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Conquering the Subaltern:The MGR Way

One of the lesser known facts of the typical production process that aided the creation of a MGR film during the 1960s and 1970s is the complete control wielded by MGR in the production of the song and dance numbers in his films. Structured around fervent appeals and calls aimed at the rural and urban poor, songs in his films always espoused the cause of the righteousness of the subaltern existence and whiplashed the enemies of the subaltern.

Written in simple, evocative and first person language style, the songs were meant to project him as the saviour of the subaltern in film after film. For instance, in the film Enga Veetu Pillai (Son of our House), released in 1965, he seeks to conquer the subaltern film fan through a clever cinematic use of the political language construct of ‘ifs and buts’ in the song “Nann Anaiyittal.” Ranked as one of the best numbers from his entire filmography, the song projects MGR as the ultimate ‘do gooder’ for the subaltern if and when he commands and the command gets translated positively.

“If I command, and if it materialises, then these poor would not suffer. …If a wrong is committed, that too knowingly, I would not spare even if he is a God.” The scene shows MGR protecting the poor servants from the whip lashes of a rich villain in his mansion. He embraces them, runs around them, keeps the rich villain at bay and proclaims to those outside the frame, the audience watching his films, that he would be in a position to command the rich to do physical work and protect the interests of the poor.

It is said that MGR used to provide lead lines to the lyricists and keep the entire production process of his song numbers under strict control. His songs provided MGR countless number of inspirational planes to conquer the subaltern film fans in Tamil Nadu.


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