Remembering MGR, Tamil Nadu’s “Makkal Thilagam”

by Trailerman Sam

Image courtesy of MGR Fans FB

Come Jan 17, Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran or popularly known by his initials MGR, and revered as “Makkal Thilagam” or the People’s King, would have been 107 years old.

As he veered towards 70 in the late 1980s, MGR never fully recovered from his multiple health problems and died on Dec 24, 1987 after a prolonged illness. He was 70 years old, just a month away before his 71st birthday on Jan 17,1988.

Even before this, there was an attempt to assassinate him by none other than his fellow actor, M.R.Radha.

On Jan 12, 1967, a producer, Vasu, and M.R. Radha visited MGR to iron out some details of an upcoming movie production. M.R. Radha then insisted on a one-to-one conversation with MGR. They went into a room as Vasu waited outside.

In a trice or short while, something triggered that made M.R.Radha stand up, draw out a revolver tucked in his dhoti and shot MGR in his left ear twice!

Upon hearing the gunshots, Vasu rushed into the room and saw MGR cupping his left ear with blood oozing out from it. Then he saw the revolver in the hands of M.R. Radha. Within seconds, M.R. Radha shot himself in his right temple and neck and collapsed.

Those near the shooting incident came into the room and rushed both the hero and villain to the Royapettah General Hospital.

After two hours of surgery, both miraculously survived! A bullet was lodged in MGR’s ear. M.R. Radha survived a skull fracture and neck wound.

Security was beefed up to the maximum at the gates of the hospital as news of the shooting spread like wildfire in Tamil Nadu. Almost every Muthu, Samy, Munimah and Latha were rushing towards Royapettah GH with emotions rocketing sky high. Please save our “Thalaivar” (Leader) were the exact words in each of their invocations.

The shooting incident certainly changed the social, cultural and emotional fabric of life in Tamil Nadu and Indian politics, to a certain extent. It sent shockwaves among the people as MGR had a great affinity with them. Apart from his millions of fans, he had great respect as a human being. One can say that millions were concerned for him.

It’s also worth pondering what drove M.R.Radha to such a heinous crime. As background, both M.R.Radha and MGR were actors and also rising politicians. They had acted in no less than in 25 films together.

In the 1960s, roles were specially written for M.R.Radha, always as the villain to MGR, branding him as the “most hated villain” of that era of Tamil movies. Acknowledging himself to the overwhelming public perception of being that very bad guy could have initiated M.R.Radha to go rogue and prove that he was indeed that one big baddie in real life!

“Naan thaan sutteen. Policeukku statement koduthacchu” (or “I was the one who shot. I have given a statement to the police) was what M.R.Radha said as he laid on the hospital stretcher, eyes wide open and alert, and surrounded by his family members.

M.R.Radha consequently fell into the pit of direct hate. MGR fans stoned his house and many of his properties were vandalised. This tit for tat action only toned down after MGR pleaded with his fans not to escalate the situation.

After several months of hospitalisation, M.R.Radha was arrested for attempt murder and remanded in November 1967. The case dragged on for months but there were enough evidence and eye-witnesses to prove M.R. Radha was indeed the culprit. He was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. But with countless petitions and requests stacking up daily, the sentence was reduced to four years.

M.R.Radha got arrested again under an emergency act after that. It was another 11 months in the cell before he could walk out as a free man on the streets of Chennai (then known as Madras).

The shooting was also a setback for MGR. It halted many MGR’s film projects as his injury made it difficult for him to speak. After the operation, MGR’s voice also changed. Since he had been shot in his left ear, he also  lost his hearing there as it always had a ringing sound after that.

So, what was M.R. Radha’s motive for shooting his fellow actor whom he had known since they were young actors? Both were known to have clashed verbally even during film shoots. Both were friends and had mutual respect for each other until politics started eating up their friendship.  

In politics there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends, but there must be permanent principles – these are the famous words of our very own Karpal Singh, the Lion of Jelutong.

Happy 107th Birthday & Makkal Thilagam!