.
Somehow, I completed the election propaganda meetings and returned to Chennai. I had heard that Anna was facing a ‘big opponent’ in the election. Thus, I wished to go there and speak [to support Anna]. Yes, it was my real wish. But Anna had instructed to his friends, ‘If MGR spent time at other constituencies, instead of at mine, chances of wins for our Kazhagam candidates may become better’. They came to tell me, ‘You better work at constituencies which are weaker (for our candidates). Anna also prefers this.’ I did told them, at least one day I’ll be there.
I was taken to a specific location. No loudspeaker facility was available at the truck. I borrowed a ‘tin-funnel’ tube from friends, and spoke louder. I was not allowed to speak in not more than two or three meetings. Later only I realized the truth. As many of our party candidates were facing difficult situations, Anna might have taken a vow not to use the best available facilities for himself and such a suspicion shouldn’t be allowed to form in the minds of party candidates.
Food was available at Anna’s residence. I ate. Wished to return to his constituency. But was stopped, and forced to return to Chennai….
February 24th was the voting day. Had a look at the voting booths and returned home after 5 pm. After I had taken a bath, Sathanandavathi asked, ‘Have you completed the election work?’
Responded, ‘Yes, somehow, it’s over.’
She retorted, ‘Now, there aren’t any out of town trips?’
Smiled at her and said, ‘As long as you say ‘Go away’, I’m intending to stay here.’ I laughed. She also laughed. It had been months, since she laughed like that. Almost all days, she was breathing with tubes from oxygen cylinder….
Even while staying in bed, she did take care of events in our household. On February 24th night of 1962, she talked to me as follows:
‘Will Anna win? I hear other views. They are counting the votes tomorrow. Why not pray to God…Anna should win?’
Like this, she was keen about the electoral news about Anna’s chances.
‘Why not you be silent for a while?’ I asked her.
‘OK OK. You seems a little worried. Why I should I trouble you by asking questions?’
She talked like this, and slept calmly after meal. While sleeping, she held my left hand with her right hand. I was tired too and had fallen sleep.
It was 25th early morning around 4 am. To turn over, I wished to release my hand. But, felt some unpleasantness. I noted that her hand slipped without life. She was just lying there. Couldn’t hear the breathing sound. With surprise, I checked her. Called her name. No response. Shook her body. Frightened that ‘Could it be that?’
Screamed, ‘Anne’ [elder brother]. Ran on the stairs. All assembled from my unusual reaction. Sent word for the doctor. He did come. But, the life departed from Sathanandavathi’s body didn’t return…”
That MGR was hit hard by this loss is reflected sincerely in his autobiography. Having married Sadhananthavathi in 1942, next to his elder brother Chakrapani, only she knew and experienced the life with MGR when he was a struggling movie actor looking for opportunities in 1940s. She was also the one who could have given him a child, but that wish was unrealized. Having been sick with tuberculosis, that Sadhanandavathi came to accept MGR’s extra-marital relationship with movie star V.N. Janaki, on her own terms for the last 12 years of her life have also been recorded by MGR in his autobiography. In this sense, the autobiographies of his peers in movies and politics (Karunanidhi, Kannadasan and SSR) were defective by evasion.
“Thousands of Hearts Wailed (chapter 110)
… On that particular day, ‘while enjoying the news of the victories of Kazhagam friends at the election’, I had to suffer from the death of my wife. Waves of sorrow hit my heart with full strength…The experience I felt was different. I had to console those who came to express their sympathy on my loss. Only when I received my dear pal Mr. V.P. Raman, I was able to cry…
Many leaders of Kazhagam came. While I was crying with bowed head, I felt someone’s nice touch. Raised my head. Anna was the one who had touched my head, to console me. When I looked at him, I couldn’t stop crying. Anna told,
‘Something unexpected had happened. What to do? Sometimes, what we expect don’t happen. What was not expected do happen. This is reality. Keep a firm mind, and continue what has to be done.’ Then, he was silent for a while.
I wiped my eyes and asked Anna. ‘Isn’t today the day for ballot counting?’ He shook his head to say, ‘Yes’.
‘You are here. If some hanky-panky happened there?’ I asked.
He calmly replied, ‘There cannot be any fault, hereafter.’
I felt like, I’ll be dealt another blow on my head. ‘I’ll be firm Anna. Would you please take care of vote counting issue?’ He was silent for a while. Then, he consoled me again, and left with friends…”
1962 Election Results
As MGR had the premonition, when the Madras Legislative Assembly election results were released, though DMK increased its number of wins to 50 as a recognized State party (compared to the 15 in 1957 Election, competing as Independents), Anna had lost in his Kancheepuram constituency, to S.V. Natesa Mudaliar, the Congress Party candidate. The results were,
S.V. Natesa Mudaliar (Congress Party) 46,018 votes (54.8%)
C.N. Annadurai (DMK) 36,828 votes (43.86%)
M.K. Parasuram Naicker (Independent) 1,128 votes (1.34%).
Not only Anna, but 13 other DMK MLAs who won the 1957 election (excluding M. Karunanidhi, contesting this election at Thanjavur constituency) did lose. That MGR’s labor as a vote puller for DMK was proved convincingly, when the total votes polled for the party increased to 3,435,633 votes (27.1%), next to that of Congress Party’s 5,848,974 votes (46.14%). These numbers should be compared to the 1957 harvest of votes. On that election, DMK’s tally was 1,424,319 votes (12.8%), next to Congress Party’s 5,046,576 votes (45.3%). In the span of five years, while Congress Party’s votes in the Madras State remained stagnant, DMK more than doubled its vote base, mainly due to its influence on cinema glamor of its stable of ranking actors (MGR, SSR and to a lesser extent K.R. Ramasamy, D.V. Narayanaswamy), script writers (Karunanidhi, Murasoli Maran, Rama Arangannal), lyricists (Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Kannadasan, Muthukoothan) and playback singers (Chidambaram S. Jayaraman).
Contrastingly, Sampath’s splinter party, Tamil National Party (TNP) fared dismally in the 1962 election. It contested 9 seats and forfeited deposit in 8 of them, polling a dismal 44,048 votes (0.35%). Sampath himself, standing for Lok Sabha election at Madras South, failed miserably! That constituency was captured for DMK by Nanjil K. Manoharan convincingly by 44.73%, compared to Sampath’s 18.78%. Other than Nanjil Manoharan, six more MPs were elected on DMK ticket in 1962 election. In 1957 election, only two DMK MPs were elected, among whom one was Sampath.
In April 1962, for some unknown reason, Kannadasan played a practical joke. He himself released a rumor that ‘Kannadasan had suddenly died’, to shock the film industry folks and fans. There was pandemonium in the Madras movie circles. Why Kannadasan played this practical joke? Reasons could be many. First, he was depressed by TNP’s dismal performance. Secondly, he had lost money and stature in the society in betting against DMK’s success. Thirdly, by his own admission, he was in debt due to his foolish ventures in movie production. Fourthly, as he had become an alcohol/drug addict, maybe it was an after effect of such addiction. Fifthly, he merely wanted to evaluate the affection he had among his friends, fans and supporters. In his autobiography, Kannadasan had stated that, “At that time, there was problem between him and Mr. MGR. Both were not in talking terms. However, Mr. MGR called him on phone and advised him to ‘take care of his health’.” This indication by Kannadasan suggests that MGR (though not in talking terms) was worried and had duly guessed that Kannadasan was damaging his health by alcohol/drug addiction and this practical joke was nothing but an after effect of such an addiction.
Member of Legislative Council of Madras State
To felicitate MGR’s activity on behalf of DMK’s success in the 1962 election, he was nominated as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC). He made his first speech at this assembly on May 1, 1962. In it, he addressed the lack of sponsorship for drama promotion by the state. He also focused on the pathetic plight of workers who were in cinema field and demanded setting up ‘minimum wage’ requirement. MGR critiqued the address by the Governor for missing components in the area he was familiar with; (a) wage protection for nearly 100,000 workers in the cinema field, (b) lack of training facilities for prospective acting students at the universities, and (c) plans for studies in Tamil drama and cinema.
A joint felicitation meeting was organized by the fan clubs of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan for MGR. Excerpts of the speech made by MGR at this meeting held on May 11, 1962 are as follows:
“I welcome the attempt made by the three fan clubs. Many have spoken differently on why I was chosen for the Legislative Council. Now, I tell you the truth. I was chosen to the Legislative Council, against my wish. My duty to the art world remains incomplete. I thought of working as a director, after the ‘Nadodi Mannan’ movie. But, I have to complete the movies for which I’ve signed contracts. Some may get angry, when I continue to act. The reason for this is that, I belong to a party. Some newspapers cuss me. An artist belonging to a party have suffer like this. But, I don’t care. The reason is, artists are committed to their beliefs. They cannot be bought…
All know that recently, actress P.S. Gnanam expired. She did talk to me ten days before her death. Now, her life is easily forgotten. The life of an artist disappears so quickly. This should be recognized by artists. As for me, I believe that I should continue acting, as long as folks tell me ‘I’m not wanted’. This is not an adamant attitude. I trust the passion of my fans.
Now I see that the fan clubs of Sivaji and MGR function jointly. How many times, thamby Sivaji and I had spoken about this unity? But, we couldn’t find a proper path for this. Reason is due to mischief of some newspapers. You shouldn’t patronize such journals.
Now, municipal council have the right to tax cinema. For every one taxed rupee, only 15 cents reaches the producer. Capital could be retrieved only if 10,000,000 rupees are earned. Only by ‘mega hits’ such an amount could be earned. For example, it cost 1,300,000 rupees for producing ‘Vira Thirumakan’ movie. Only when 10,000,000 rupees are earned, the capital could be retrieved. Is it real? Think for a while. Those who yearn for new faces, should think about this tax.
In the cinema field, 100,000 folks are involved. Government doesn’t offer help to this industry. They had opened a film role production facility at Uthakai (Ooty). By the time, when film roles appear (in market), they become unusable. Director K. Subramaniam, who had been to France, had told this.
It is a joke, why the government folks had designed this new tax. [I guess] it was by keeping in mind MGR, Sivaji and Gemini. They think, others are like us. In reality, others are dying. In Tamil Nadu, all the fan clubs of artists should pass a condemning resolution and send it to the government. A copy should be send to the Actor’s Guild (Nadigar Sangam). If we demand closure of cinema theaters, whether theater owners are complying with it should be checked and by that you will make our conviction (to oppose such a tax) a success….
When you watch movies, you should write to us the good and bad aspects in them. I’ll pass a resolution against the new cinema tax, and forward it to Madras Government, Film Chamber and Actor’s Guild. This should be done in a respectable manner…”
MGR’s comment about the ‘Vira Thirumakan’ [Successful Hero, 1962] movie is of some interest. It was released on May 5, 1962, by Murugan Brothers (M. Murugan and M. Saravanan, sons of reputed movie mogul A.V. Meiyappan Chettiar). The hero of this movie was C.L. Anandan, an upcoming ‘new face’ with action star potential and thought to be a rival for MGR’s niche. In fact, he was a Muslim by birth (name Hakeem), and debuted in 1960. After this ‘Vira Thirumakan’ movie, Anandan lost his hero status and rumor had it that MGR made it sure that Anandan wouldn’t succeed. This rumor may have its origin to this 1962 speech by MGR. Subsequently, Anandan did appear in one or two MGR’s movies (Thani Piravi,1966; and Neerum Neruppum,1971) in subsidiary roles.
Around this time [i.e., May 1962], Sivaji Ganesan was in USA, on a US State Department sponsored visit for 100-odd days. Thus MGR ended his speech with a comment that all three fan clubs (MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan) should participate in the felicitation ceremony to Sivaji after he returns from America, and this unity should continue.
Anna’s Historic Speech at Rajya Sabha on May 5, 1962
Falling in between the dates of two speeches made by MGR [May 1 and May 11], his mentor Anna made a historic speech in New Delhi at Rajya Sabha on May 5th, demanding secession for four Dravidian states. The New York Times reported this speech as follows:
“The cry for secession was heard this week for the first time in India’s Parliament.
It was uttered in the Upper House by C.N. Annadurai, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Society for Dravian Uplift). He called the turning the ‘subcontinent of India’ into ‘a comity of nations instead of a medley of disgruntled units’.
Questions have been raised whether such a demand is constitutional in Parliament.
Mr. Annadurai’s organization advocates the secession of the four states of southern India. However, virtually all of its support comes from the state of Madras. Few or no demands for secession have been heard in Mysore, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
The Dravidian Uplift Society’s basic contention is that these four states, where Dravidian languages are spoken, do not belong with the rest of India, where Aryan languages derived from Sanskrit prevail.
Mr. Annadurai complained that southern India had been discriminated against in the country’s planned industrial development and that the Government was trying to impose Hindi on all of India….
Mr. Annadurai was named to the Upper House of Parliament after he had been defeated in Madras for a seat in the Lower House [sic., Madras Legislative Assembly] in recent elections by a candidate of the ruling Congress Party.
However, Dravidian Uplift Society candidates were elected to seven of the forty one seats allotted to Madras in the Lower House and the society formed the main opposition in the Madras State Legislature, with fifty of the 206 members.
Moreover, Mr. Annadurai and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, former Governor General of India and leader of the free-enterprise Swatantra or Freedom Party, established an informal alliance against the Congress Party in Madras.”
How the then Prime Minister Nehru and other parties in the parliament reacted to Anna’s speech was written as follows in the same report :
“Spokesmen of all parties in Parliament, from the Communist to the Jan Sangh, a nationalist Hindu party for the propagation of Hindi, opposed the Dravidian Uplift Society’s demands after Mr. Annadurai had finished speaking.
A few days later Prime Minister Nehru asserted that the Balkanization of India demanded by Mr. Annadurai was ‘so outrageous I can’t conceive of it.’
Mr. Nehru previously had said that any attempt by the South to secede would be fought, even if it meant civil war. He repeated his stand, declaring that any effort would be ‘resisted with all our force.’
The Prime Minister, a champion of Indian integration, said the creation of Pakistan, formed through a partition of the Indian subcontinent, had been ‘bad enough’. Further divisions, he added, would break India into ‘thousands of bits’. He called on the people of Madras to repudiate the Dravidian Uplift Society’s demands.”
Whether the people of Madras heeded to Prime Minister Nehru’s request is altogether a separate issue. In hindsight, it may not be wrong to believe that the desertion of E.V.K. Sampath in 1961 on purported allegation that the influence of movie stars in DMK was one of the reason for his distaste of Anna’s policies is merely a smokescreen created by intelligent gumshoes of Central Government to weaken DMK’s hold in the Tamil Nadu. To his credit, Kannadasan also had written about the weakness of will and character flaw of Sampath, after his desertion from DMK and then merging his fledgling party into Congress Party.
Anon: Secession urged for India’s South – Parliament hears demand by Dravidian leader. New York Times, May 6, 1962.
Kannadasan: Manavaasam (autobiography), Vanathi Pathippagam, Chennai, 5th edition, 1991 (originally published 1988), pp.118-119.
- Kirubakaran (ed): Naan Aanaiyittaal – Pon Mana Chemmalin Pokkisham (Collection of published materials of MGR), Vikatan Pirasuram, Chennai, 2013.
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen [Why I was Born?] autobiography – Part 2, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, chapters 109 and 110.