“That is cinema, the world of make-believe. Mind you, the same is true in politics,’’ MGR told former DGP K Mohandas eight years before he took oath as Chief Minister in 1977.
Mohandas (who later penned the book MGR: The Man and the Myth), then the Madurai SP, had met him while he was shooting for ‘Maattukara Velan’ at the Vaigai Dam. Whether MGR really believed in a ‘make-believe’ world or not, it is indisputable that he was a reel and real life demigod who gave sleepless nights to his opponents in cinema and politics.
Old timers recall that it was during the shooting of Maattukara Velan that MGR cultivated a rapport with the local people. The bond grew and eventually secured him an entry in the record books when he won from Andipatti lying in his Brooklyn Hospital bed in New York. “During the 15-day shoot, people from neighbouring villages came by foot to have a glimpse of him. He patiently interacted with them and presented surprise gifts. Even while he was in the retiring room, he would willingly agree to chat with villagers, whenever I informed him about their presence,” recalls Palmani Thevar, a former caretaker of the guest house at Vaigai Dam. Thevar proudly shows a photograph of MGR posing with him and others.
“I remember when some women asked him for sarees, MGR asked me to collect around 10 sarees from Jayalalithaa madam and gave it to them. Similarly, seeing women holding infants in arms, MGR quickly covered the heads of the babies with a towel and advised them to take proper care of their children,” he adds.
MGR also gave `100 to Palmani’s mother when she sought help to buy jewels. “Those days a sovereign of gold cost only `30. My mother always called MGR as her first son,” he says.
Villagers of Andipatti like Ottanai and Rajendran say that interior and hilly regions like Varusanadu got transport connectivity thanks to MGR.
“Our leader believed in translating words into action. Once when I was travelling in his convoy, MGR suddenly asked the driver to stop to interact with women farm workers. When they told him that they received Rs 15 as daily wages, he immediately took a Rs 100 note bundle and gave it to them,” says Mayilai Ramasamy, former AIADMK Madurai unit propaganda secretary.