‘Navarathinam’ Movie and March 1977 General Election
by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 3, 2022
Fellow MGR biographer R. Kannan’s observations, on Part 67, received on July 16th , was as follows:
“Thank you for part 67 – focusing on MGR’s belief. MGR was a believer but did not exhibit it until his second term when he made trips to Moogambika temple openly. The meticulous piecing together of the songs that refer to the Almighty directly or indirectly in MGR films is meticulously done. Kudos.
As you are aware, in Thanipiravi [movie] he even played Murugan with Jayalalithaa playing [consort] Valli. His pooja room had his mother and Gandhi’s image. ‘Andavane’ was his endearing term. AVM Saravanan records that on the shoots of ‘Anbe Vaa’ movie when the jeep negotiated a bend in the Simla hills and almost did not make it MGR gave a shout: ‘Muruga!’ On Thevar’s request, he declared open the lights to the Marudamalai Murugan abode. Arurdoss also refers to MGR as a believer.
Karunanidhi seems to indicate that Sampath saw Sivaji Ganesan out. Not sure [whether] Kannadasan had a role in it then. However, Kannadasan’s Thenral magazine published Ganesan’s ‘Thenali Raman’ movie pose buried neck deep into the ground with the elephant about to trample him after the Tirupati visit. My recollection from my reading is that by 1956 Ganesan was out. His memoir incorrectly states 1957 as the year of his departure. Karunanidhi refers to the 1953 storm and not the 1956 one that felled Ganesan. One of Anna’s ‘Thambiku’ letters praises Kamaraj sky high for showing up immediately at the storm site to commiserate with the people and direct redress activities.”
My response to Kannan’s thoughts, sent the following day was,
“Your additional details on MGR’s religiosity are most welcome. The dates you have suggested provide some clarification indeed.
Of course, Kannadasan was involved in the Sivaji’s Tirupathi visit around mid 1950s. My source was, Rama Kannappan’s book – ‘Kavi Arasau Kannadasan‘ (Vanathi, 1989, 2nd rev. ed, pp. 184-186). Also, there was friction between both Sivaji and Kannadasan during the ‘Veera Pandiya Kattabomman‘ movie production. Kannadasan produced his own movie ‘Sivagangai Seemai’ as a rival movie and released it, around the same time. Check the release dates of Veerapandiya Kattabomman (May 6, 1959) and Sivagangai Seemai (May 19, 1959). Kannadasan had made reference to, in his ‘Vana Vaasam‘ book (p. 269, 1991, 12th ed.). But, he didn’t identify Kattabomman movie, by name, and mentions that his debt increased from 62,000 rupees to 150,000 rupees then.
It’s my belief that between 1956 and 1958, Kannadasan was more associated with MGR’s movies – Madurai Veeran 1956, Mahadevi 1957, Nadodi Mannan 1958, Mannathi Mannan 1960, Raja Desingu 1960. This, in addition to his own failed production ‘Oomayan Kottai‘ (1957), through a financier. It couldn’t be proved either that Sivaji was keen to antagonize Kannadasan at that time, or he pressed this issue indirectly, BUT his producers deftly deflected the opportunities Kannadasan could have had, to other lyricists – so as not to antagonize their signed hero. A period study of Sivaji Ganesan’s movies during that time, clearly proves this fact.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman‘s producer was Padmini Pictures boss Banthulu. All the songs for this movie were written by Ku Ma Balasubramaniam. Again, Sabash Meena (1958), another Padmini Pictures – Banthulu movie, all the songs were written by Ku Ma Balasubramaniam. Sarangathara (1958) movie had 13 songs – all except one, was written by Maruthakasi. The remaining one was by Carnatic Music composer Marimutha Pillai. Another well talked about Sivaji movie, was Sampoorna Ramayanam (1958). All songs for this movie were written by Maruthakasi. Kathavarayan (1958) movie, all 14 songs were by Tanjai Ramaiahdas. In hindsight, it can be said that, one of the reason why Kannadasan produced ‘Malaiyitta Mangai‘ (1958) and wrote all the lyrics himself, was to prove his worth that his movie can withstand the competition, on songs itself. In his autobiography, Kannadasan mentions that he produced this movie in three months!
Only in 1959, with the release of Thanga Padumai movie (released in January for Pongal), by Jupiter Pictures (M. Somasundaram producer), Kannadasan was given the opportunity to write lyrics for 2 among the 16 songs! Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram had 10 lyrics, Maruthakasi had 2 lyrics and Udumalai Narayanakavi had 1 lyric. Luckily for Kannadasan, botched surgery and the death of Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram in Oct 1959, brought Kannadasan to Sivaji’s ‘Paha Pirivinai‘ songs (Yaen Piranthai mahane Yaen piranthayo? etc.), raised his stars and thereby Kannadasan’s rift with Sivaji was solved. Then came Bhimsingh’s sentimental series of ‘Pa’ letter movie hits, with Paasa Malar, Paalum Pazhamum. This is my reading of the events between 1956 and 1960.”
One more Influential Figure on MGR’s Theism
In the previous chapter, I had identified MGR’s mother Satyabhama and stunt actor cum movie producer M.M.A. Sandow Chinnappah Thevar (1915-1978) as two influential individuals for MGR’s theism. Unintentionally, I had overlooked another actor’s influence in MGR’s theism. It is that of villain actor Manjeri Narayanan (M.N.) Nambiar (1919-2008). Though in his movie career, MGR had interacted with quite a number of villain and character actors, in his autobiography, it’s his special relationship with Nambiar that MGR had emphasized. In one chapter, MGR identifies Nambiar as ‘one like his relative’. On Nambiar’s personality, MGR’s words were, “This Nambiar is a unique personality. I remember that I met him first, in the drama stage. The Rajaguru character he originated in the drama ‘Kaviyin Kanavu’ [The Dream of a Poet] scripted by Mr. S.D. Sundaram was an inspiration to so many actors…He acted as my friend (a comedy role) in the ‘Rajakumari’ – my first hero role movie.” Beginning from 1947, until MGR’s final movie, released in 1978, for almost four decades, Nambiar had a strong contribution to MGR’s cinema life and successes of his movies.
About Nambiar’s theism, MGR had written, “..[He] is sincerely devoted to God. But, never made it as a business object to elevate his life’s success. Those who listen to him, when he analyze or critic Gods, many would assign him as a strong atheist. Though he realizes that what states is bound within the boundaries of reason, that’s his style of logic, so as not to hurt the feelings of others.”
MGR at home [circa early 1950s] and His Prayer
MGR had written cryptically in his autobiography that permission for him to marry ‘socially’ V.N. Janaki was allowed in 1950, but not legally. What one can mean by this, was probably he got permission from his old mother and elder brother. They might have permitted MGR’s alliance with Janaki, considering his plight that he was first a widower, and even the 2nd marriage arranged by his mother turned out to be childless and his wife was sickly suffering from tuberculosis treatment. Both wives were chosen by his mother. Thus, he maintained two households; one – a joint household with that of his elder brother, including mother; and the second one – with Janaki and her son Surendran (born to Ganapathy Bhat). MGR had adopted Surendran into his family, when the latter was 3 years old.
I had located three short videos (around 6 minutes each) in Youtube version, in which Surendran talks about his childhood days, when he was around 7. In these videos, Surendran speaks in Tamil, and how MGR was indulging him to learn the fundamentals of arithmetic (in part 1), and also a five line prayer to the God, in Tamil (part 2). Surendran tells that MGR until his end said this prayer once in the morning and one before retiring to bed, and taught him the same prayer as well. The links to these video clips are as follows:
MGR’s step son J. Surendran interview – part 1
MGR’s step son J. Surendran interview – part 2
MGR’s step son J. Surendran interview – part 4
The literal meaning of MGR’s prayer was, ‘All powerful God, please pardon me for the wrongs committed by not learning, not listening to the wisdom of elders, not thinking about the suffering of less fortunate, not thinking about those who face difficulties, not reciting the 5 word mantra, not praying, not respecting the good words/deeds of others and all the errors.’ A photo clip of this 5 line prayer is provided nearby. I’m unable to decipher the author of this prayer.
Another observation on ‘who was the guardian of V.N. Janaki in 1950’
In part 66 of this series [https://sangam.org/mgr-remembered-part-66/] while writing about Kannada actor M.A. Ganapathy Bhat, who was V.N. Janaki’s first husband, I had inferred that what MGR had indicated in his autobiography as ‘one who was a guardian of V.N. Janaki’ was Ganapathy Bhat. This inference may be either be right or wrong. Recently, my friend Arul Pandian sent me a Youtube interview link of comedian actor Ramesh Khanna (b. 1954) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1jrFTvsMeg], to Chennai Tamil Trending.
Here, Ramesh Khanna asserts that it was his father Narayanan who functioned as the guardian of Janaki, and importantly MGR’s indirect reference to ‘the one who was the guardian of Janaki’ was to his father! According to the details, Ramesh Khanna provided, this Narayanan was the maternal uncle of Janaki from Vaikom. This could be true. But, there are some deft points that need clarification, which I indicated to Arul Pandian, in my response email.
“Ramesh Khanna is a cousin of V.N. Janaki. This is fine. But, there is an age difference of 24 years between him and V.N. Janaki. Considering the family system in India, this could also be accepted.
One questionable point is, when MGR had this case, it was in 1950. At that time, Janaki was an adult, and aged 26. So, why did she need a guardian? She was not a minor. And where was Ganapthy Bhat at that time? Had he given up on Janaki altogether, after she had initiated her relationship with MGR and given up his guardian role. If I remember right, Janaki married Ganapathy Bhat, when she was 15 or 16 – around 1939. At that time, a guardian was needed. Was a guardian needed in 1950, when Janaki was 26?
What Ramesh Khanna mentioned may be true (or may be not). The problem is, MGR did not specifically identify the said ‘guardian’ by name. Why he did this – he only knew. Ramesh Khanna also mentions that his father ‘ won in the Court, but lost in life’. but MGR ‘lost in the Court, but won in life’. I think, more is hidden here, which we don’t know. Could it be taken, that MGR didn’t want to hurt the feelings of one who is down in his life (either this Narayanan or Ganapthy Bhat) in 1972? This is, typically his character.”
Helping A.P. Nagarajan with the Navarathinam movie
Akkampettai Paramasivan (.A.P.) Nagarajan (1928-1977) was a stage actor, writer, producer and director, who had received recognition in Chennai for his Hindu mythologicals, prominently starring Sivaji Ganesan in 1960s. In mid 1950s, Nagarajan had made his mark by opposing the anti-religious thrust of DMK script writers Anna, Karunanidhi and others. Being a member of Ma. Po. Sivagnanam’s Thamil Arasu Party, Nagarajan focused on theism and revived Sivaji Ganesan’s star who had left DMK.
In addition to mythologicals, Ngarajan also directed two enchanting movies with Sivaji Ganesan – Thillana Mohanambal (1968) and biopic Rajaraja Cholan (1973). Following this movie, Nagarajan was in financial trouble and a split with Sivaji Ganesan was in order. To save his neck, Nagarajan reached MGR for financial dividend. In this route, Nagarajan was simply following the steps of three other recognized Tamil movie producers/directors such as G.N. Velumani, B.R. Panthulu (1910-1974) and C.V. Sridhar (1933-2008) who had great success with Sivaji Ganesan first, but later moved to MGR camp for financial stability.
According to the details provided by K.P. Ramakrishnan, MGR’s dupe actor and bodyguard, when Nagarajan met MGR and solicited MGR’s help for doing a film for him; this request, MGR accepted immediately, stating ‘I’ll act, whenever you want me to act. Nagarajan had asked, ‘What should I do for you?’ MGR’s response was, ‘You don’t need to do anything for me. Prepare a story; construct the sets and call me. I’ll be ready.’ To reduce the costs, MGR was keen in not spending extravagantly for this movie. Outdoor shooting was none. The movie was completed economically within MGR-owned Satya Studio premises. Though Nagarajan had not made any movies with MGR previously, MGR carried a high respect and admiration for the quality movies Nagarajan had produced with Sivaji Ganesan. As such, he acted without any remuneration for this movie.
The plot of the Navarathinam [Nine Gems] movie revolves around a hero, named thangam (i.e., gold), who meets 9 different women with varied family backgrounds and life experiences, from different regions of India. It’s simply a gender reversal theme of Nagarajan’s successful 1964 movie ‘Navarathri’ [Nine Nights], starring Sivaji Ganesan and Savitri, where a woman runs away from home and meets nine different men. In the ‘Navarathinam’ movie, nine women the hero meets faces a different problem. The names of women’s characters are indicative of nine gems [manickam, pushpa, maragatham, muthu, gomati (i.e, gometakam), vairam, neelam, pavalam, vaiduriyam]. Thangam (MGR’s character) offers his hand to solve the problems faced by each woman. Nine young actresses who split the screen time were Latha, Sripriya, Jeyachitra, Subah, P.R. Varalakshmy, Jeya, Y. Vijaya, Zarina Wahab and Kumari Padmini. The Ananda Vikatan weekly (March 27, 1977) ended it’s unsigned review of the movie with a sentence ‘[This is] a march of nine gems; though the story is nothing, there is amusement.’ In my view, Nagarajan’s modus operandi of moving the plot by deux ex machina [i.e. God out of the machine] might have been an acceptable excuse for Hindu mythologicals, but it failed to click in contemporary social plots spun for election propaganda objectives, even when MGR was at his best.
There is a dream sequence duet ‘Kuruvikkara machchane’ for MGR and Latha, written by Vaali, sung by Carnatic musician M. Balamurali Krishna and Vani Jayaram. The Youtube link is, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdbbsYcLmF0. Though the tune is lilting, the song wasn’t par with the numerous T.M. Soundararajan and P. Sushila duets of vintage for MGR and his heroine. Another duet song, written by Pulamaipithan, sung by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and Vani Jayaram to be acted by MGR and Jeyachitra was simply a party propaganda song – ‘Ungalil Naan Annavai Paarkiren’ [I see Anna in You], with children in the background, carried the names of leaders Annadurai and Mahatma Gandhi. The Youtube link is, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyQGLZiRgwU
‘Navarathinam’ movie was released on 5 March 1977, failed commercially, in its first theatrical run. Few suggested reasons for the flop of this ‘Nagarajan-style neo-traditionalism’ include, (1) the story plot was vaguely strung around ‘national unity’ as political propaganda for MGR’s newly formed party and it’s then ally Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party, prior to the March 1977 general elections. Zarina Wahab and M.B. Shetty, actors in Hindi movies, were featured as a ploy. (2) Due to pressure from political campaign for his party, MGR had neglected his grip on the music and song compositions. (3) Violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan (1935-2008) – a regular in Nagarajan’s movies, despite his credibility in Carnatic music was subpar in music director role to MGR’s regulars, either M.S. Viswanathan or K.V. Mahadevan. (4) By recognition and fan acceptance for over 20 years, policy songs of MGR were sung by his anointed singers like Sirkazhi Govindarajan, T.M. Soundararajan or senior Chidambaram S. Jayaraman. Having none of these three, and assigning S.P. Balasubrahmanyam for such a song failed to click. Unfortunately, Nagarajan died a month later, before reaching 50.
March 1977 General Election for 6th Lok Sabha
MGR aligned his party ADMK with Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party and CPI to contest this general election for the first time. Both ADMK and CPI were supportive of the ‘Emergency rule’ enforced in India between 1975 and 1976. As was expected, Karunidhi’s DMK was opposed to Indira Gandhi since February 1976. On Feb 19, 1977, an election alliance was formed among Janata Party incorporating Kamaraj’s Old Congress (NCO), DMK, CPI(M). Constituency sharing arrangements in the Tamil Nadu for contesting the election was split between these parties: DMK 19, Janata Party 19 and CPI (M) 2. Karunanidhi mentions that Morarji Desai, the Janata Party leader visited Chennai the following day, and spoke at an election propaganda meeting, supporting this alliance, held at sea beach. Though he spoke with him for long time privately, he did not attend the meeting. At this meeting, Morarji Desai mentioned about the sour experience faced by dissolution of DMK rule by Indira in 1976.
On March 15, 1977, at the Chennai sea beach meeting held with P. Ramachandran (Janata Party-NCO) presiding, Vijayalakshmy Pundit, Ashok Mehta and Karunanidhi addressed the anti-Indira meeting. Election voting commenced the following day. The outcome of the election results, announced in March 20th, was in favor of the Janata Front. Janata Party (including defector Jagjivan Ram’s Congress for Democracy) captured 299 seats. Indira’s Congress Party lost heavily in the North Indian states and could tally only 153 seats. Indira Gandhi was defeated in her constituency Rae Bareilly, and son Sanjay Gandhi also suffered a loss in neighboring Amethi constituency.
Sanjai Gandhi’s ‘Vasectomy of Villagers’ program
One vital reason adduced for the loss of support among the North Indian voters to Indira’s Congress party was the ‘Vasectomy of Villagers’ program enforced in 1976. As Aaron Klieman had observed, “Among villagers as election day neared the slogan became, instead of ‘garibi hatao’ (Remove poverty) which had been Mrs. Gandhi’s 1971 election theme – ‘Indira hatao, Indri (ya) bachao’ (Remove Indira; save physical strength). The punch line ‘Indri bachao’ literally means ‘save physical strength; but euphemistically, it also means ‘save semen ‘ or ‘save (your) penis’. According to Klieman, ‘The Minister of Health in the new government informed parliament that 207 persons had died during or after vasectomy operations performed between July 1975 and March 1977.”
Why Indira’s Congress Party was spared of humiliation in the Southern four states? Analyst Raman had suggested five reasons which turned out to be a bonanza for MGR’s new party. These were,
- The excesses of the Emergency had only a peripheral impact on the population of four states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala).
- Eligible couples were spared of agony and humiliation of compulsory sterilization.
- The belief that the Janata leadership was ‘pro-Hindi’ and ‘anti-English’.
- DMK party was discredited due to its ‘brief career of hooliganism and sectarian politics.’
- Newly constituted Janata ‘leadership’ was robbed of time to streamline its election machinery in the South’.
Raman also recorded ‘spectacular success of the candidates nominated by MGR: 18 seats won out of the 19 contested’ was an ‘intriguing feature of the elections.’ Subsequently, the corrected numbers for the performance of MGR’s party candidates turned out to be 17 seats won among 20 contested in Tamil Nadu, plus one additional seat – Pondicherry constituency. Vote received details for Anna DMK party candidates are presented in Table. Percentage of votes polled ranged from 53.1 – 71.3%. Among the 20 candidates chosen by MGR, only 3 (Nanjil Manoharan, S.D. Somasundaram and Maya Thevar) had previous contesting experience in a Lok Sabha election. Other 17 were rookies. While Nanjil Manoharan, who was then No.2 in the ranks of the party next to MGR, lost this time polling only 44.5% of votes polled (his first loss, after three successful attempts in Lok Sabha elections as the DMK candidate in 1962, 1967 and 1971) contesting against his former DMK pal A.V.P. Asai thambi of DMK, Somasundaram and Maya Thevar registered victories polling 60.2% and 59.6% of votes polled.
MGR’s valiant campaigning on behalf of his alliance party candidates (Indira Congress and CPI) also helped in these candidates winning with sizeable chunk of votes. While Indira Congress candidates won in 14 constituencies [Madras South, Arakkonam, Tindivanam, Cuddalore, Dharmapuri, Rasipuram (SC), Gopichettipalayam, Palani, Madurai, Karur, Mayiladuthurai, Sivakasi, Tenkasi (SC) and Tiruchendur], Prominent Indira Congress party candidates who were able to win, courtesy MGR’s vote base, included R. Venkataraman in Madras South, O.V. Alagesan in Arakkonam, C. Subramaniam in Palani, R.V.Swaminathan in Madurai, Kudanthai Ramalingam in Mayuiladuturai, and K.T. Kosalaram in Tiruchendur. CPI party candidates won in 3 constituencies [Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli and Nagapattinam (SC)]. CPI leader M. Kalyanasundaram, MGR’s political ally since October 1972, won with 57.1% of votes polled from Tiruchirappalli constituency.
Karunanidhi’s explanation for the poor performance of DMK in the Lok Sabha elections was evasive at best. He had written, “As hundreds of thousands of folks turned out to our propaganda meetings, to counter this Indira Congress allowed money to flow like water these electorates. It’s alliance partner Anna DMK also matched this pattern. .But, DMK had testing time to collect funds to defend itself against filed cases. One can comprehend that DMK had to lent money to it’s alliance partner Janata Party, and P. Ramachandran subsequently returned it. The amount was only 100,000 rupees! From the Congress led by Kamaraj, as many party stalwarts like Mr. Karuppiah Moopanar had joined Indira’s Congress, one couldn’t say that DMK’s alliance party Janata (including NCO) was so strong at all.
Above all, government-controlled radio was used for dissemination of anti-DMK propaganda from sunrise to sunset. As such, when the election results were released, Janata-DMK alliance was able to win only in 4 constitutencies: A.V.P.Asaithambi (DMK) in Chennai North, P. Ramachandran (Janata) in Chennai Central, Dhandayuthapani (Janata) in Vellore and Kumari Ananthan (Janata) in Nagarkoil.”
Though the defeat of Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party in the Northern states of India was the prominent theme in coverage, the fact that MGR, the movie star had entered the national arena as a player of note due to the strong performance of his party’s candidates in Tamil Nadu was not missed. Many aspirants for political fame (both among men and women actors) in some states did attempt later to follow the footsteps of MGR. But, none with the exception of MGR’s junior contemporary N.T. Rama Rao, and his own protégé Jayalalitha could match MGR’s glory.
Following the election defeat, Indira Gandhi resigned her prime minister position on March 24, 1977. Morarji Desai, as one of the leaders of the Janata alliance became the 4th prime minister of India, on the same day. This switch, did influence the Tamil Nadu politics as well, with MGR and Karunanidhi also opting for opportunistic alliance with the other leader. As Indira had lost power in the Center, MGR was keen to be on the favored side of the new prime minister Morarji Desai. 18 elected MPs MGR had compared to DMK’s 2 MPs was attractive for Morarji Desai to dump Karunanidhi from the Janata alliance. As there were two prominent rivals for prime ministership (Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh) in the Janata camp, Morarji Desai wished to protect his parliamentary support base, by aligning with MGR’s Anna DMK. MGR also had to learn that, like elsewhere, expediency is one of the ingredients in Indian politics, and for practical reasons one cannot ignore it.
Katherine Frank: Indira – The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, 2002.
Kannan: MGR – A Life, Penguin Books, Gurgaon, Haryana, 2017, pp. 223-227..
Karunanidhi: Nenjukku Neethi (Justice for the Heart), vol. 3, Thirumagal Nilayam, Chennai, 1997, pp. 54-82.
A.S. Klieman: Indira’s India – Democracy and Crisis Government. Political Science Quarterly, summer 1981; 96(2): 21-259.
MGR: Naan Yean Piranthen (Why I was Born), Part 1 and Part 2, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2014, pp. 1073-1093 (in Tamil).
Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen: Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, revised ed., Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, p. 158. 397,
A.S.Raman: Exit Czarina Indira. Contemporary Review, July 1, 1977, pp. 26-28.
K.P. Ramakrishnan: MGR Oru Sagaaptham, Vikatan Prasuram 155, 8th printing, 2013 (originally published 2007), Vikatan Prasuram, Chennai, pp. 115-119.