chapter  5
18 Pages

The nurturing hero: Changing images of MGR

At a 2005 opening-day showing of Mannathi Mannan in a Madurai theatre,

fan club members outside the theatre cooked large pots of sweet rice ponkal

to celebrate the opening, and garlanded posters of the film’s hero M. G.

Ramachandran (MGR). Inside the theatre, all seats were filled and the aisles

were crowded with overflow viewers. For three hours, starting from the moment that MGR appeared on screen, fans cheered, lobbed confetti, and

waved camphor flames in the air. But Mannathi Mannan was not a new

film – it was shot in black and white, and first appeared in 1960 – nor was

MGR a trendy new star. MGR ended his career in 1977, the year he was

elected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and he died in 1987. Yet at least

three or four of his films run daily in every city of Tamil Nadu, another one

or two appear each day on television, and opening-day scenes like this one

occur weekly in Madurai theatres. Legions of fans remain passionate about their hero-leader. Two decades after his death, MGR is clearly important to

his followers; but what does he mean to them now?