MGR Remembered, Part 5

Lessons from Real Mentors

by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 13, 2013

Part 4

Influence of Kali N Ratnam and M.R. Radha

In my opinion, MGR’s autobiographical chapter 126 is an important one. In it, he had paid compliments and his professional debt to Madras Rajagopala Naidu Radhakrishnan (aka M.R.Radha). Considering the fact that M.R. Radha shot MGR on January 12, 1967, which resulted in the latter losing his voice, usually one wouldn’t expect an open tribute to an individual who had plotted to kill you. Nevertheless, while writing his autobiography in the latter half of 1972, MGR did express gratitude and showed magnanimity in recognizing the lessons he learnt from M.R. Radha while the latter was a fellow colleague of MGR at the Madurai Original Boys Company in early 1930s.

M.R. Radha

M.R. Radha

I provide translations of chapter 126 below, excluding the first 7 paragraphs (which were of general introduction). But, the first paragraph does make sense, after one reads the entire chapter. I comment about it, at the end. In the original, MGR had abbreviated the names of Kali N. Ratnam (as K.N.R.) and M.R. Radha (as M.R.R.) and as these two were seniors to him, address them with the honorific ‘Mr’ before their initials.

“One leader presents his objectives from a corner of a country. Let us think that he shows by deeds practically how one should live. Those who haven’t seen this leader do follow the same precepts and we do see how they change themselves a ‘good person’. Like this, Mr. M.R. Radha did act for Madurai Original Boys Company for a few months and moved to other companies. Now, when I write this series, I couldn’t have imagined [then] that I’ll get this opportunity to write. Similarly, he also couldn’t have imagined then. I was merely one of the boys in his eyes then. That’s all.

He [i.e., M.R.R.] couldn’t have even imagined that he did show me a new route in my acting life then. When I played the hero roles in the dramas like Manoharan, Sathiavaan, Bharathan of that company and was treated as a ‘valuable boy’ and had to lose my voice during puberty, I was troubled about what roles I had to choose. In that circumstance, he wouldn’t have known that the roles originated by him did offer me good opportunity and also a guaranty for future progress.

In the Pathi Bakthi drama, the hero was played by Mr. K.P. Kesavan, the villain (Gangatharan) was Mr. K.K. Perumal, and the important spy role was played by Mr. Kali N. Ratnam. Mr. M.R.R. had played the villain Gangatharan role and the spy role for other companies and gained respect. Thus, Mr M.R.R. had to play in any one of the roles in our company. Mr. Kali N. Ratnam’s role cannot be taken, unless if he was willing. Mr. Perumal was the permanent villain, and he knew the Pathi Bakthi drama’s plot vivaciously.

Even though if the story remains the same, if it is staged by different drama troupes, subtle variations can be noticed. But, the nucleus of the story as well as the climax scenes will not change. Thus, Mr. M.R.R. had to pick up another role. But, in that drama there were no alternative roles and this worried Mr. Kali N. Ratnam. The date for Pathi Bakthi drama was announced. On that day, Mr. M.R.R. opted to play the role of a handy man to the villain. He did act in the Veeramuthu (handyman to villain) role.

Until that day, many in the company knows the Veeramuthu name; but cannot visualize the role. When the villain Mr. Perumal announces, ‘Veeramuthu, will you go quickly and finish that job?’ Anyone among the clique of villain, could play that role if he had quick instinct. But, on that particular day, [due to the deeds of M.R.R.] the Veeramuthu role had gained prominence. Not only that, Veeramuthu was competing with the villain for acceptance. In specific scenes, when both Veeramuthu and Gangatharan appeared, Veeramuthu gained respect from the audience by the way he spoke and how he switched the cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other. In every movement of his body, he attracted the audience tremendously.

In the climax scene of that drama, the spy had to fight with enemies to save the heroine and her child. Once the villain loses the fight, his handy men would appear, and fight. Mr. Kali N. Ratnam (as the spy) had to beat and defeat the handy men. On the day, when Mr. M.R. R. played the Veeramuthu role, he had told to Mr. Kali N. Ratnam that after Gangatharan (villain) had lost, he will appear and [Mr. Ratnam] had to lift Veeramuthu first. Then, the fight should continue. For this scene, Mr. K.N. R. had to bend slightly so that Mr. M.R.R. comes running and jumps up after pouncing on the former’s shoulder. Instantly, Mr. K.N.R. had to grab the waist of Mr. M.R.R. and carry the latter and throw. He did instruct such a scene with the aid of another boy. But, none could pick on Mr. K.N. R. like that in a stage. Those who did that, cannot stay in the company!

K Ravindar biography of MGR 2009

K Ravindar biography of MGR 2009

That day, when Pathi Bakthi was staged, in the climax scene, after Gangatharan had lost the fight, entered Mr. M.R.R. running towards the stage. He screamed ‘Daii’! [Note by Sachi: This third person singular masculine word in Tamil is an offensive, insult word used for aggression. It is pronounced like the English word ‘day’, with the last syllable ‘y’ extended. It can be used among intimates of same age as an endearment term with no offense, but never used against elders.] Like the drunkards who shout in the streets, he screamed. As the audience had heard such a usage in Chennai streets, they appreciated and clapped instinctly. He stole that scene. Mr. M.R.R. then threw his hat. Clapping heard. He then threw his coat. Again, clapping heard. In between, Mr. K.N.R. had to follow up action. But that day, he was rather slow. How long Mr. M.R.R. can wait? Those who were watching that scene realized that Mr. M.R.R. had decided to act with tempo. Suddenly, Mr.M.R.R. had lifted up Mr. K.N.R. and threw him.

None expected this act. Even Mr. K.N.R. did not expect such a treatment. Even in talk, none could talk against him in that company. This being so, another actor lifting him and throwing became a self-respect issue for Mr. K.N.R. The respect other actors in the company had on him would suffer was his worry. Suppose if the audience noted that he had ‘lost’, his fame would be down-graded. What happened after that scene was of interest to many of us.

Mr. K.N.R. who got up immediately threw Mr. M.R.R. down. For all of us, it was evident that latter cooperated for this act. But, when Mr. M.R.R. got back in his feet and attempted to threw Mr. K.N.R., the latter failed to cooperate. For a while, both pitted their challenge. Then, Mr.M.R.R was in young rage. But, Mr. K.N.R. was older than his opponent. Both fell down simultaneously. Then, as the scene played out, Mr. M.R.R. allowed himself to be beaten by the spy as per story line. Even though, event happened unexpectedly, that the prevailing view that Mr. K.N.R. should not be insulted had been broken.

Mr. M.R.R. continued to act in the same Veeramuthu role in Pathi Bakthi drama. In between, both had discussed the routines of fighting steps mutually, and as such the next staging of Pathi Bakthi was a grand success and the climax scene elicited ‘Once more’ request from the audience.

In the drama cottages, they used to place firm, iron rings for tying ladder ropes. While acting naturally in the fight scenes, Mr. M.R.R. did stumble on these iron rings without care. He wouldn’t even worry about hurting himself. Because of such nonchalant attitude, he had elevated the listless Veeramuthu role to one which could attract the crowd. If Mr. M.R.R. do not act as Veeramuthu, that drama would be listless was the talk of the crowd.

Like this, even in the ‘Bombay Mail’ drama, he had elevated a small role into an appealing one. In that drama, the role of Munian (villain’s handyman role) had been popularized by him to such an extent that it deserved equal respect.

Then, in the ‘Nalla Thangaal’ drama, there is a role called Alangaari. (This character insults her sister-in-law severely. Just because of this, the character received its tag name Mooli Alangaari. It had become a tradition to call any woman who do such nasty things at home by this tag name. Note by Sachi: This description within parenthesis is as in the original. The word ‘Mooli’ in Tamil can be interpreted as ‘devil’.) Due to the deeds of this character, Nalla Thangaal is forced to lit fire in the kitchen using raw banana stems. In this drama, traditionally a well-known actor plays the role of palace servant. Mr. K.N. R. used to play this role. Unfortunately, he had to return to his village for some reasons. Therefore, Mr. M.R.R. played the role of servant. In the scene, where the raw banana stems burns, and Alangaari was stunned, Mr. M.R.R. appeared and quipped, “O’ God, if this raw banana stem is burning, what a virtuous woman this lady has to be?’ For this, Mr. Puniyam who played the role of Alangaari returned the volley adeptly, “Is it because of her? Not really. It’s because I’m standing here?’ Then, Mr. M.R.R. unexpectedly circled Alangaari with a taunt, ‘Our lady is full of virtue, Our lady is full of virtue’ and danced. This act elicited applause from the audience. Mr. Puniyam who played the Alangaari role couldn’t stop his laugh, but quipped, ‘What’s this? What is this circling dance?’

Then, Mr. M.R.R. retorted: ‘Don’t get mad at me. Other folks call you Mooli Alangaari. There won’t be any fire, any rain, any air when you are present. I’ll go and plug their mouths. From our lady’s mouth, we have fire, from our lady’s forehead we have water like rain…Do you think, I’ll say this? Not so. Like the guy who commanded rain to come down, from today you’ve changed into a virtuous lady. I’ll tell this now’ and left the stage. Mr. Puniyam, in the stage, was dumbfounded! There was unstopped laughter from the audience and the screen had to be closed instantly.

Like this, [Mr. M.R.R.] who acted effortlessly with originality left the Boys Company in a few months. Reason:  the company’s restrictions couldn’t suit his independent spirit.

He may not know, how much his deeds helped me in my drama career at that stage. Subsequently, I was able to play the Veeramuthu role developed by him. Then, even Mr. K.N.R. insisted that I should play such roles. I remember one incident. When we were playing at Vellore, there was cholera scare. Even there were some cholera victims in the drama company. We had to stop the drama for 15 days. This is because, the gate collection was affected badly.

MGR with his ghost writer Vidwan V. Lakshmanan

MGR with his ghost writer Vidwan V. Lakshmanan

The last day. I had suffered from diarrhea.  The doctor who came to check the company guys, did check me and announced that I also had cholera. That was the last drama. Even if some scenes were not up to grade, I was told, ‘Just do the fight scenes and rest. Then, you can go home.’ Mr. K.N. R. told me, ‘No need for dialogue in other scenes. Just sleep in bed.’ On that day, I struggled to finish the fight scenes. At the end, I had fainted. I was carried home to be with my mother.”

Translation of the First paragraph: “One’s life will suffer in social context if it is not influenced by many. We face many events in our life if known folks, unknown folks, intimate folks, non-intimate folks influence us from varied angles, knowingly or indirectly.”

One may wonder why MGR introduced the 126th chapter like this when it appeared in 1972? It was focused mainly on the exploits of his drama mentor M.R. Radha. In early 1930s, Radha was MGR’s mentor. Then, in 1950s and first half of 1960s, he was also a fellow actor in his movies. Then, one day in 1967, he turned out to be a life-threatening aggressor. As I had mentioned at the beginning, MGR did willingly pay tribute to his mentor despite the latter’s rash deed. He could have easily omitted this homage. The cryptic wording ‘knowingly or indirectly’ also deserves a scrutiny. Was MGR commenting about M.R.Radha’s act of 1967 whether what he did to him was an act of his own will, or he was forced to do it by others who wanted to stop MGR’s rise in politics? A little more on this issue, later.

Vidwan V. Lakshmanan in 2002

Vidwan V. Lakshmanan in 2002

In part 2 of this series, I had raised the question, whether MGR’s autobiography ‘Naan Yen Piranthaen’ [Why I was Born?] was ghost-written? I had found evidence that it was so. It exists in K.Ravindar’s 2009 book, which I introduced in part 3. K.Ravindar (original name Kaja Muhaideen) was an employee of MGR since 1953.  Ravindar was employed as a writer in MGR’s drama troupe and also in MGR Pictures movie-production company. In page 199 of his book, Ravindar had identified the ghost writer as Vidwan V. Lakshmanan, who himself was also an assistant and employee of MGR since 1954. This Lakshmanan also had authored a short biography on MGR in 1985 (to be continued)

Part 6

Sources Consulted:

K. Ravindar: Pon Manach Chemmal MGR, Vijaya Publications, Chennai, 2009.

Vidwan V. Lakshmanan: Makkal Thilakam MGR, Vanathi Pathippakam, Chennai, 4th edition, 2002 (originally published 1985).

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