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MADURAI: One of the things that have made theorists of popular culture and even political scientists to look and re-look into a phenomenon is in fact that of the late Chief Minister and matinee idol M.G. Ramachandran.
MGR's super hit film Naadodi Mannan was re-released in Madurai on March 18, 2011 at Thanga Regal Theatre and even after almost 50 years since its release the film invited huge crowds.
Madurai was always seen as the bastion of MGR and it was here many of his firsts were achieved.
Madurai is a city which is synonymous with a strong visual culture and carnivals, the most important aspect of the visual culture still even in this era of creative commons and digital era seems to be films.
Madurai has Asia's biggest film theatre, Thangam (now defunct) with a seating capacity close to 4,000. It has had a history of frenetic fan following which always had a spiritual dimension where the film stars who were treated as demigods. MGR always had (still has a) vivid presence in the visual, political, and emotional landscape of Madurai, says film historian Sara Dickey.
In fact it was here that when MGR suffered a stroke, fans cut off fingers, limbs, and offered them to God praying for his recovery.
It was Madurai Veeran( Warrior of Madurai) a film after the folklore legend turned deity, the first MGR film which ran for 25 weeks (silver jubilee), his first fan club was from Madurai and his foray into politics all had the Madurai connection, and of course his last film Maduraiyai Meeta Sundarapandian (The King who liberated Madurai) had the city as its central subject.
MGR came to cinema from a stage career, beginning at the age of six, when he entered the Madurai Original Boys Company, where he learned acting, dancing, and sword-fighting—arts that served him well in his later career.
It was in Tamukkam grounds in Madurai, a grand function was held on October 26, 1958 to celebrate the astounding success of Naadodi Mannan.
MGR was taken in a glittering procession from Mangamma Chathiram to the venue where leaders of political parties and film artistes offered their felicitations and presented him with a golden sword. When the film was re-released in Chintamani Theatre here on December 29, 2006, crowds poured in huge numbers.
MGR's fans and general public unable to find seats sat on the steps and even on the floor and watched the movie, says an MGR loyalist.
Dickey in her book Cinema and Urban Poor in South India (Cambridge University Press) says that when the Second All-World International MGR Fan Club Conference was held in Madurai in 1986 - a political event despite its cinema-related title - was inaugurated by a two-mile procession that began at 7 a.m., and by 11 p.m., many people were still waiting their turn to cross the starting line.
Apart from the fact that MGR was with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, it was his fan clubs which formed the rank and file of his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. MGR's success in politics paved way for many film stars to follow.
The images of film stars here are used to form new social identities and for newer forms of assertion.
Dickey, once in an interview to The Hindu, said that fan clubs could definitely be seen as an extension of the political space and an emerging political society that would check the hegemony of civil society.
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