Producer M.M.A. Sandow Chinnappah Thevar
by Sachi Sri Kantha, August 29, 2017
Sandow M.M.A. Chinnappah Thevar (1915-1978) was a colorful personality in the Madras movie world for nearly three decades, after he produced his first movie featuring MGR as the hero. It’s title was ‘Thaikku Pin Thaaram’ (1956; Wife after Mother). He was well known for his bare-breasted appearance, strict work ethics, punctuality, and also for uttering the name of Lord Muruga as well as using profanities equally and prominently. He even cussed the Lord with profanities.
Thevar also had an unusual fetish for collecting the scented loin cloth decorating the statue of Lord of Pazhani Murugan at weekly intervals. This fetish for scented loin cloth by Thevar is not a hyperbole. Comedian actor Nagesh was offered a privy to Thevar’s collection and he did record it in his memoirs. Thevar’s in-house script writer Arurdhas had offered a discrete psychological explanation for this fetish. Thevar’s wife had suffered from mental instability, while he was in his 40s, and the couple had lost conjugal relationship. In an industry notorious for casting couch seductions, Thevar the producer believed that this fetish tying the scented loin cloth around his waist in the night, helped him to stray away from indulging in such a vice.
Testimony of Thevar in the Shooting Attempt Case
Here are some excerpts from Thevar’s testimony as a prosecution witness. It did elicit some humorous quips and cross-quips.
Attorney: What is your job?
Thevar: Producing movies. Also, I act in cinema and drama. Sometimes, I direct. I also write cinma script.
Judge: (folding his ears), what type of story?
Thevar: I do write script for movies.
Judge: (somewhat surprised) You do write cinema script! [laughter in court]
Attorney: Have you joined any political party?
Thevar: I belong to Congress Party. For 25 years, I’m a member.
Attorney: Are you an ordinary member in that party?
Thevar: First, I was an ordinary member. Then, I became an active member. For four anna due, one is an ordinary member. If we pay 11 rupees and 25 paisa…
Judge (interrupting): for a year or month?
Thevar: For 11 rupees and 25 paisa per year, one can be a member in All India Congress. I had paid like that.
Attorney: Do you know MGR and Radha?
Thevar: I know them well. I have known MGR for 10 years. I know Radha, even longer than that.
Prosecution Attorney: Can you check whether Radha is in the court now? [Thevar pointed out Radha, who was in the accused stand. Radha smiled, and in sign language using hand and head signaled, ‘How are you?’ Devar smiled, and responded the same, ‘How are you?’]
Attorney: Did you produce the movie ‘Tholilazhi’ [Laborer]? In which year was that?
Thevar: Yes, I did produce it. In 1964.
Attorney: Who acted in it?
Thevar: MGR, M.R. Radha, Nagesh, Manorama… Tirupathisamy.
Judge: [in intended pun, on Thevar’s habit of using the name of Lord Murugan] Which Tirupathisamy? [laughter in court] The one who came to the Court? Was it him?
[Note by Sachi: S.M.Tirupathisamy, actor who is well versed in silambam fencing, sword fight and boxing, was a regular in MGR’s movies. According to Arurdhas, occasionally Tirupathysamy doubled as MGR’s bodyguard too. MGR had made passing reference to him, in his autobiography as well.]
Thevar: [continuing] Gemini Balu, Rathna..
Judge: Is Rathna, a male or a female?
Thevar: I have dentures now. So, I cannot pronounce correctly. [laughter in court] Rathna is female. A heroine in the movie.
Thevar: With these folks, shooting was held at Vauhini Studio’s sixth stage on June 7, 1964. On that day, shooting was done for a scene in which laborers were preparing an application to the Collector, to initiate a Cooperative bus company. MGR acted in the role of a manager assisting the laborers. MGR had to speak the line, ‘The guiding star which will give light to us – this Cooperative bus service.’ In the rehearsal for the scene, MGR spoke the phrase ‘guiding star’ as scripted. When I was in the next set, I heard MGR using the word ‘Uthaya Sooriyan’ [Rising Sun] loudly. I turned suddenly. Then, Radha admonished MGR, ‘Ramachandra – don’t use your party symbol Uthaya Sooriyan, in front of my image.’ Both were standing while they had this dialog. I approached them and told, ‘in your quarrel, call sheet is wasted. I’ll lose my money. Therefore, please act now without quarrel. ‘ Radha responded, ‘He is using Uthaya Sooriyan, on my image.’ I replied, ‘Even if you use, ‘Muruga, Muruga’, that will satisfy me.’ Finally, MGR completed the scene, using the phrase ‘guiding star’, instead of ‘Uthaya Sooriyan’.
In his testimony, Thevar had failed to provide the context for the conflict between MGR and Radha. It was left to Arurdhas (the script writer for this ‘Tholilazhi’ movie) to offer the proper context of this conflict, in his 2001 memoirs. This was long after the principals (MGR, Radha and Thevar) had died. To quote Arurdhas,
“MGR asked me. ‘You had written ‘guiding star’, why the star should be mentioned here?’ I replied, ‘in English, they call it ‘guiding star’… In Bethelehem when Jesus was born, it appeared Wise men from the East says, ‘We have seen his star in the East..’. Based on that, I wrote that today you all will be laborers, but tomorrow you have the opportunity to become owners.’ MGR retorted, ‘Your explanation sounds good. But, star is the symbol of the Swatantra Party. Should I mention it?’ [Note by Sachi: Swatantra Party was led by C. Rajagopalachari, aka Rajaji].
I replied, ‘I didn’t think about this first. Why not, if you say, ‘That will be, tomorrow’s Rising Sun’. MGR said, ‘Thank you’ and stated that at the end of the original script; and as [decided by the director] the panned shot ended in M.R. Radha’s face. Immediately, M.R. Radha said, ‘Ramachandra! Don’t say that last sentence on my face.’. MGR replied, ‘Anne, the shot was planned like that, isn’t it?’ Radha’s retort was, ‘I’m not talking about the shot. You are the one who changed the lines. I mention that.’ MGR’s reply: ‘I didn’t change. Script writer had changed it.’ Radha’s retort: ‘No. I was hearing the explanation what Das had told you now. It was good and appropriate. You are the one, who confused him. So, he changed it. I don’t care, what you say. But, don’t say it on my face.’
MGR thought for a while, and suddenly he sat on the camera trolley, and changed the camera position to the photo of Lord Muruga placed nearby so that the shot finishes at that photo. Then, I noted little anger on MGR’s face. Radha then agreed to that decision and said, ‘If you wish, do it like that’ and raised his hand to signal OK. In Devar Films shooting, that was the first time MGR made his objection to the script and the shooting sequence.”
In his film hero career, MGR had completed altogether 16 movies in 16 years (from 1956 to 1972) for Thevar Films – the highest number he had worked for a single producer. Thevar was one individual who contributed to the success of ‘MGR persona’. In late 1972, after he was expelled from DMK, MGR’s political activity increased and as such Thevar – MGR collaboration came to a halt. Though not owning a studio on his own, Thevar was a strong task master, with two of his younger siblings. M.A. Thirumugam was the director of all his Thevar Films movies. M.A. Marimuthu was in charge of the finances section.
Now, back to Thevar’s responses in the shooting incident case. To the questions by the defense attorney, Thevar responded as follows:
Attorney: Did you tell the police officer that you are a Congress sympathizer?
Thevar: Cannot remember now.
Attorney: Usually, you don’t prefer intrusion of politics in your movies, isn’t it?
Thevar: Yes. I don’t like.
Attorney: You had mentioned that in the rehearsal, MGR had used the given script, and then changed it to ‘Uthaya Sooriyan’. What was the time difference between these two incidents?
Thevar: Between 20 – 25 minutes.
Attorney: You also mentioned that Radha admonished MGR by saying, ‘Why you twist the phrase, in front of my image?’ Did you mention this, when police inquired?
Thevar: Yes, I did.
Attorney: According to police report, you had mentioned that Radha told ‘Ramachandra, why you mention Uthaya Sooriyan? Let’s avoid party symbol.’
Thevar: Yes, that was what I had told.
Attorney: You had told, ‘Muruga, we don’t want this, isn’t it?
Thevar: Yes, would have told that.
Attorney: Do you say ‘Muruga’ so often?
Thevar: I cannot talk, without using ‘Muruga’ often. [laughter in Court]
Attorney: Who keeps the original script of the movie?
Thevar: It is with us. Revised script will be forwarded to the Censor Board.
Attorney: Who scripted the ‘Tholilali’ movie?
Thevar: Story is mine. I wrote half the script. The other half was written by Arurdhas.
After studying the essence of Thevar’s testimony, it appears to me that Thevar’s inclusion in the list of prosecution witnesses and his testimony is somewhat marginal to the main event. Unlike producer Vasu, he was neither an eyewitness to the shooting incident nor involved in the disputed movie, ‘Petral than Pillaiya’. Thevar’s testimony only provided evidence for the political tension between MGR and Radha, which was building up since mid 1964. Neverthelss, Arurdhas had provided some additional details, in his memoirs published in 2011. A translation of the details presented by Arurdhas is as follows:
“Thevar had warned MGR beforehand that M.R. Radha had been talking about shooting and killing you; so be careful. MGR’s response was, ‘Don’t fear Anne. Barking dog will not bite…. While MGR was recuperating after the incident, Thevar reminded MGR about his warning. I was standing nearby. ‘Didn’t I tell you more than once, to be careful. You had told that barking dog will not bite. Now see, what had happened? MGR put a ‘hero smile’ as usual, and replied, ‘Anne! I did tell that barking dog will not bite. But, this stood in front of me, and bit without barking! Let it be that. The bullet in his revolver were duds, isn’t it? Otherwise, my story would be over, once it blasted near my ear. You should be happy that it didn’t happen that way. Then , he picked up the pen in my shirt pocket, and he acted like what Radha did, and directing me to be in his position.”
MGR’s Appreciation of Thevar’s Trust, Friendship and Magnanimity
MGR’s autobiography is notable for lack of details related to his conflict with M.R. Radha and the January 1967 shooting incident. Yet, here and there, he had touched about the aftermath of the consequences of gun wound injury to him. Here is a passage from MGR’s autobiography, in which he had introduced Thevar’s responsibility.
“My dear ‘brother’ Thevar produced his first movie with the title, ‘Thaiku Pin Thaaram’ and made me act in it. I fumble for words to honor his trust on me. That day, I was shot and fighting for my life. There was no guarantee until next day 13th, whether I’ll live. But Lord Muruga devotee Mr. Chinnappah Thevar, didn’t care about my perilous condition and paid advance for the next movie, as agreed previously. He did trust that I’ll live, and that my acting skills will be preserved. Please do not think that other movie producers thought otherwise. Nevertheless, the trusting behavior of Mr. Chinnappah Thevar shouldn’t be forgotten. This is because, as the shooting haven’t begun, he could have opted to make the movie with some others. Rather than waiting that I’ll return without any deformities, he could have gained profit by making a movie with other actors quickly. However, the fact that he paid advance to me for the next movie, as had been agreed cannot be forgotten or hidden.
That he and I met for the first time in Kovai were golden days. He was a Congress man. Me too. How we introduced ourselves then was a sweet thing….While acting in ‘Saalivahanan’ movie as Vikramathitan in Kovai, there were two who were beside me for the role of ministers. Though I saw both, I couldn’t release my eyes from one. He had a well-built bust and hands. I asked his name. Reply came as ‘Chinnappah’. I muttered within myself, ‘Chinnappah! –Those who have this name may be blessed with well-built body! Because, late Mr. P.U. Chinnappah Annan also had a well-built body. This guy was also like that. Someone added, ‘He is not simple Chinnappah, but Sandow Chinnappah. This fact itself, made him more respectful to me. We introduced each other, shared out pains and become close friends. Friendship morphed into brotherhood. Yes, then, now and forever.
This mutual trust cannot be broken by political belief, caste-creed variations and even labor. Then, both were members in Congress party. Now, I’m in DMK. He is still in Congress. He abhors liquor. Cheating is not his vice. He trust his mother, next to God. He is also trustworthy for me, and I’m proud to say that his my friend and brother.”
Testimony of Dr. Viswalingam
According to records, Dr. Viswalingam stated that he completed his studies and received MBBS degree in 1963. He had been working at Royapettah government hospital as a medical officer in the casualty ward since 1966. On the day of the incident, he was on duty from 2:00 pm.
“MGR arrived at hospital at 6:00 pm, holding his left ear. He was wearing verti and terylene shirt. I saw blood stains in the verti and shirt. I took him to the casualty theater. MGR was made to lie down. He mentioned that he felt pain in the neck. I examined the spot in 60watts bulb light and found abrasion. In the left neck region, there was a wound with 1 cm depth. Through a 2 cm hole, blood was spilling. He was calm. His body condition was normal; Vital statistics were good. I gave first aid. I reported to Dr. R.N. Sukumar, who was also on duty. [Note: Previously, in part 35, I had included Dr. Abraham Sukumar’s observations on that day, as he had recorded in his blog in 2010. I believe, both R.N. Sukumar and Abraham Sukumar are same individuals, but Dr. Viswalingam had indicated ‘R.N.’ initials, in the transcript.] He reported to R.M.O. Dr. Sarathchandra. Then, a medical team arrived and operation was done. No one was allowed nearby. X-ray machine was taken to the casualty ward, and we took X-ray on MGR’s neck region. We found an object in spinal cord, on the left side near the first bone. We took notes on the composition of that object.
M.R. Radha was brought to the casualty ward at 6:30 pm. He was also made to lie down. The distance between MGR and Radha was around 7 feet. Radha’s body was covered with shawl. Blood was oozing from the right side of his head. I asked him ‘What happened?’ He told, ‘Around 5.30 pm, MGR had shot me, at his house.’ I checked his wounds, and asked the nurse to cut the vest he was wearing. Nurse did so. There was wound on the right side of his neck, with a 2 cm depth. His second wound was on the right side of his head. Due to hair, I couldn’t examine it clearly. Blood was oozing from that spot. Radha was calm too. His vital signs were normal. We bandaged his head. X-ray was taken. We noticed two objects – one in right head region, another in right external neck region. On receiving details from the telephone operator, police came. MGR’s testimony was taken by Paranki Malai police team. MGR was calm, when he gave his testimony. Then, Radha’s testimony was taken. But, he failed to complete his testimony. He couldn’t sign his testimony. I don’t know the reason why Radha couldn’t complete his testimony.”
Arurdhas: Cinema Nijamum Nizhalum, Arunthathi Nilayam, Chennai, 2001, pp. 275-276.
Arurdhas: Naan Mugam Paartha Cinema Kannadigal, Kalaignan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2002, pp. 52-62.
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen, part 1, chapter 45, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, pp. 568-571.
MGR vs M. R. Radha 1967 shooting case transcripts in Tamil. http://cinema.malaimalar.com. Between May 31, 2012 and June 15, 2012.
Chandramouli S (compiler): Sirithu Vazha Vendum (Nageshin Vazhkai Anubavangal), 3rd ed., Vanathi Pathippakam, Chennai, 2009, pp. 143-153.
Sudhngan: MGR Kolai Vazhakku – Suttachu Suttachu, Kizhakku Pathippagam, Chennai, 2005.
Dr. Sachi have done a wonderful job of assembling from various sources the sequence of events related to assassination attempt on MGR. It is amazing to know that both MGR and M.R. Radha were calm after the terrible incident and lying down in the same hospital just separated by 7 feet! Tough personalities indeed!
Also, it is heartwarming to know that Thevar gave the advance to MGR to act in his next movie when MGR was just admitted to hospital with a bullet in his neck. Many details are just amazing for instance, the government hospital doctor was examining MGR with just a 60 W bulb!