Legendary poet Kannadasan had foreseen the legacy of MG Ramachandran before anybody else. He had written a song about it for the 1960 movie En Kadamai. The evergreen song goes thus: Moondrezhuthil En Moochchirukkum, Adhu Mudindha Pinaalum Pechchirukkum, Ullam Endroru Ooirukkum, Andha Oorukkul Enakkoru Per Irukkum. The summary of these lines is: the hero declares that his legacy will live on in three letters way past his natural life on the earth. And that three letters are M.G.R, which is omnipresent in cinema and politics to date.
MGR is one of the most influential personalities of the 20th century in the country. In movies, he was projected as an attractive man who was ready to die in the service of the poor. And that larger-than-life onscreen saviour persona that he cultivated through the handpicked roles later paved the way for his success in politics. Unlike the heroes of today, he was not easily seen in the public. He was notoriously famous for avoiding the press and stonewalling exclusive interviews. That practice continued even after he took over the office of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He created a cult with elusive tactics that never revealed the man behind the legend. He seemingly went to great lengths to protect his image which reinforced the very foundations of his cinema and political empire.
MGR was a mysterious man. Perhaps, that was the main reason why there were not many filmmakers who were willing to explore his life and times for big screen entertainment. People may not like to see MGR in the prism of a mere mortal. It came with a considerable risk of drawing the wrath of millions of his fans. And that’s why director Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar is and will be one of the most significant events on Indian celluloid. Because the 1997 movie tried to humanise the demi-god of Tamil Nadu.
We see Anandan (Mohanlal) running from studio to studio asking for acting jobs in movies. He ekes out a living by doing small roles. We see him leaning forward with folded hands in respect before the directors and producers. We see him run towards the cars that are pulling in to open and hold the doors for filmmakers in them. It could be described as a near blasphemy to show a big screen representative image touted to be that of MGR as sulking, squirming, facing rejections, disappointments, insults and breaking down over his inability to land a good acting job. And yet, Ratnam did it. Because he knows even the gods may have very humble beginnings.
Anandan is an actor. He makes a living by selling fictitious characters that embody the qualities of valour and a noble person, who doesn’t fear to speak his mind. But, off-screen, he is just another opportunistic man, who plays safe by saying things in public that he doesn’t mean. Take, for example, the scene when he is told that he has been expelled from the political party; Anandan is shaken. He is upset, speechless, disappointed, shocked and can’t face others. He shuts himself up in the room. But, once he returns to the public podium, he is different. He claims that he was very happy about being removed from the party.
Also read | South Stream: Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar
Iruvar was a fly on the wall account of a movie star revered by millions. It captured the honest-self of the protagonist before he transformed into his make-believe image for his survival. And Mohanlal had inhabited the mind of the character instead of mimicking the person that inspired that character. And that is what makes Iruvar such a significant movie. It is the most grounded portrait of the man behind the legend that we have ever had.
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