Near Death Experience and its Aftermath
by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 19, 2017
Front Note by Sachi
MGR’s 30th death anniversary falls on December 24. It has been five years since I began this series. Curtain will also fall on MGR’s birth centenary in less than two weeks. To the best of my ability, I had endeavored to provide a reliable account of MGR’s life, with supporting evidence. In this venture, I have been helped much by the encouragement offered by fellow MGR biographer R. Kannan, Arul M. Pandian, S. Sivakumaran, late Dr. A. Vijayaraghavan and last but not the least the editor of sangam website. While researching this series, I also learnt that two of MGR’s companions of film industry (comedian actor K.A. Thangavelu and playback singer Chidambaram S. Jayaraman), who did contribute immensely to the success of many MGR movies by their blessed talents were also born in the same month and same year, few days ahead of MGR. Jayaraman was born in January 6, 1917 and died in January 29, 1995. Thangavelu was born in January 15, 1917 and died in September 28, 1994. Thus, this year is also the birth centenary year for them as well. It would be unbecoming if these basic facts are ignored in a series dedicated to MGR.
With some delight, I note that this series have been cited in Wikipedia entries on MGR with rather incomplete citation [see, the cited sources below] as well as few other personalities involved in Tamil films of the pre-1977 period. Simultaneously, it is also disappointing that few MGR fans plagiarize the contents of this series and use them in the net blogs and websites, without due acknowledgement to the author and this sangam website. As I write this series as a labor of love, I kindly request those involved in such plagiarism to honor MGR’s memory and advice via Paddukottai Kalyanasundaram’s popular lyric ‘Thirudathe – Paapaa thirudathe’ and T.M. Soundararajan’s voice [Do not steal – Baby do not steal!; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzN8Fs2AYc4], and provide due acknowledgement to the sources.
Gun wound Analysis
Though it will be 51 years in a few weeks since it happened, as of now, MGR’s previous biographers have failed to provide any analysis on the gun wounds suffered by MGR on January 12, 1967. To the best of my knowledge via medical literature search, even the doctors (other than Dr. Thomas Abraham, who treated MGR and M.R. Radha immediately) and surgeons had also failed to report the clinical aspects of MGR case in academic journals. Somehow, I try my best to provide a brief medical analysis here, based on my reading of medical literature.
Luckily, MGR’s brief description of how it happened on January 12, 1967 is available now in scriptwriter Arurdhas’s autobiography. While he was recuperating after operation in hospital, MGR had described this to Arurdhas and movie producer Sandow Chinnappa Thevar, when they visited his special room. I provide a translation of what is given by Arurdhas.
“To describe the shooting details, MGR picked up the pen in my pocket and explained it by using it as the revolver, and acted it for us. He couldn’t use words fluently, and his delivery resembled that of a child babble. What he said, I repeat here.
“In the hall, I was talking with ‘Petralthan Pillaiya’ movie producer Vasu face to face, about the call sheet for the next movie. Radha Annan was walking nearby, while massaging his stomach with his hand. I told him, ‘Why are you standing? Please take your seat’. He said that he had a vegetable meal at Vasu’s house and it had caused upset. I was talking to Vasu, while looking at his face. Suddenly, I sensed that something is being thrusted in my ear. Then, he [MGR] held the pointed tip of the pen in my right ear hole, and asked me to turn. When I did so, the pen slipped from my ear hole towards the neck. MGR continued: ‘That’s all. I head the gun shot. If I hadn’t turned immediately with instinct, rather than bullet entering through the neck, it would have passed through ear and cracked my skull. I screamed ‘Anne!’ immediately and jumped over the sofa and landed in a seating position. Immediately, producer also jumped on Radha and struggled with him to get the revolver. While blood was oozing, I pressed my ear, ran towards the portico and sat inside the car. It went to Royapettah hospital. I didn’t know, what happened after that.”
We (‘Devar’ Annan and I) were shocked to hear this ‘death escape’ story and were silent for few minutes.”
It was indeed a miracle for MGR fans that MGR survived this real life trauma. Published clinical literature on the gun-shot wounds in the neck region reveals that it was a miracle for MGR that he was operated for his trauma by a team led by world renowned neurosurgeon Prof. Balasubramaniam Ramamurthi (1922-2003), who was in town on that night. Nearby I provide a table and an illustration, published by Robert Jones and colleagues in the Journal of Trauma (1967) to show the mortality rates for penetrating wounds of the neck. Till 1963, even in America, the morality rates were around 10.0%. Jones and colleagues of Parkland Memorial Hospital, Texas, reported a 4% mortality rate, in their study of 274 patients, admitted with neck wounds. Among these, 90 were gunshot wounds. Primary causes of death were due to, cervical spinal cord injury, massive bleeding and irreversible shock, tracheal wound with aspiration of blood, common carotid arterial injury with cerebral hypoxia, blast injury to trachea and blast injury to brain stem. Even if gunshot wound was not fatal, nonvascular structures in neck suffered injuries. These major spots were, pharynx, larynx, trachea, esophagus, thoracic duct, thyroid, and submaxillary salivary gland.
Another study by Morris Fogelman and Robert Stewart in the American Journal of Surgery recorded the importance of immediate surgery in penetrating wounds in neck. When surgery was done within 6 hours after injury, morbidity was 12% and deaths 4% in 73 cases. When surgery was delayed over 6 hours after injury, morbidity was 50% and deaths 20% in 10 cases. As described by James Wilson in the Western Journal of Medicine, the injury suffered by MGR belonged to Type III shot gun injury, according to Sherman and Parrish classification; That is, an injury sustained at a very close range, less than 3 yards. The wounds involve massive tissue destruction. According to Wilson, “Type III injuries can tax the skills of a multitude of surgical specialists. They usually cause massive local destruction, and hemorrhage is the immediate lethal factor in most cases. Not only pellets, wadding, gunpowder debris and casing debris are blasted into the body…Consequently, massive bacterial contamination is the rule, and development of gangrene and necrotizing fasciitis are relatively common. Therefore, almost all of these wound require extensive debridement and exploration.”
Considering the odds of survival, from a penetrating gunshot wound to neck that happened in Chennai in 1967, MGR’s admirers should be thankful for the operation and care provided by neurosurgeon Prof. B. Ramamurthi and his team. That Dr. Ramamurthi was a legend is attested by numerous tributes paid to him by his colleagues and juniors in neurology and surgery journals, while he was alive and after his death. For record, I provide citations below. If not for Dr. Ramamurti’s expert surgery on that fateful night, MGR’s life could have ended on January 12, 1967, before his launch of active political career. As an aside, I mention here that I regret a missed opportunity in 1994, when this great neurosurgeon attended the Founding Asian Congress of Sleep held in Tokyo and delivered a plenary lecture mixed with humor. I also attended this Congress, and missed out listening to his thoughts on MGR being a patient of him.
Near Death Experience (NDE)
Four years later since it happened, MGR makes a passing reference to his near death experience (NDE) felt on January 12, 1967, in his autobiography, as follows:
“That day of January 12 afternoon when I was shot and taken to the hospital, and linked to my struggle with death – When I think about it, I cannot continue writing. The night passed by and 13th day dawned. In the morning, many friends visited to convey their greetings. Some delivered the greetings via phone, telegram and letters. This has been happening for the past three years. I was shot on 1967 January 12th. I did die then. The following day, on 13th, I was re-born. The secret why others greet me on this day, was my re-birth. They don’t think that this day was linked to my ‘real birthday’.”
In this chapter, I cumulate the thoughts of him as well as his close confidants, to explore this ‘NDE concept’ as it related to MGR and how it affected his subsequent career for the remaining 20 years. MGR had reached 50. He was at the peak of his fame as the influential popular Tamil movie star, since 1956. He had earned a reputation (for good or bad) that he could make or break the careers of his peer actors, actress, comedians, directors, lyricists, playback singers, and last not but the least movie producers. As of now, MGR’s previous biographers have failed to touch on this sensitive theme of NDE. How it affected his psyche and public deeds including philanthropy? Though he had reached 50, that he was issueless (even after marrying three times) was a health burden, he carried heavily. Only to his close confidants, MGR had confided this tragedy.
Dr. Abraham Sukumar (to whose thoughts, I had made reference previously in Part 35 of this series), did record 43 years later about his medical colleagues who handled MGR’s surgery.
“Leading Madras doctors appeared as if by magic though none was called in consultation except my chief Dr. Saratchandra. The ENT surgeon appeared with his head mirror. He demanded that his name must be entered in the accident register, ‘I must be called to court to give evidence,’ he said. The desire for publicity is not confined to those in the show business. MGR personal doctor Dr. B.R. Subramanium now joined the team that had unofficially formed. With the hospital superintendent Dr. M.V. Krishnamurthi in charge, my role as duty surgeon was not mine anymore not that there was anything to be done in the casualty. I saw to it that only medical personal entered the casualty theatre.”
A 2012 report by Srivathsan mentions, “Doctors removed the bullets from Radha’s body but in the case of MGR, they feared dislodging the bullet would cause further damage to the first cervical vertebra. They decided not to touch the bullet. Both actors gained consciousness by 11 am, the following day… Radha was in the hospital until January 30 . After that he was in the A-class prison of Madras Central jail.”
K.P. Ramakrishnan, MGR’s bodyguard, in his memoirs had recorded, that surgery on MGR was performed by a team, headed by neurosurgeon Dr. B. Ramamurthy. Other doctors who were inside the operation theater were Dr. B.R. Subramanium, orthopedic specialist Dr. M. Nadarajan who had treated MGR previously. The operation which began at 5 pm, continued until 4 am next day. Dr. Ramamurthy came out at 5 am and gave us an up-beat message – ‘Not to worry. MGR is feeling fine’. Only after hearing this word, we gained relief. MGR was taken to a special ward, and none was allowed in by the doctors. Those who were admitted into MGR’s room were Dr. B.R. Subramanium, Janaki amma, MGR’s assistant Sabapathi and brother M.G. Chakrapani. In his bed, MGR was seated in a raised head platform. His mouth was open, with two sticks held in between. I felt so sad to his plight like that. I couldn’t stop crying…
Rehabilitation from the Tragedy
MGR’s rehabilitation steps were described further by Ramakrishnan had as follows:
“After a month following the shooting, MGR was allowed to walk within hospital compound by the doctors. If he practiced walking in the morning or evening, MGR felt that it would disturb other patients and due to the gathering crowd other hospital functions as well. Thus, MGR opted to practice walking in 12:00 midnight. His principle was that others shouldn’t be inconvenienced. Dharmalingam, Pathmanaban, Thandapani and me accompanied him during his ‘walking’. He walked 20 minutes at the hospital veranda. As we four were with him day and night, his condition was that we have to visit our homes at least once a week. He also gives us 500 rupees each time, when we return home….
During the operation, doctors were able to remove only a segment of the bullet which pierced his ear. The remaining fragment was left as it is, as attempting to remove such may affect some vital nerves supplying that region. Few months later, when MGR coughed, that ‘left out’ piece automatically came out.”
Ma. Po. Sivagnanam (1906-1995), Tamil scholar and leader of the Thamil Arasu Kazhagam party, had provided MGR’s thoughts on this ‘natural exit’ of the bullet fragment, as a ‘happy miracle’. MGR had told him that medical experts in India felt they couldn’t remove the bullet fragment by operation for fear of causing excess nerve damage or threat to life and suggested an alternate option that if he visit USA, there (with advanced technology) existed a remote possibility but they couldn’t assure success. What doctors had given up as a difficult option worked well to his advantage via God’s grace.
MGR’s voice was seriously affected by the shooting. Thus, he made serious efforts to re-gain his voice. One such training was practicing speech, while standing in neck-deep water. According to Ramakrishnan’s description, who accompanied him, this exercise was done in Marina Beach, after 10 pm. Ramakrishnan and another bodyguard Sami [I guess, Thirupathisami] offered protection, by holding MGR’s body while he practiced. This exercise was done for a week, in secret beyond media eyes. Only a few fishermen knew about this, but they were asked to keep the secret and they abided accordingly.
Two Anticipated Movies, after real life shooting episode
Before the real life shooting episode, from 1936 to 1966, MGR had completed 92 movies. The first MGR movie for the year 1967 and 92nd in this list [Dewar Films production, Thaiku Thalaimagan (Eldest son to the Mother)] was released on the day after (i.e., Jan. 13th Friday) the Radha shooting episode. There was much anticipation among his fans, and other observers in Tamil Nadu on how the voice of MGR will turn out to be after gun shot injury. How will his vocal cord cooperate? Will he be able to deliver long dialog fluently? Will the tongue that delivered the powerful scripts of M. Karunanidhi and Kannadasan effectively work its magic again? Will MGR be able to pronounce the distinct sound intonations of three types of ‘L’ sound (la, La, and zha) like the old days?
Being a dedicated professional actor, MGR continued his voice training with a speech therapist regularly for months, at home. Nevertheless, vital decisions had to be made about the two movies which were in the final stages of shooting and were scheduled for release in 1967. These two movies Arasa Kattalai (King’s Command) and Kavalkaran (The Guard) were released sequentially on May 19 and September 7. For the first post-shooting episode movie Arasa Kattalai, most of MGR’s dialog had already been recorded prior to shooting. Thus, movie goers couldn’t notice much difference in MGR’s voice. It was a family production, with his brother Chakrapani as the director, and his nephew M.G.C. Ramamurthy as the producer. However, the second movie Kavalkaran (produced by R.M. Veerappan) created issues. As MGR’s voice was affected, there was a serious suggestion by others of using another actor’s fitting voice resembling that of MGR (called ‘dubbing’ in movie-lingo). But, MGR was adamant in rejecting this option outrightly. According to Ramakrishnan, MGR had demanded that “So far, in all my movies, I had used my own voice. Fans had accepted this. In future also, I will use my own voice. If fans cannot accept this, I’ll stop acting in movies.”
Released Kavalkaran became the 94th MGR movie. In that, his voice was far from perfect. There was slurring of words (‘baby talk’) in his voice. But, his fans accepted it as inevitable, without any criticism. His fans wished to hear original MGR’s voice: “However MGR speaks defectively, we accept it; let him speak in his own voice. We don’t need a ‘fake’ substitute.” By sheer determination and will power, in the following 10 years, MGR did use his own voice for another 42 movies, to round up his film career with 136 released movies.
Of the two much anticipated movies, Kavalkaran (single heroine Jayalalitha) was more successful in box office, compared to Arasa Kattalai (double heroines – B. Saroja Devi and Jayalalitha), as the story line for the latter movie was dated and ‘out of sync’ with the 1960s trend. Nevertheless, Arasa Kattalai was of some significance to MGR’s fans. It saw the transition from MGR’s first movie muse (B. Saroja Devi, b. 1938) to second movie muse (Jayalalitha, 1948-2016). The age gap of 10 years, between MGR’s first movie muse and that of second muse is distinctly noticeable. Between 1958 (beginning with Nadodi Mannan movie, MGR’s own production) and 1967, Saroja Devi had paired with MGR in a total of 26 movies. While MGR was recuperating in the hospital, Saroja Devi had her wedding on March 1, 1967 in Bangalore to Mr. Harsha, an engineer, which MGR couldn’t attend in person.
In MGR’s case, childlessness was certainly not by choice. He really felt this health condition in his heart. I summarize descriptions of three MGR confidants, about this issue. The first two (by script writer Arurdass and bodyguard Ramakrishnan) were, during MGR’s movie period in 1960s. The last one (by lyricist Vaali), was during MGR’s chief minister period (post 1977 period).
Script writer Arurdhas had written MGR’s unfulfilled wish as follows:
“One day, while we were alone in the makeup room, MGR told me. ‘I have experienced the limits of hunger and food deprivation. I also had reached the peak of mundane difficulties in daily life. All this was in the past. Now, I’m in top of esteem and comfort. Daily, 50 to 60 folks have their meal in my house. Nevertheless, I cannot get rid of two worries I have. One is childlessness! The other one.’ Then, I interrupted him to tell,
‘Why even great leader Kamaraj is also issueless. Had he lost people’s esteem due to that?’ [MGR retorted]
‘What you say is incorrect. He don’t have children, because he remains a bachelor. But, I had married twice, three times. Still, I’m childless. Will any lucky lady carry my fertilile fetus in her belly for ten months and give me a baby in my hand? This yearning will never be removed from me. I did consult many astrologers, invited them home and asked their opinions. Two or three astrologers repeated the same story. This horoscope is with multi-marriage potential. Many ladies will join you in your life. You will give them all comfort. But, they cannot give in return, what you earn for – a child. They cannot. The fault lies not in them… Lately, for my life insurance, I did consult with a medical doctor and received a total medical checkup. He had confirmed that my fertile ability is nil. When I heard that, my heart split into pieces. That night, I couldn’t sleep at all. My tears wetted the pillow. Janu [i.e., Janaki – 3rd wife] consoled me to treat her as a ‘child’. How could that work? She is the one who should give me a baby. Will you see, the God, who had given so many children to my brother [Chakrapani] did not have the heart to give me even a single child? The same blood is running between us. So, why this difference? When so many sisters and mothers hand their babies to me for blessing and request me to give names, my heart cracks definitely. Nevertheless, I do satisfy their wishes and give them names, without letting out my helplessness openly…This is my unfulfilled worry. Even if one is blessed with thousands, what one cannot achieve in life, still remains as a worry. Suppose if I have a re-birth, my wish is to have many children on my own and be a literate person.’
Bodyguard Ramakrishnan also had recorded another anecdote. ‘During the shooting of Maatukara Velan (Cowherd Velan) held in Satya Studio, director Neelakandan, Jayanthi Films boss and this movie’s producer Kanagasabai Chettiar, cameraman V. Ramamoorthy and MGR were relaxing during a break. While I was nearby, MGR also called me to sit nearby. Neelakandan made a quip to MGR, ‘If you had a child, it would be a blessing for all. Why God failed to give this cannot be understood?’ MGR retorted, ‘There is a subtle difference. My wife Ammu [i.e., 2nd wife, Sadhanandavathi] did become pregnant twice, but lost them to spontaneous abortion. We were blessed with fertility. But, we were unlucky to enjoy the thrill of experiencing the birth of a child.’
Lyricist Vaali in his 1995 memoirs had written, ‘I sincerely felt so bad, when annan MGR pointed out one lyric which I wrote for him differed from reality in life. That particular lyric was this:
‘Ennakoru mahan pirappaan! – Avan Ennaipolave iruppan!
Thanakkoru paathaiyai vahukaamal – En Thalaivan vazhiyile nadappan!’
I retrieved myself and told MGR: ‘Anne! As all the young children in [Tamil] Nadu are your children, maybe God didn’t wish to offer separate children only for you. That’s why this particular lyric failed in its prophesy’.
This particular lyric was featured in Panam Padaithavan [1965; The Rich] movie, starring MGR and K.R. Vijaya. In translation it reads, ‘A son will be born to me- and he will resemble me; Rather than treading on his own path – he will follow the route of my leader’.
Though it cannot be denied that offering assistance to the needy was one of MGR’s inherent character traits, the biological awakening by the shock that he had become childless also might have contributed noticeably to MGR’s mindset of dispersing his hard-earned wealth during his life time.
Arurdoss: Cinema Nijamum Nizhalum [Cinema – The Real and the Shadow], Arunthathi Nilayam, Chennai, 2001, pp. 282-283.
Arurdhas: Em.Gi.Aar – Sivaji En Iru Kangal [MGR – Sivaji: My Two Eyes], Manivasagar pathippagam, Chennai, 2011, pp. 40-41.
James I. Ausman: Thoughts about Professor Ramamurthi and Senior Neurosurgeons: When should they retire? Surgical Neurology, 2000; 53: 92-93.
Morris J. Fogelman and Robert D. Stewart: Penetrating wounds of the neck. American Journal of Surgery, April 1956; 91: 581-596.
- Ganapathy: An Institution par excellence: Prof. B. Ramamurthi 1922-2003. Surgical Neurology, 2004; 61: 511-514.
Randor Guy: Blast from the Past – Arasa Kattalai, The Hindu (Chennai), April 23, 2016.
Robert F. Jones, James C. Terrell and Kenneth E.Salyer: Penetrating wounds of the neck: an analysis of 274 cases. Journal of Trauma, 1967; 7(2): 228-237.
Vidwan V. Lakshmanan: Makkal Thilagam MGR, Vanathi Pathippakam, Chennai, 4th ed., 2002 (originally published in 1985).
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen, part 1, chapter 45, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, pp. 568-571.
Sunil K. Pandya: B. Ramamurthi. Surgical Neurology, May 1981; 15(5): 325-327.
- P. Ramakrishnan: M.G.R. Oru Sagaaptham [MGR – An Era], 8th edition, Vikatan Pirasuram 155, Chennai, 2013, pp. 206, 243-250 [originally published in 2007]
Ma.Po. Sivagnanam: EmGiAarudan Enakiruntha Thodarpu [My Relationship with MGR], Poongodi Pathippakam, Chennai, 1995, pp. 118-120.
- Sridhar: Prof. B. Ramamurthi: The legend and his legacy. Neurology India, 2004; 52(1): 27-31.
- Srivathsan: The day M.R. Radha shot MGR. The Hindu (Chennai), Dec. 23, 2012.
Abraham Sukumar: The day M.R. Radha shot MGR. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-day-m.-r-radha-shot-mgr_462228_blog, dated Feb.15, 2010 (accessed Mar. 15, 2016)
Lena Tamilvanan (ed.): Puratchi Nadigar M.G.R., revised 2nd ed., Manimekalai Pirasuram, Chennai, 1994.
Kavignar Vaali: Naanum Intha Nootraandum [I and This Century], Kalaignan Pathipagam, Madras, 1995, pp. 491-492.
Wikipedia entry in English: M.G. Ramachandran, accessed Dec. 18, 2017. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._G._Ramachandran] Check cited references 2 and 15.
James M. Wilson: Shotgun ballistics and shotgun injuries. Western Journal of Medicine, Aug 1978; 129: 149-155.