The gunshot in MGR’s ear that changed Tamil Nadu
- MG Ramachandran, film star as well as politician, was shot in the ear by his competitor MR Radha in 1967
- Shortly, image of bed-ridden MGR circulated widely made him popular and he won a landslide victory against Congress candidate
- Soon the shrewd politician transformed sympathy votes into his loyal supporters and went on to win elections
- He formed AIADMK party and strengthened it as the only opponent of DMK party in Tamil Nadu
- Even to this day, decades after MGR's death AIADMK is the only party that can defeat DMK
It was January 12 in 1967 and MGR’s fans were eagerly awaiting the release of their star’s movie Thaiukku Thalaimagan the following day.
On that day, a heated meeting-cum-argument was taking place at MGR's house in Chennai between MGR and his main competitor/actor MR Radha and producer Vasu. As the trio were arguing, a gunshot was heard, and MGR collapsed into his chair, his left ear oozing blood.
In the next minute, another gunshot was heard, and MR Radha too collapsed.
Recovering, MGR rushed to his car and asked the driver to take him to the hospital. Soon, MGR was lying on a bed in Royapettah GGH hospital.
Dr Abraham Sukumar, the duty surgeon at the Royapettah GGH, who attended to MGR, wrote on his blog that - "I was alerted with a message at 5 pm on January 12 that MGR has been brought here after a shooting accident. Expecting it to be an accident during shooting, I was in for a shock to see the MGR without makeup and wig. He said that MR Radha had shot him in the ear."
Just a few minutes later, MR Radha too reached the hospital on a stretcher, saying "Naan thaan sutten. Policeukku statement koduthacchu." (I was the one who shot. I have given a statement to the police.)
What happened to MR Radha?
- Radha's revolver licence expired in 1964. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment.
- Radha appealed the judgement all the way to the Supreme Court. He was 57-year-old by then.
- The SC, on humanitarian grounds, reduced his sentence to five years.
- A DMK govt released Radha from jail on April 29, 1971, a month ahead of his scheduled release.
The hospital was thronged by MGR and Radha’s supporters. Soon DMK members flocked to the hospital as MGR belonged to the party. Though MGR was an active member of the DMK, the kingmaker in the state’s politics was K Kamaraj of the Congress. Being the chief minister of Tamil Nadu three times consecutively, Kamaraj was the undisputed star of TN politics.
But this gunshot would change the Tamil Nadu politics. Just one month later, when elections were called, MGR was bed-ridden, but pictures of his neck and ears covered in bandages were widely circulated.
The image did the trick. The result announced on February 23 was shocking. Not only MGR but the DMK party won a landslide victory. The party, which was not even known to many, had defeated the Kamaraj-led Congress party in Tamil Nadu.
The founder of the DMK party, Annadurai, became the chief minister.
At that time MGR and Karunanidhi were the pillars of DMK. But soon MGR rose to popularity (especially after the gunshot incident), and Karunanidhi clearly did not like that. Annadurai passed away on February 3, 1969, and Karunanidhi took charge of the party.
By now, Karunanidhi wanted to be the sole leader and ousted MGR from the party. MGR was famous enough to start a new political party and named it Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) in 1972.
He later renamed his party to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). It took him five years to become a strong opponent to the DMK. In a surprising move, AIADMK won the elections for the first time in 1977 and MGR became the chief minister. He was in the post till his death in 1987.
Though he managed to rise in his political career, his health deteriorated - a part of it at least – owing to the gunshot the gunshot. His voice, for example, had changed considerably, and there was the constant fear of multiple organ failures. He travelled to the US frequently for treatments but continued to hold the reins of his party. He died after a long illness in 1987.
Meanwhile, Kamaraj did try to bring in 'star power' into the Congress by roping in Sivaji Ganesan into the party. But this had little impact as his image did not do any good to the party.
Whatever else may or may not have happened, it was certainly a shot that still echoes around Tamil Nadu.