Eulogy to My Mother

by Sachi Sri Kantha, March 14, 2024

 Front Note

Sachi’s music book release function, Aug 1978

Puvaneswary Sachithanantham, my mother, died on March 2, 2024. Born in April 10, 1936, she had lived for 87 years and welcomed four great grandsons. For her memory, I provide excerpts of a 1995 essay I wrote in English. This was the title essay of my book, ‘MGR Movies Revisited and Other Essays’, published in Colombo.

The photo which appears adjacently was taken in August 1978, when my mother and I received M. Sivasithamparam, the then TULF President, who was the chief guest of the ‘Tamil Isai Theepam’ (a Carnatic music text book in Tamil) book release function, authored by me. While my mother was serving the santhanam pottu, I was splashing panneer (rose water) on him. Mr Sivasithamparam is holding a copy of my book. In the photo, my father is seen in the left. The individual at the far end of the photo facing the camera was traditional Tamil scholar Thenpuloliyur M. Kanapathipillai, the father of radio artiste late Kamalini Selvarajan. Mother had teased me later: ‘That book release was like your wedding function’, that she had organized for me, when I was 25. Subsequently, due to her disagreement with my choice of bride, she was absent on my wedding day in 1987, at Tokyo.

Previously in my eulogy to Hollywood star Charlton Heston in 2008, I had reminisced about how my mother’s character as being so strict about my movie watching habits. []. In this essay, I provide my teenage experiences in how I had to balance my infatuation with MGR’s movies and survive my mother’s veto power and supervision.


Excerpts from the Essay ‘MGR Movies Revisited: Autobiographical Flashback’

This essay is a confession to my parents, asking their pardon for my juvenile transgressions of curfew and betrayal of their reposed trust – all for the sake of my teenage idol M.G. Ramachandran (MGR).


Tamil Isai Theepam (1977) front cover

I was introduced to MGR in 1962 via his movie titled ‘Thai Sollai Thattathe’ [Don’t Reject Mother’s Words], a Thevar Films production. We were living at 3, Daya Road, Wellawatte, Colombo. This movie was screened at the Plaza Theater. [I heard that this theater was demolished during the 1983 anti-Tamil riots.] My parents had felt that a movie with such a wonderful title ‘Don’t Reject Mother’s Words’ should be of great educational value to my younger sister and me. They asked me to accompany my 8 year old sister and enjoy the matinee show at 2:00 pm.

I took my sister to the theater and probably due to shyness of not knowing how to join a queue (and that too with a female in a male-only queue), I returned home and told my parents that the matinee had been cancelled. I was only 9 then. The following day also I repeated the same lines after returning from the same theater. By then my father had realized the problem I was suffering with, and for the third day, he took both of us, bought the tickets and made us to enjoy the MGR movie. That was my unpleasant introduction to the world of MGR movies.

In the subsequent years, I watched one MGR movie per year with permission from my parents. All were screened at the Plaza Theater in Wellawatte. In 1963, it was Periya Idathu Penn [High Society Woman]. In 1964, the chosen movie was Panakkara Kudumbam [Rich Family]. Then in early 1965, the blessed movie was Vettaikaran [The Hunter], in which MGR played the role of a cowboy gun fighter. That move made me a great fan of MGR, though I remember very well that all my classmates at the Hindu College ridiculed MGR’s actions as ‘third grade’, compared to the Hollywood pros like John Wayne and Sean Connery (the James Bond). But for me, what MGR performed was incredible. In late 1965, when his double-role starrer, Enga Veetu Pillai [Child of Our House] was released in Colombo during the Deepavali time, MGR visited Sri Lanka with B. Saroja Devi, his silver screen co-star of those days. I was at the Ratmalana airport with my school friends, and when he arrived I also ran behind his motorcade, with hundreds of his fans to catch a glimpse of him. This was on Oct 21, 1965, around 10;55 am.


MGR Movies Revisited – 1995 book

The MGR ‘bug’ hit me badly two months before I sat for the first time at the GCE Ordinary Level exam in Dec 1966. An MGR movie Kanni Thai (Virgin Mother; a Devar Films production) was released nearly two months prior to the exam. It was released at Sellamahal Theater, Kotahena. From Ratmalana to Kotahena was a long distance bus ride. I was determined to see the matinee 2:00 pm show during its first week of release. So, one day in Oct 1966, I played truant to school classes and went to Kotahena. I could not get a ticket for Kanni Thai. The ‘House Full’ tag had been placed at the entrance gate and there were throngs of MGR fans hanging around. Since I had traveled all the way from Ratmalana to Kotahena, I hated to return without fulfilling my objective. I thought about how I could face my classmates in my failing attempt to get a ticket for MGR movie. At the nearby Gaiety Theater, an older movie of MGR – Arasilankumari (The Princess) was being shown. Now I guess, these theater owners/managers were a sharp bunch. They would never let fans to go home with empty dreams. Somehow, they would pick the pockets of fans by simultaneously running another old movie of the same movie star. I fell for their trick! Rather than returning with a failure in my mission, I entered the Gaiety theater and enjoyed watching Arasilankumari, which featured other reputable stars such as Padmini, Nambiar, K.A. Thangavelu and Rajasulochana. MGR was at his best in this costume adventure, which told the story of’ ‘Chinna payale china payale chethi kelada’. This song, really sung by T.M. Soundararajan, captivated my spirits and I became hooked by the MGR ‘bug’ and the following week I succeeded in seeing Kanni Thai at Sellamahal, after leaving school, even earlier than 11:00 am. Since then, watching all the movies of MGR (old and ‘new’) became a sort of my passion. Of course I had to leave the school early to be in time to join the queue at the second class queue stand for the 2:00 pm show.

And after the end of matinee, I had to creep back to my home, not to be ‘caught’ by my mother. But I always failed in this mission. The accumulated cigarette smoke in my hair, shirt and vest during my three hour ecstasy with MGR inside the theater always informed my mother where I have been to. But I always denied what I have done. I scrounched for money, lying in candy bottles and tea cans of the kitchen of our home. I usually settled for second class admission ticket, then priced at 1 rupee 10 cents. When the crowds made it impossible to purchase a second class ticket, I copped out 2 rupees 25 cents for a first class admission ticket. I was not ‘rich enough’ to enter the balcony seats at the price of 4 rupees 50 cents. I had never sat in the gallery section (near the screen, then priced at a lowly 50 cents).


January 12, 1967 was a sad day for me. On that day MGR was shot by fellow actor M.R. Radha in Madras, following an altercation. I learnt about this incident from the Tamil newspapers Thinakaran and Virakesari the following day. Then, we subscribed only to one English newspaper, Ceylon Daily News, which was mainly read by my father and me at that time. I tried to convince my father that we should buy regularly Thinakaran also to learn about MGR’s health condition. Occasionally he listened to my pleas and bought Thinakaran also. These Thinakaran issues I saved in my small suitcase of collectibles, which was then getting filled with MGR items I managed to purchase with petty money. These items included movie song booklets (which cost 10 cents then), South Indian Tamil movie magazines (of which I remember the names of Pesum Padam and Bommai now), and memorable numbers of magazines which featured MGR’s visit to Sri Lanka in 1965. Most of these featured MGR’s color photos in them. To show my affinity for MGR openly, I even wrapped my school notebooks with covers made from newspaper and magazine pages featuring MGR.

Sachi’s family photo 2001 (Hamilton, New Zealand); Sachi being the photographer- not visible.

One day, after I had tested my mother’s patience by coming home unusually late (after enjoying a matinee show), she had grabbed a suitcase of collectibles and disposed into garbage can all my worthy collections related to MGR. She added insult to injury by asking me, ‘Will your MGR come and feed you in the future, if you are starving?’. This unwarranted invasion of my privacy hurt my sentiments badly. I vouched secretly that she had underestimated the loyalty of a true MGR fan. Not to be outsmarted, I made it my goal to see as much MGR movies as I could.

While I was being introduced to Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli and Schrodinger in my physics class, I also enjoyed my ‘date’ with MGR. I was madly in love with him. For four years (1867-70), I patronized many theaters in Colombo which screened MGR’s old movies and ‘new’ releases. My ‘dates’ with MGR took me regularly to theaters like Vijitha (Ratmalana), Odeon (Mount Lavinia), Plaza, Roxy, Eros, Sapphire, and Savoy (Wellawatte), Capitol and Central (Maradana), Sellamahal and Gaiety (Kotahena), Navah (Slave Island) and Jazeema (Grand Pass). This caused unpleasant feelings between my mother and me. She really felt that my educational potential was being cheated by MGR, and she tried hard to ‘divorce’ me from my MGR craze. But for better or worse, she failed to succeed in it.


Fulfilled Dream

Utltimately my juvenile dream came true, when I visited Madurai to present my research paper ‘Arunagirinathar: The Aathiguru of Karnatic Music?’ at the Fifth International Tamil Research Conference, organized by MGR’s regime in January 1981. I was presented with a golden opportunity to shake MGR’s hands when he visited the conference hall. It was just a fleeting moment. I was pushed from behind, and for a split second, I grasped his palm, bowed, smiled and introduced myself as ‘Sachi Sri Kantha, from Peradeniya, Kandy, Sri Lanka’. MGR smiled and nodded his head. I had practiced beforehand to include his birthplace ‘Kandy’ in my introduction to catch his attention. Since I was affiliated to the University of Peradeniya at that time, my introduction was accurate. But I was not spared even five seconds to relish my thrill of touching MGR’s palm. Immediately I was pushed beyond him in the human wave which breezed to engulf him. On that day, I had the satisfaction of a child who was served with a mouthful of ice cream he was craving for. My agonies of unpleasant, past academic failures vanished with that one-second handshake of my teenage idol.

Amma and with Akira (one of her great grandsons) – both share the same birthdate April 10th.

After I joined the University of Illinois in 1981, I realized that my idol MGR had even attracted the attention of academic researchers from the USA. One of them, Robert Hardgrave, an academic affiliated to the University of Texas at Austin, had become an expert on the Dravidian movement of E.V. Ramasamy Naicker and C.N. Annadurai as well as on the Nadars of Tamil Nadu. Hardgrave had published academic papers on MGR’s influence in Tamil Nadu politics. Furthermore, another American researcher, Norman Cutler published an academic paper on the 1981 Madurai International Tamil Conference, which was organized by MGR and where I met my idol for the only time. So I could claim that my mother was wrong in admonishing my juvenile infatuation with MGR. If MGR has been of value for American academics to publish research papers, why I was punished by her?



With years, my love for MGR has not diminished at all. As with other Sri Lankan Tamils, I came to admire him more as a man of great heart and indefatigable leadership qualities in the post-1983 period. So I made it a point to comment on anything written adverse about MGR’s roles in movies and politics. My view on MGR had appeared in the Asia Week (Hongkong), Mainichi Daily News (Tokyo), Lanka Guardian (Colombo) and print news journals published from Britain such as Tamil Times and Tamil Nation. Furthermore, personally MGR influenced me to practice good manners and habits: ‘Never smoke or use alcoholic drinks’ and also ‘Never physically or mentally hurt the women’. However I’m sad that I breached one of his cardinal advices: Thai Sollai Thattate (Don’t Reject Mothers’ Words), the movie which made me a fan of MGR. I went against the wishes of my mother to marry a Japanese girl, Saki, whom I fell in love with. I wonder whether MGR and my mother will forgive me.


Coda in March 2024

As I had stated in the beginning, the last line of the above essay was written in 1995. As the proverb says, ‘Time is a great healer’. My parents also emigrated from Colombo to New Zealand in late 1998, to be near my sister’s family. And we held a much-delayed family reunion in 2001; and for the first time, mother could get acquainted with Saki and our two daughters. She felt happy to play grandma to our two daughters.

Last August when I visited mother at the Eventhorpe Nursing home, to Dr. Christy from Chennai I was reminiscing Amma’s love for me about my MGR craze in mid-1960s. So, Dr. Christie asked her: ‘What Amma – you had thrown your teenage son’s MGR memorabilia collection into garbage-bin and scolded him saying ‘When you are starving in future, will your MGR comes and help you?’ To Christie’s query, we noted a delightful smile in Amma’s wrinkled face. I was holding her hands. To me, it was a moment which brought back tearful memories of my delinquent days, and I felt as if she had pardoned me. Like in all families, we would have differences in opinion – in my case, about my MGR craze in 1960s-70s, and about my choice of wife in 1980s. But, we never forgot to love each other.

 Two years ago, when Amma was convalescing in the Elderly Rest Home following a debilitating stroke, and had memory loss issues, I talked her about her teenage days, to check whether she could retrieve particular events of her life. One question I asked was ‘What was the first movie you went with your family in Point Pedro, before getting married?’ She got married at the age of 16 years and 11 days! Though she had forgotten with whom she went to see the movie and the theater’s name in Point Pedro, to my pleasant surprise she answered ‘Manthiri Kumari’ (1950; Minister’s Daughter) – one of MGR’s earliest super hits, that elevated him to the hero ranks. She still remembered the riveting scene of villain S.A. Nadarajan taking his wife Madhuri Devi to the top of mountain to kill her, while lip synching the famous duet ‘Vaaraai Nee Vaarai – pohum idam vehu thooramillai’, written by Maruthakasi and sung by Tiruchi Loganathan and Jikki. The Youtube link for this duet song is as follows:

When mother saw that movie in the theater, she would have been only 15. I was so pleased to hear this; even after 70 years, still some patches of MGR’s memory she could retain at the age of 85!



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  1. Arul

    I vividly remember reading excerpts of this essay earlier, in particular, Where Sachi’s Mom angrily asks ‘Will MGR feed you?’! It is really sensible from her perspective to toss away all MGR memorabilia to teach a lesson to her son!!
    Looking back those are all sweet memoirs now.
    An emotional eulogy indeed, I could connect with my mom since my mother too was bedridden for the final four years, but remembered all the events of her life similar to Sachi’s mother remembering the Manthiri Kumari movie.