Who was MGR?
Many things to many people, but in my view the most important aspect of his life was his foresight as well as his image building power.
He was a Congressman and devotee of Muruga during the freedom struggle, but in the early fifties began to think of the idealogical line he needed to follow in independent India. The highs of freedom were over and high expectations were getting battered on the rocks of reality.
In this scenario, MGR had a liking for the communist ideology and toyed with the idea of joining the communist party.
But the scale tilted in favour of the DMK, and the rhetoric that he mounted through dialogue and song dovetailed beautifully with the the Kazhagam propaganda in the culturally charged ambience of the fifties and sixties.
Annadurai was the umbrella, a whole array of evening speakers who would tilt irreverently at orthodoxies, religious, cultural, social and political, through podium, paper, proscenium and film constituted flanks of the charge. But it was MGR’s image as the Robin Hood of Ramavaram, the new Ramachandran of the Kali Yuga, that would stick. MGR was very much aware of the image-building potential of films, and worked really hard at sculpting a positive image of himself. Ultimately, the celluloid persona buttressed by real-life stances proved to be invincible. He had mastered a modern alchemy that would turn tinsel into gold. (Of course that is not to discount any sympathy he might have really had for the poor and ‘downtrodden’. Who cares about reality? What is reality, anyway?).
That explains why his arch rival in the party, M. Karunanidhi could not even dream of coming to power once MGR was in Fort St George in 1977 after a party schism in 1972. All the political wiles and guiles of the foxy Karunindhi, a veritable treasurhouse of Machiavellian shifts and stances, came to nought before the smile of MGR and his willingness to please everybody except Karunanidhi, of course. (Political watchers would however say that he even saw to it that Karunanidhi got the share of goodies due to an opposition leader!).
About 25 years after his passing, a star struck Tamil Nadu looks back to his benign personality, and may well hearken to his reel and real-life heroine and only political legatee, Jayalalitha, in the elections to the state assembly round the corner.
Of course a whole lot of imponderables are involved, from last minute alliances to public memory of monumental scams, from the wiles of money-power and media management to what comes last, the will of the people. But the MGR factor too will be at work. Will he manage to vanquish his arch rival this time is the question. His leading lady is drawing the battle lines for another assault on the fort, she better have his fullest backing!
(Thoughts on his birth anniversary).