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cultural degradation in tamilnadu - south india

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m.g. ramachandran

The height of emotional response that 'MGR' could evoke was evident when in 1987 during a critical illness, 22 people committed suicide in the hope their deaths would save him! Stories of poor people selling their blood in order to get money to see his films on first release are legendary!

Born Marudur Gopalamenon Ramachandran in Kandy, Sri Lanka, his family moved to Tamil Nadu where they lived in poverty. When he was 6, he joined a theatre group - the Madurai Original Boys. Here he picked up acting, dancing and swordplay.

MGR made his screen debut in Ellis R. Duncan's Sati Leelavathi (1936) but his first major breakthrough came much, much later with Rajakumari (1947).

MGR's 1950s screen persona in adventure films constructed an image of political as well as physical invincibility. Often the themes of his films were derived from heroic ballads which are part of the oral tradition of rural Tamil Nadu. For example - Madurai Veeran (1956), one of his most popular films, is based on the legend of Madurai Veeran, a popular deity of Southern Tamil Nadu. His legend has been the subject of various ballads and plays and this was the second filmed version of the story.

In the 1960s MGR turned to more 'realistic' fantasies mostly in a contemporary setting often playing someone from the oppressed class - a peasant, taxi driver or fisherman. For millions of fans, his image as the knight in shining armour, saving damsels in distress and being totally dutiful towards his mother was in fact a reality. Mother tongue, motherland and motherhood were what he based his popularity on. To quote M.S.S. Pandian in The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics...

"The social universe of the MGR is a universe of asymmetrical power.......The conflict between the upper caste/ class oppressors and MGR as a subaltern, and its resolution forms the core of the film. MGR, in the course of the conflict, appropriates several signs or symbols of authority or power from those who dominate."

MGR used food, colour patterns (black and red, symbols of the DMK) and masquerades (often through double roles of oppressor and oppressed) to construct this universe. In Engal Thangam (1970) for example, MGR playing a truck driver Thangam, fights, sings, cares for the poor and preaches against smoking and drinking. The DMK colours - black ands. He even appears as himself in the opening scene at a Small Savings Function. Thangam is in the audience and even refers to him as 'vathiyar' (teacher), the reverent title by which he was known to his fans!

MGR had joined the DMK party in 1953 and remained its member till 1972. This included a brief stint in the Madras Legislative Council from 1962 - 64, being a member of the Legislative Assembly (1967) when the party won the state elections and the DMK Treasurer (1970).

He fell out with the DMK chief Karunanidhi and used the DMK's propaganda idiom against the DMK itself in Nam Naadu (1969). In 1972 he set up the rival Anna - DMK party claiming allegiance to the DMK's founder, the late Annadurai.

In 1977, his party renamed the AIADMK won the state elections in alliance with Indira Gandhi's Congress party. MGR became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and was re-elected for three consecutive terms. As Chief Minister, he organized a totalitarian crackdown on all political dissent while introducing populist schemes such as the Chief Minister's Nutritious Meal Programme.

Having survived a bullet wound when he was shot at by fellow actor M.R. Radha in 1967 (which affected his speech), he achieved demi-god status following a paralytic stroke in 1984 which he survived for three years thus acquiring the label 'thrice born'. When he died in 1987, his funeral procession was attended by over 2 million people!

A temple has been built in Madras with MGR as deity.





A bit of a recluse, Rajni may be. But everyone who’s had the privelege of a darshan with the thalaivar has come away with a spring in his step and a warm glow in the heart. Warm, friendly and affable, he’s the sort who deserves all the superstardom he’s earned. Such men, indeed, are rare...

It’s been 25 years, believe it or not, since the Periya Thalaivar (big boss) made his debut with an inconsequential role in a Tamil film. From villain and antihero to blockbuster supernova, the gifted actor has made the most of every outing. And he’s deserved every bit of the success. SCREEN analyses why...

It's a wide angle shot. A man is seen opening a gate, dressed in rags and smoking a beedi. A terminally ill disease writ large on his face. Precisely on that frame appears the Sanskrit term shruthi bedham, coupled with an off screen voice, an undoubtedly inauspicious start to any debutante’s first screen appearance, especially in the maiden frame.

The film was Apoorva Raagangal (1975). The film itself was thick in controversy, and nobody took notice of the young newcomer, who was on screen barely for fifteen minutes, muttered a few apologetic words to the wronged woman and ultimately died an unsung, unheroic death.

No one in the audience, even in his wildest imagination, would have thought this nondescript man, who had won the least attention in the film would ever win over millions of hearts in Tamil Nadu. Or ride the state like a colossus. Or even that his sway over the masses would be so intense that he could rewrite the fate of Tamil Nadu politics, exactly two decades after the release of his first film.

K Balachander, the director who has an uncanny knack of creating stars, first met Rajnikant at the film institute, where he was a student. Balachander glanced at the dark young man and crisply asked him to meet him in his office the next day. When Rajnikant walked into his office gingerly, Balachander informed him he was going to act in his next film. Overwhelmed by the sudden offer from a ‘big’ director, Rajnikant just could not believe his ears. It’s a feeling Rajni still recounts whenever in the mood of reminiscence.

Later, Balachander confided in his close friend and associate Ananthu, “Watch out! There is a fire in the young man’s eyes. One day he will take Tamil Nadu by storm.” How true the prediction turned out!

Born in Bangalore, in a lower middle class conservative Maharashtrian family, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad (that’s Rajni’s real name) was employed as a conductor with the Karnataka Road Transport Corporation. Hid hidden histrionic talent was sometimes ventilated through amateur plays staged by his friends now and then. The response Rajni got for his performances acted as a catalyst, and in a moment’s decision, he chucked off his salaried job and took the next bus to the film institute, the gateway to the eternal Dream Merchant’s world!

K Balachander who gave him a minor role in Apoorva Raagangal, a role that would have otherwise gone to an insignificant junior artiste, did not dump him after it. Balachander’s Moondru Mudichu had Rajnikant featuring in the entire film (the other hero, Kamal Haasan ‘died’ in the first half) not as a hero, not even the traditional villain, but as a negative character who kills his own friend out of sheer jealousy because the girl he loves falls in love with his friend. This time, Balachander, whose penchant for strong characterisation is well known, presented Rajni effectively, and for the first time, the Tamil audience was exposed to an absolutely new character, neither hero nor an archetypal villain.

In Moondru Mudichu, Rajnikant first introduced a new way of lighting a cigarette — he’d place it on his left palm and pat, the cigarette would land on his lips, all in the fraction of a second. Apart from this, Balachander let Rajni engross the audience, all courtesy a few other gimmicks that would immediately catch the attention of the audience. Rajnikant’s rapid-fire dialogue delivery, stylish gait and ready laughter were fully exploited in Moondru Mudichu. Though the film was a box-office disaster, Rajnikant became an instant hit.

Until then, the Indian audiences had followed their favourite film stars’ dress and hairstyle — but now, for the first time, a star’s mannerisms had come to be the subject of discussion in drawing rooms. Rajni became a sort of trendsetter who could attract the attention of even those who are otherwise indifferent to the film stars and their antics.

What started off flippantly in Moondru Mudichu, 20 years ago as “Rajni Style” still continues with the same vigour, unabated. In his latest film, Padayappa, released in the 25th year of his career, Rajni’s fans walked into theatres expecting to see the thalaivar’s exploits. Rajni has never disappointed his fans. Even in otherwise inconsequent scenes, he brings in those special Rajni touches he’s famous for. The music directors add pep to the proceedings with special effects. Like Deva did in Badshah, with Rajni uttering the now famous oneliner, “If I say something once, it’s like I’ve said it a hundred times.” Even little kids could be heard lisping the line, thereafter, much to the amusement of their parents.

Having made a successful dent in a negative character in Moondru Mudichu, Rajni made producers think of using him more in anti-hero roles. Even mentor K Balachander who usually changes the popular image of artists, utilised Rajni’s acting potential only in negative characters — as a sadist husband in Avargal and a vagabond in Thappu Thalangal.

While all these films were critically acclaimed and Rajni stood out in them, he was yet to come out with an independent hit, a hit for which he could take the entire credit.


Producers went all out to capitalise on this new “wonder” called Rajnikant, and a string of films projecting him as an anti-hero, with all his stylish mannerisms in full swing, were released in quick succession. Gayathri had him shooting blue films of his wife without her knowledge, Kali as an avenging hero, Bhairavi, Shankar Salim Simon and the like. Rajni had, by now, become an indisputable star in his own right, a force to reckon with.

Though Rajnikant persistently refers to K Balachander as his “guru” (even now he never smokes in his presence) it was director SP Muthuraman who actually revamped Rajni’s image entirely. Muthuraman first experimented with him in a positive role in Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri, as a villain in the first half and a refined man in the second, accepting a woman with a child ditched by her lover. The success of Bhuvana Oru Kelvikkuri prompted Muthuraman to make a mushy melodrama with Rajni as a hero sacrificing everything for his siblings, a role ideally tailormade for Sivaji Ganesan! That film was Arulirunthu Arupathu Varai, in which Rajni’s mannerisms were totally missing and he even appeared as an old man in the last few frames. Even while the film was in the making, Rajni had misgivings about whether the audience would accept him in tear jerkers of this kind. But the film got made and its box-office success made Rajni popular among women audiences, too. These two films were a turning point in Rajni’s career — he changed from an actor who merely enthralled the audiences, to one who also made them weep. The acceptance of Rajni sans his mannerisms proved he’d at last become an actor from a star. Around this time came Mullum Malarum, directed by J Mahendran, which established Rajni as a hero with a slight tinge of the negative.

Rajnikant’s entry may have been humble, in an insignificant role but the success he achieved in a very short span was unimaginable. A popular Tamil magazine brought out a special supplement at a time when his still on the make, and, he presto, the magazine’s sales doubled with that issue alone.

Such mass adulation, the thunderous rain of applause when Rajni delivered his lines, all put together, made him a phenomenon. It was at this point that Rajni realised the onus had been thrust on him. The fate of producers hinged on him alone. This sudden exposure to the glare of the media and the popularity and money he never imagined would be his, created a lot of stress in his mind. At that crucial time in his career when his market price had just begun to zoom, he decided to opt out of films completely, sending shock waves to his fans. Balachander and his other wellwishers somehow, coaxed him into staying on.

The second phase of his life started with K Balaji’s Billa, a superhit disproving the canard spread by detractors that Rajnikant was “finished”. He was accepted as a full-fledged hero. Billa was followed by a row of hits like Pokkiri Raja, Thanikkattu Raja, Naan Mahaan Alla and the all-important Moondru Mugham, in which Rajni essayed a triple role. Even two decades after its release, the last continues to be a box-office draw and Rajni’s fans can never tire of the thalaivar’s verbal clash with villain Senthamarai. K Balachander’s first home production, Nettrikkam proved to be yet another milestone in Rajni’s career.

An analysis of Rajni’s career graph shows a remarkable absence of fits and starts. It has been a slow and steady rise to the very top. As Rajni sings in a hit song from Badshah, a man’s life may be divided into eight divisions. Rajni’s own career may be divided into three segments. The first as a villain, the second as a hero with negative traits, and the third and present phase, as the reigning czar of Tamil filmdom. With Rajni’s films fetching crores and his market price skyrocketing, the costs of production of his films became unmanageable. And Rajni has since had to stick to a one film per year formula, which colleague Kamal Haasan also follows.

The new trend where his films’ collections exceed normal regional film expectations started off with Badshah, followed by Annamalai, Arunachalam, Ejaman, Muthu and Padayappa. It’s now an accepted fact that only a Rajnikant film can break records set by his own films.

As an actor, Rajnikant’s greatest asset, apart from his style is his sense of humour and comic timing. Like Amitabh Bachchan is popular for his drunken soliloquies, Rajnikant is famous for his comic encounters with snakes, repeated umpteen times.

In the early 80s, Rajnikant made a foray into Bollywood with Andhaa Kanoon, a superhit. But Rajnikant could not concentrate on Hindi films because he was already safely ensconced down South. He still made a few films in Hindi, to mention specially Chaalbaaz which had Sridevi in a dual role. Rajni also enjoys a special kind of popularity in Telugu films and his Peddarayudu (remake of Tamil hit Nattammai) seems to have broken all previous records. The Telugu version of Padayappa has been a money-spinner, too. Rajnikant became a trendsetter recently with his Muthu and its songs becoming a rage in Japan and now, Padayappa running to packed houses in the UK and USA.

Basically a religious person, Rajnikant has always owned up his faith. “I was brought up by the Ramakrishna Mission and it’s from there that I have inherited this religious frame of mind,” he keeps saying. Even his films have him openly sharing his faith. In Arunachalam he mouths that famous line, “God decides and Arunachalam executes it.” His public meetings are always spiced with humour and embellished with anecdotes from mythology.

Married to Lata, an English literature graduate, hailing from an elite Iyengar family in 1980, Rajni has two daughters who are carefully kept away from the limelight. Lata herself a versatile singer, now runs a school called The Ashram. The couple indulges in a lot of charity, the latest being converting his Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam into a charitable trust to help the poor and needy.

Rajnikant’s phenomenal success and his sway over the masses make people speculate whether he will follow the footsteps of the late MGR and enter politics. Though there has been a lot of pressure on him to enter politics by the likes of actor turned journalist, Cho Ramaswamy (“Rajnikant is the best person for chief ministership because he has a basic integrity and simplicity, a quality which is very rare these days”) Rajnikant has persistently maintained a diplomatic silence, except for the fact that he openly supported the ruling DMK in the last assembly elections and discreetly in the recent Lok Sabha elections. When pressed, Rajnikant answers in his own inimitable style, “Yesterday I was a conductor, today I’m a star, tomorrow what I’ll be only He knows!”

Ego and starry airs are unknown to Rajnikant. During breaks he hardly ever rushes to his air-conditioned makeup room. Instead, he prefers to sleep on the sets, even without a pillow, merely covering his eyes with a wet cloth. He never comes to functions with a retinue behind him and even prefers to drive his own car.

A bit of a recluse, he may be at heart, but everyone who’s had the privilege of a darshan with the thalaivar has come away with a spring in his step, and a warm glow in his heart. Warm, friendly and affable, he’s the sort who deserves all the superstardom he’s earned. Such men, indeed, are rare.

Vijayakanth seems to have made up his mind

Will the actor get his act together?

NT Bureau
Chennai, June 1:

        One way or the other, actor Vijayakanth, who is expected to take the plunge into politics later this year, will make his mind clear later this evening when he meets the media persons at his Andal Azhagar Kalyana Mandapam.

        Vijayakanth, who believes that he can create a major splash in Tamilnadu politics, has major plans for the Assembly election that is due within the next one year.

        Vijayakanth had earlier stated that he would float a political party and contest the Assembly polls. He had even planned for a major conference at Madurai this September to announce the launch. The name of his party, the flag and the office-bearers would be named at the Madurai Conference, he had said.

However with the ruling AIADMK party having won the byelections to Kanchipuram and Gummidipoondi Assembly constituencies held recently, speculation is rife that the State government may advance the Assembly elections. In view of such recent developments, Vijayakanth has expedited all works with regard to entering the political arena.

It is said that following a detailed discussion with the office-bearers of his fans association from various parts of the State, Vijayakanth has chalked out a clear-cut strategy on facing the forthcoming Assembly polls.

He feels that he has to be ready for the Assembly elections. But if the elections are announced later this year, he feels his party would have very little time gap to get its act together.

Hence, he wants to hurry his putative [party's launch.

Any way, things would become clearer if the scheduled press conference later this evening goes as per schedule.

Sources close to Vijayakanth said, the actor after detailed deliberations had reportedly named his party, 'Thamizhar Munnetra Kazhagam'.

It may be recalled that Vijayakanth had recently said that the leaders of 'ruling party had threatened him with over his entry to the politics'. Of course, he did not specify whether the ruling party was that of the State or the Central government.

Last week, the actor had called on DMK president and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. Though it was said to be just a courtesy call, informed sources suggest that there was more than what it met the eye to the meeting.

Even if Vijayakanth's draw is totally untested in political waters, politicians are said to be slightly wary of the 'nuisance value' that an actor can bring to the whole set of existing equations.

In that sense, every party is keeping a keen eye on Vijayakanth and his moves. And in the past few months, the actor himself is making huge noises and is building up a nice hype for himself.

Sorry to get back to you late. I have reached US safely and have been quite busy running some errands. I got rid of my Jet
Lag and wanted to share a memorable experience that Venkat and I had on the 19'th of April. Lava was supposed to be there
but since you guys always know that he as usual cancelled his plan of coming to India on the day he said he will come :-)

As Venkat and I had an unforgettable experience in Santham on 19'th I took the time to create a small HTML file to share our
experience. If you are busy or in the middle or something close this page and open during your leisure time, coz
long story follows....

It's April 19'th afternoon (1.00)......
I was in Sathyam theater looking for Chandramukhi tickets (night show), the guy at the counter says its full till Sunday sir.
Mumbai Express the Digital Cinema was available in Current Booking. I was happy that the tickets aren't available and the
movie is doing good. I called up Venkat, he said that somehow we are watching the movie tonight. OK now the burst has started
,venkat calls thiru for tickets, I called naveen for tickets and it went on and on...

It's  April 19'th evening (7.30)....
I called Venkat and asked for the status, both of us were in the same page. No tickets and the guys kept us hanging. We
talked out that we should reach the theater early and check out for tickets. Venkat was there at 8.15 itself and as I was
driving to the theater I am getting a call from him that no chance for tickets.. but i want to see the movie for sure so
havent lost hope

It's  April 19'th night (9.15)....
We still keep wandering in Sathyam complex without tickets... the irony is... there were no tickets available at all but we
wanted ONLY BALCONY tickets in black :-) as usual a guy was staring at me 2 to 3 times, i approached him he had some extra
tickets. as sathyam complex is very strict I took him to my car to see the tickets as though we were smuggling something. it
was O row.. venkat tells me MACHAN ROMBA MUNNADI DA. i told the guy that we need only balcony... he must have though OTHA

It's  April 19'th night (9.45)...
Still no tickets... wherever venkat and i go we are seeing some crowd with tickets, venkat goes in and comes out telling me
MACHAN ITS FOR DIGITAL... i saw another person with tickets in L row but i refused to take in.
Finally we  decided to go back and I was asking venkat which is better... going home without seeing the movie or watching the
movie in front seat.. he told that he is ok with anything that i go for... there was another guy with extra tickets..  venkat
goes talks to him comes back and asks MACHAN DO YOU WANT TO WATCH DIGITAL CINEMA? i am a 
novice so I want only celluloid movies I am not upto the Digital Technology.. as I was thinking whether to go home without
watching the movie and repent later or see it in front seat we got a call from thiru's friend to come to new college that he
has tickets... traffic is JAM PACKED near Sathyam...
It's  April 19'th (10.00)....
Venkat tells me go ahead and park ur car I will go get the tickets... I am running and getting my car inside the theater and
am stuck in the bumper to bumper traffic with 9000 cars getting inside that single gate to Sathyam's parking lot. My mind was
always thinking what if the movie has started and we missed the first fight??? Amidst there was 1000 calls between venkat
and i spot checking where we are. venkat calls me and says machan he has J ROW tickets I am telling him fuck it and get
whatever he has. I am shouting at the parking lot guy the movie has started and u guys cannot have people park. He is telling
me to cool down and made my "STOMACHE FILLED WITH BEER" sayin that the evening show hasn't ended yet and hence the traffic
(thanks to the DMK MARIYAL on that day thats why the shows were delayed). Venkat runs in and tells me machan I have parked
the car dont worry evening show hasn't ended stay cool and park your car. There was only one slot available for Santham
because the evening show cars haven't been taken off... I ramped my car into the slot and both of us ran to the theater.
It's  April 19'th (10.30)...
Venkat and I were staying cool inside Santham eating Veggie Croissant and sipping the ice tea to reduce the tension faced and
the movie starts casually after 20 minutes... As usual the theater blasts with thalaivar's entrance and fight and the whole
theater including Venkat and I are enjoyin the whole movie bursting with laughter with Rajini-Vadivelu's comedy. Both of us
couldn't believe that the movie that we watched in Shanthi was so good. We were really happy. With that mood we watched the
rest half and we have a complete satisfaction of our thalaivar in Chandramukhi. Thanks to Thalaivar
late'a pudika vachallum
latesta pudikka vachhar...
After the movie, we took some pics from my mobile camera in Santham theater next to thalaivar's cut out. Both of us went
home very happily that the movie was good and its sure gonna be hit. I boarded my flight with my mind filled with both
happiness and sadness. Former for the movie liked by us and turning out to be a super hit and latter for unable to watch
the movie again. After coming here and seeing the box office reports and website reviews... gosh... every website has taken
the movie to the peak... thalaivar has proved his charisma and hasn't lost a single iota of his superstardom....

"Though the movie by itself is not made in digital technology
Chandramukhi is a complete digital experience for the audience"

"unlike Mumbai Xpress where the movie is digital and people go out of focus in certain  frames. i am planning to watch the movie in VCD,
i have to figure out who is pasupathi and who is  kamalahassan, or  since its FULLY DIGITAL I MAY END UP IN SEEING ONLY 0's and 1's."

I hope atleast by now  Mr. Self Promoter a.k.a Kamalahassan should learn a lesson on how to give movies and not take the
audiences for granted.
I hope he gets a turning point in his next venture Vettayadu Vellayadu by
Gautham Menon but I am afraid that it may be a turning point to Gautham Menon also.

Points Missed in the story that i just remembered...
1. Venkat calls Thiru's friend Harris and says My friend is leaving to US tomm he has to see the movie definetely
2. Venkat tells me to goto the Manager's office show you US Driving License and tell him that you are leaving to US and that
   you want to see the movie. He adds that he may want to see your VISA papers :-)
3. I am looking at Mumbai Express movie poster and telling venkat that only the poster has clarity not the film

Thanks to the United States for giving me the time to write this wonderful anecdote.....
April 19'th is a very good experience for me atleast and will be talked forever like the movie Chandramukhi. The whole
Chandramukhi Team, Fans, public and everyone who knows about rajini are making this movie an event. Distributors are happy,
Theater owners are happy, black ticket businessmen are happy, fans are happy, fanatics (venkat,i and thiru) are happy and on
top of all everyone feels happy and relaxed because

  1. SARAVANAN IRUKKA BAYAM YEN?????????????????????

    Regards, Haresh Kumar P.S. I will be updating you guys about my joining date of the new job and new job details soon. I felt that I should write about the most important things first
                                        Click Here!


Working broadly within the Marxist framework, social scientists have made substantial headway in understanding varied forms of protest movements, revolts and the counter-hegemonic projects of the subaltern classes in India.  There is, however, scant analysis of the manner in which the ruling elite constantly and successfully produce consent for their domination and hegemony from those very subaltern classes whom they exploit.

It is this lacuna in the current scholarship which M S S Pandian uses as a point of departure in this fascinating study which explores subaltern consciousness while under conditions of hegemony.  This is done through a case study of the immense popularity enjoyed by the late M G Ramachandran (MGR), the film actor-cum-politician of Tamilnadu, among the subaltern classes – the very people he most blatantly exploited.

Dr. Pandian begins by explaining why MGR’s career merits serious attention and then moves on to elaborate the various elements of the cinematic persona of MGR, to study the reasons for his acceptance at the popular level and to explore the roots of this popularity in the cultural idioms of the subaltern classes in Tamilnadu.  He then proceeds to analyse how the film persona was merged into the political persona of MGR through, what the author terms, ‘constructed biographies’.  These are carefully constituted popular narratives which present what was cinematic as real.

Finally, Dr Pandian traces the relationship between the material/economic conditions of the subaltern classes and the meteoric rise of MGR.  A special feature of the book is the author’s analysis of the reason for MGR’s popularity among women.

Inter-disciplinary in its approach, this book will be of interest to political scientists, social historians and sociologists as well as to students of film history, Dravidian politics, popular culture and women’s studies.


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