V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Each year on Jan 17, unfailingly, Mr A. Thiyaga Raju will write a piece about MGR. The Singaporean will then e-mail it to his friends or post it on his Facebook page.
This Jan 17, he penned an article to celebrate MGR's 104th birth anniversary. As usual, it was sent to his acquaintances and found prominence on his FB page.
The 59-year-old, who retired in 2018 as an assistant manager at Standard Chartered Bank, has been doing this for the past three decades.
"I'm not seeking any publicity," he told tabla! "This is my devotion to MGR. He was simply a great man, one who fought against all odds and emerged a winner.
"Whatever he depicted in his movies - fighting for justice, upholding women's rights and uplifting the poor - he did it later in real life. His acts have touched my life forever."
MGR, born Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran in Kandy, Sri Lanka, on Jan 17, 1917, was a charismatic Tamil film superstar.
His family moved to Kumbakonam, a town in Tamil Nadu in India, when he was two years old. Poverty compelled him to join theatre aged eight and he then entered the movie business as an actor.
Later in life, he became a full-fledged politician and served as chief minister of Tamil Nadu for three terms - 1977-80, 1980-84 and from 1985 till his demise on Dec 24, 1987.
Like Mr Raju, there are thousands of MGR fans in Singapore who consider him the "ultimate champion".
Most are in the age group 50 to 75, having been brought up on a staple of MGR movies - which were all the rage in Singapore from the 1960s to the late 1980s - since they were toddlers.
"Those days there was a theatre on Beach Road called Royal which showed only MGR movies," said Mr K.S. Ganesan, 61, who formed a group called MGR 4Ever Makkals with his friends, Mr K. Ramu, 70, and Mr Ramakrishnan Sekaran, 64, in 1992.
"People, Indian and Chinese, used to flock to the theatre to watch MGR's new releases. Tickets were especially difficult to get during Deepavali."
According to Mr Sekaran, people just loved MGR because he was "a simple man with a golden heart".
"There will never be another man like him because he stood with the poor," said Mr Sekaran, a retired warehouse manager. "He had high principles, like respecting women and abstaining from alcohol, which few leaders in India have.
"Nowadays many Tamil film stars who have turned to politics do things only for show. They just want to get votes. MGR was not like that. He was a supreme human being. Whatever he touched, turned into gold. I consider him my god."
The MGR 4Ever Makkals, whose 18 members mostly stay in the Jurong West and Boon Lay areas, remember MGR on Dec 24 every year with an advertisement in The Straits Times. They also celebrate his birth anniversaries with songs, dances and food - to which friends are invited.
"I have been crazy about MGR since young," said Mr Ganesan's wife Rajeswari, 59, who is known as the "Saroja Devi of Singapore". "I love to dance to his songs. They are so touching and meaningful and carry positive messages."
B. Saroja Devi, 83, who acted in around 200 films in over six decades, formed a popular pairing with MGR on screen.
Ms Rajeswari, a noted dancer in Singapore, dances to MGR songs on special occasions along with "MGR Vijay" (Mr Muhammed Abdullah, 63) and Mr Habib Shamsuddin, who is in his 50s.
This year, due to Covid-19, members of MGR 4Ever Makkals celebrated their hero's birth anniversary at their homes in small groups. Mr Ganesan has a big portrait of MGR dressed as a Hindu god in his HDB flat. He often dresses in MGR's colours - red and black - during festive occasions.
"All in my family (seven siblings and father) are MGR supporters, except my mother," he said. "She was a Sivaji fan and purposefully named me Ganesan. (Sivaji Ganesan was another Tamil film superstar of those times.)
"I used to get beatings from my mother for watching MGR movies. But I never gave up. I have watched all his 136 films and know his dialogues and songs so well."
Mr Raju believes at one time there were up to 200,000 MGR fans in Singapore. He is not sure how many there are now since most of them are not visible.
Another MGR fan club, led by Mr M.G. Selvam, 59, has been observing MGR's death anniversary since 1988. Its 50 members usually spend the day praying at a temple, visiting a home or hospice and arranging a free screening of an MGR movie for the public and meeting for dinner.
"There's something in MGR that attracts people," said Mr Raju, who met MGR briefly in December 1978 at the Imperial Hotel when he visited Singapore. "I was terrified and tongue-tied when he patted me on the back. I just stood there stunned.
"He has this fair, shiny complexion, which is special."
Mr Raju writes about MGR "because the younger generation should know about him".
"What MGR preached in his movies, he delivered in real life," said Mr Raju. "Most film stars in Tamil Nadu now do the opposite. I won't accept that he is gone. He will continue to live forever for me."
"He was simply a great man, one who fought against all odds and emerged a winner. Whatever he depicted in his movies - he did it later in real life. His acts have touched my life forever." - Mr A. Thiyaga Raju