MGR – the legend lives on in Malaysia


It was by perchance that I happened to be in the vicinity of of Wisma Tun Sambanthan on a pleasant Sunday evening. People were flocking into the auditorium and curiously I followed and was informed that The Selangor and Federal Territory MGR Fans Association was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the legendary South Indian actor M G Ramachandran popularly known by his initials as MGR.

As was rightly said by the compere, Devarajan; and as he was compendiously introducing the need for such a programme, it was like telling a child the taste of an ice cream or a cookie, MGR needed no introduction amidst the sprawling spectators, who completely reduced every gap for movement in  the K R Soma auditorium by their propinquity and reverence for the actor whose demise 20 years ago had had  left behind the prosody of verses and songs though of yesteryear yet reminded the motivation of life for many of the older members, who organised and graced this particular occasion. There were some datuks amongst them, who sat amidst the crowd and endorsed the legacy of MGR in his incessant call for  duty, integrity and discipline.
The propulsive event commenced with the Praise for Tamil. This practice dates back to two thousand years, whence every Tamil or Tamil function must needs to praise the mother tongue of the race that has survived all kinds of persecution and pestilence and yet never gave up its culture and language. The praise was very unique. Seven artists all dressed in various styles depicting MGR danced in rendition of the famous song Oru Thai Makkal Naam Enbom (Let us all say we are children of one mother).
Devarajan by his spectacular mimicry and as a gifted ventriloquist spoke severally in MGR’s own voice and also in the voices of various Tamil legends like C N Annadurai, Kalaingar M Karunanidhi, Kamal Hassan, Rajinikanth and even so like the villain actor, M R Radha, who had acted in 25 Tamil films with the legendary actor and who in real life  had shot and injured him seriously; skillfully  introduced song after song that were beautifully choreographed and brought into rendition by various MGR followers like Puchong Sekar, MGR Hari and Anbalagan. Some of the songs made the auditorium hailing and moony.
In the middle of the programme the chairman of the association Mathavan, spoke about how MGR has influenced his own life and many of the members of the association.
Though in his late seventies, Mathavan willfully asserted that MGR was man of great principles and had influenced millions of Tamils around the world by his altruism and love for the socially marginalised people, through his movies.
He also asserted that the association will only register a member after finding out that he or she must be a non-smoker, a teetotaler and disciplined in every area of his or her life with duty to the community, with integrity and discipline as espoused by MGR.  Amidst these events the well-known Tamil writer Ramadas Manoharan elucidated some important incidents leading to the composing of some of  MGR’s leading movie songs.
MGR was born  on Jan 17, 1917 in  Kandy in British Ceylon to immigrant Malayali parents, Melakkath Gopala Menon and Maruthur Satyabhama. His family was originally from Palakkad, Kerala. Melakkath Gopala Menon had been excommunicated in 1903, regarding an allegation that dealt with an illicit relationship with a widowed Brahmin woman; and hence he left his family, and married Maruthur Satyabhama and left for Ceylon.
On returning to India and making Chennai his hometown with his mother and elder brother Chakrapani, MGR an ardent devotee of Lord Muruga began acting in dramas and plays. His film debut came in 1935 when he acted in the Tamil movie Sathi Leelavathi directed by the American born director Ellis Dungan. However his major breakthrough came in 1947 when he acted in Manthiri Kumari, written by M Karunanidhi.
During this time he was a member of the Indian National Congress and always wore the white khadi. However in 1953, he joined the Dravida Munettra Kazahagam (DMK), very much influenced and convinced by M Karunanidhi. Since then he had had aligned himself with the Self-Respect Movement initiated by E V amasamy Periyar and politically developed into DMK by C N Annadurai.
He had acted over 138 Tamil movies until 1980 and in every movie that he had had acted he had inspired the spectators on how to serve humanity, treat everyone as equals and to give and to donate and  to work hard to succeed in life and to respect and love one’s mother and to engage in useful activities and to abstain from liquor, smoking and other kinds of ill-manners  and to behave respectfully.
I would personally recall a friend of mine though about ten years older to me in Bukit Tembok, Seremban in 1970s; this employee of Federal Dispensary, Ponnusamy popularly known as Chander, would evince in his behaviou and mannerisms as an apt and compatible MGR follower. Though we used to tease him, he kept his loft high for his leader and in concurrence with the event in K R Soma Auditorium, I recalled the same Chander in many of the older members, who were there to show the caring part of human life to everyone around some depicting a strong discipleship.
The Self-Respect Movement of E V Ramasamy Periyar was major force in the social and political awakening of the Dravidians: Tamils, Telegus, Malayalees and Kannarese. It was an off-shoot of the Justice Party of India. The Justice Party officially known as South Indian Liberal Federation, was a political party in the Madras Presidency of British India. The party was established in 1917 by T M Nair and Theagaroya Chetty  as a result of a series of non-Brahmin conferences and meetings in the presidency.
Communal division between Brahmins and non-Brahmins began in the presidency during the late 19th and early 20th century, mainly due to caste prejudices and disproportionate representation of Brahmins in government jobs. The party’s foundation marked the culmination of a series of failed efforts to establish an organisation to represent the non-Brahmins in the presidency. During its early years, the party was involved in petitioning the imperial administrative bodies and British politicians demanding more representation for non-Brahmins in administration and in the government.
When a diarchial  system of administration was established due to the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms the Justice party took part in presidential governance. In 1920, it won the first direct elections in the presidency (comprising Tamilnadu, Andhara Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka)  and formed the government. During 1920-37, it formed four out of the five ministries and was in power for thirteen out of the seventeen years. It was the main political alternative to the nationalist Indian National Congress in the presidency.
It was defeated in the 1937 elections and never recovered from the defeat. It came under the leadership of  Periyar E V Ramaswamy and his Self-Respect Movement. In 1944, Periyar transformed the party into a social organisation called Dravidar Kazhagam  and withdrew it from electoral politics.
The Self-Respect Movement  is a movement with the aim of achieving a society where backward castes have equal human rights and encouraging backward castes to have self-respect  in the context of a caste  based society that considered them to be a lower end of the hierarchy. It was founded in 1925 by Periyar E V Ramasamy. The movement was extremely influential not just in Tamil Nadu, but also overseas in countries with large Tamil populations, such as Malaysia and Singapore.
A number of political parties in Tamil Nadu, such as Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) owe their origins to the Self-Respect movement, the latter a 1972 breakaway from the DMK. Both parties are populist with a generally social-democratic base.
The late founder and  editor of Tamil Murasu Thamizahvel K. Sarangapani took upon himself the leadership of the Self Respect Movement in Singapore and Malaysia through his daily  and influenced thousands of plantation workers on equality and egalitarian aspects of the movements and how every individual should liberate himself from this brahminical hegemony of castedom.
It was a social and political awakening for the estate and municipal workers that was perspicuously augmented by the films of MGR and by the screenplay of M Karunanidhi. The songs that appeared in all these movies taught about a social revolution and the liberation of the human-self.  MGR did not even attend high school but his pragmatic  vision for the masses were meant to challenge some of the great western philosophers and their thought processes.
In Malaysia, the Ahila Malaya Tamilar Sangam (AMTS) grew to be one of the most popular Tamil movements prior to the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). It focused on Tamil and Tamil rights and culture and became the champion of the rural, estate and municipal workers in all the major towns and estates.
Annually, Tamilar Thirunal festivals were organised throughout the country and the late Thamizavel K Sarangapany would accompany two professors from Tamilnadu on Tamil history, language and culture  and provide everyone with an intellectual feast of their heritage and legacies. The whole month of January coinciding with Ponggal will be a gala month of songs and dramas and social activities including literary competitions. Tamil and the Tamilians grew with the commitment of these leaders and the  inspiring evergreen songs from the movies of MGR.
It must needs to be mentioned politically most of the members of AMTS were supporters of the Labour Party and the Socialist Front coalition parties. In Seremban, as I remember  the late Sathappan Chettiar was a great Tamil voice in the Socialist Front apart from Robert Singam and Stanley Ponniah. The owner of Bharathi Press the later Rama.Chinniah must be remembered for his great contributions to the growth of the Self-Respect Movement in Negeri Sembilan.
The Malayan Indian Congress and later the Malaysian Indian Congress could not outwit the social and cultural strength of AMTS amongst the Tamils and ultimately an  insidious conspiracy pioneered by the late Tun Sambanthan was garnered to deregister the Ahila Malaya Tamilar Sangam. The late K R Shanmugam as the president and the former Exco Member of Negeri Sembilan A Ponniah as General Secretary  conspired and brought about the death knell to the self-respect movement and that of AMTS and hence became beneficiaries of MIC.
S Samy Vellu continued the strategy by making the Tamil Youth Bell Club and Malaysian Tamil Writers Association to play second fiddle to the MIC. Howsoever the MIC could not in the last 40 years or so replace the spirit and commitment of those who cherished the voice of AMTS as Tamils. On the day of deregistration AMTS had a recorded membership of 240,000 people.
Though MGR died on Dec 24, 1987, the members of the Selangor and Federal Territory MGR Fans Association small in number and weak in finances and generally lacking the support of  the academically successful Tamil groups had become instrumental in reasserting the lost history and heritage of the Tamils, their language, their culture and their rights in this country.
This could be a very insignificant event for many Tamils who have other larger commitments yet could not discard distressingly that such events could become vitriolic social and political spin-offs for greater  and more aggressive events  in the days to come that may be more difficult for a greater revival of Tamil history, language and culture.This article was drafted by Richard Kamalanathan and first published in