Ramchandran: Jewel of the Masses;
Sivaji Ganeshan: The Making of a Legend both by Roopa
Swaminathan. Rupa and Company, New Delhi. Pages 79 and 71,
respectively.Rs 150 each.
has been a fertile breeding ground for politicians. Marudur
Gopalamenon Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, came to
politics via the films and reached the peak of political success
to become the Chief Minister of the state.
Swaminathan, in these two books, narrates the life story of MGR
and of another colossus of Tamil cinema, Sivaji Ganeshan, who
shared with MGR the top spot in Tamil cinema and also entered
politics in the same era. MGR made a tremendous success in
politics but Sivaji proved an inept political player.
As a film hero
MGR chose his roles carefully with an eye on building his own
image. Starting with mythologicals, he moved on to social themes
where he picked up the roles of the poor underdog who stands up
to the might of rich oppressors and gets the better of them.
This gave him the image of a modernday Robin Hood and a fan base
which eventually turned into a huge vote bank sustained by more
than 10,000 fan clubs that MGR took care to nurture and promote.
Sivaji, on the
other hand, accepted difficult roles that provided him with
scope to show his acting talent.He played a murderer, a
handicapped person, and even a traitor. These were roles that
many actors would hesitate to accept.
Both rose to
great heights of stardom but through different routes. MGR
presented himself as a man of the masses, selecting reels that
projected him as a champion of the deprived. Sivaji rose to the
top on the strength of his acting prowess. While critics did not
think much of MGRís talent, Sivajiís abilities were widely
acclaimed. The nation honoured him with the Padma Shri in 1966
and the Padma Bhushan in 1984. The Dada Saheb Phalke award in
1996 was the most appropriate reward for his contribution to
politics, but MGR had prepared his ground well and made a big
success in politics. Sivaji, after an initial success, fumbled
in politics. MGR joined Annaduraisís Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
in 1956 and ever since propagated the ideals of the party ó
atheism and anti-Brahminism. It did not take the reel hero much
time to become a real-life hero. This filmstar-politician, who
came from Sri Lanka, came to be adored by millions of Tamils
like an icon and grew to be the most powerful man in Tamil Nadu.
Yet the book
that records the rise of this charismatic personality of Tamil
Nadu does not fail to mention that during the 11 years of his
rule, profiteers, liquor barons, real estate magnates and ruling
party politicians prospered immensely while the poor the
constituted the backbone of his support base lived in unbearable
When MGR died
on December 24, 1987, the city of Madras saw the biggest ever
funeral in its history. Over two million persons followed his
mortal remains, more than 30 of his followers committed suicide
and thousands had their heads tonsured as a mark of mourning.
died on July 21, 2001, the news did not make big headlines in
the national Press. The death of Phoolan Devi about a week later
claimed bigger headlines. However, cinema houses and studios all
over Tamil Nadu remained closed for the day. His funeral was
attended by almost every actor, actress and technician in
Chennai, besides a large number of his admirers. Fans beat their
chests unashamedly and wailed in grief. Tributes were paid by
almost everybody in the film industry. But the last word came
from Kamalahasan who is considered to be the most suitable
candidate to inherit Sivajiís mantle. "Any South Indian
actor who says he had not been influenced by Shivaji is a
liar," he said.
Here are two monographs on two
Titans of Tamil cinema who were very different from each other
and who adopted different strategies to reach the summit.