Introduction M.G. Ramachandran, affectionately called MGR was a Malayalee by birth. Yet he became one of India's biggest leaders and a leader whose regime brought about huge changes in Tamil Nadu. There have been certain unique personality attributes of MGR. He was a man of the masses. He was a perfect entertainer too. His political career also had several achievements. He tried to broaden his base beyond Tamil Nadu too. These are sought to be discussed in some detail in this article.
A Man of the masses MGR was a man of the masses even when he was in the DMK. He was always an actor of very average acting talent. However, his ability to swing the films in his favor and his ability to read the pulse of the people in those times was something none else could do. He was a tall pillar of the DMK and was hugely close to the then don of the DMK called Mr Anna. This first DMK Chief Minister nurtured his talent very well as a speaker in every DMK meeting. Anna was on record that even if MGR showed his face in a meeting, hundreds of thousands would attend it.
What was the magic? The first was his generosity in helping the poor. He had a huge image that had a correlation between his reel image and his real life image. He was a teetotaler. He always made it a point to project his image and this carefully nurtured image also found resonance in his wider preaching. He would simply bash up any one who was drunk , he would literally run campaigns against smoking and so on. He would be seen with a cigarette in his hand in any of his movies.
This image would be combined with on the spot generosity. There were thousands who were benefited by his generosity. He would be the first to be present when there was a natural calamity. This practice continued even after he became a Chief Minister. One such incident is described in a latter paragraph in this article. He was always seen as a man who practiced what he preached. This was a crucial plus point that worked for him.
The most perfect entertainerMGR was the most perfect entertainer. His heroines would simply fall in love with him at first sight. He would never chase a woman. Not once. The haughty Jayalalitha, later nurtured by MGR as his successor had to fall in line too. She was a dumb heroine in most movies as MGR used to carry the entire film on his shoulders. The dream sequences were simply superb. Added to the fact that he had a magnetic personality, his films had superb music, mostly made possible by one Mr. M.S. Viswanathan, a great music director of his times.
MGR would supervise each song. It was always said that directors had to obey his word. Not a single song could be done without his knowledge. The fight sequences were simple, but innovative. MGR was the first hero who started the cult of the hero bashing up even sixty bad guys in one go.
The fact remains that this MGR formula was later copied by Rajnikant and even others. However, none of them was a legend in the MGR fold. His films continued to do well, even after he was thrown out of the DMK and launched his own party. He gave up acting after he captured power.
MGR's political achievements MGR's political achievements were another big plus. He always ensured that there was no corruption. He would simply bash up any party man who was corrupt. There were juicy stories in this respect. His faithful followers later become crorepathis, after they got into education. For example, the late Jaypeeyar. He was his personal driver for several years. This person was also a minister. During the worst ever water problem in Chennai in the seventies MGR authorized this person to bring water in tankers from as far as one hundred kilometers or more. The rains came in handy too. The water problem was solved without any fuss.
Jaypeeyar's successors still run the hugely successful Sathyabaama group of institutions which includes a deemed University of repute. MGR's another trusted minister was Mr Viswanathan, who then founded the Vellore Engineering College. Today, the VIT University as it is now called is among the best deemed Universities in India.
It was MGR who opened the floodgates for so many Engineering colleges. Today there is more supply than demand; not a single soul who wants to do Engineering will go without getting a seat. This is the result of MGR's Vision. MGR also went to any spot that had a huge calamity. There was once a big fire in a "touring talkies" ( a mobile theater that would be in a village and then move on to the next village) in Tuticorin. MGR reached the place within hours and ordered relief. He personally supervised the operations and offered Government jobs to each of the affected families that had survivors.
He would always interact with people. In the later years, his command over the Tamil language was so good. He would never stoop down to the lower levels to criticize even his worst political opponents. MGR was a dignified actor par excellence. He was also a good human being. The comparison was obvious.
MGR's efforts to reach the masses was proved in the huge 1975 floods in Tiruchirapalli town, parts of which were marooned for days together. One such area was the prestigious St.Joseph's college. MGR visited the hostels, under seven foot of water. He did not even bother to listen to the police who were shocked when they saw him folding his dhoti above his knew and wading through flood waters. He interviewed each student and took down all details. He promised help. He also subsequently visited the BHEL company that had done commendable relief work. He entrusted the task to some senior officials of BHEL and a couple of honest IAS officers. He warned his own party men to not touch a single pie of Government money. Each and every family of the affected students got immediate relief. This was widely reported in the press in those days when net banking or internet were not even heard of.
He widened the scope of the midday meals scheme which was praised by even the World Bank. This scheme was later copied by other State Governments. MGR's regime was the only regime where the bus fares were reduced three times. They were run so professionally during his regime.
MGR's attempt to widen his political reachMGR did not merely rename his party as the All India Anna Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam. (AIADMK). He had a wonderful relationship with the late Indira Gandhi, and later on with Mr Rajiv Gandhi as well. MGR had a huge and subtle, influence in national politics, as his party was a big party to reckon with.
The massive road development projects were initiated during MGR's regime. Today Tamil Nadu is reaping all the benefits for its huge investment in higher education. The country's best engineering colleges are found in this State.
Thus MGR the phenomenon was a combination of each of the four factors enumerated above. The only other leader who was as successful was the late NTR of the then undivided Andhra Pradesh.
MGR continues to hold sway over millions even today. His AIADMK is now in shambles. But his image is still intact. That is MGR the phenomenon.