M.G. Ramachandran (1917-1987), popularly known as MGR, dominated like no other, the films and politics of India's Tamil Nadu state. A charismatic actor and philanthropist, he commanded the idolatrous adulation of millions of Tamilians and became Tamil Nadu's chief minister. His achievements in 3 fields, namely films, philanthropy and politics were remarkable considering his humble origins in Sri Lanka. Raised in poverty by a widowed single mother, he had nothing more than his good looks when he got his first break in "Sati Lilavati", a Tamil film of the late 1930s. In the 1940s and 50s, the Tamil film industry was being transformed by screenwriters like Annadurai, Karunanidhi and others belonging to the Dravidian movement. MGR starred in many of the movies they helped make. Annadurai became his mentor and MGR joined the DMK, Annadurai's new Dravidian party. His films made MGR a matinee idol among Tamilians. He also started monetarily helping people in need, sowing the seeds for his reputation as a philanthropist. When Annadurai died as Tamil Nadu's chief minister, MGR's rival Karunanidhi assumed office. MGR accused him of defalcation and was kicked out of the DMK. In 1977, MGR's ADMK (later renamed AIADMK) party was swept into power. In his first term, MGR cleaned up corruption and carried out reforms like having an income limit for backward class people to be eligible for the reserved seats in government colleges and jobs. His reforms proved unpopular, so MGR became another corrupt Indian politician having learned not to rock the boat. Tamil Nadu stagnated during the rest of his reign. Yet his mesmerized legions of fans continued to vote him into power. His death in 1987 created a power vacuum that soon brought his old nemesis, the corrupt Karunanidhi, back into power. MGR was a complex man who triumphed over poverty and tried to improve the lot of the people who revered him. However, in the end, he was a god that failed.
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