The Benevolence of MGR, Subaltern Audiences and the Tamil Nadu State

Gopalan Ravindran


Tamil Nadu has been seen as the pioneering Indian state in launching unique welfare schemes such as noon meal, free rice/cereals, free electricity for farmers and urban poor, free canteen, free laptops, free home appliances, among others. There are myths and facts about the historical and filmic contexts of these schemes as sites of welfare politics of a state that invoked the principle of “benevolence” on the part of the rulers towards their subjects twothree millennia ago. In fact, “benevolence” as a principle of righteousness and a cornerstone of public governance was a deep-rooted tradition in the larger canvas of ancient “Thamizagam” during the Sangam age. Sangam age rulers and philosophers valued “benevolence” as the cornerstone of relationships between the rulers and the ruled. In recent decades, acts of “benevolence” became a part of filmic and policy narratives in Tamil Nadu. This paper explores the intersections of filmic contexts of “benevolence” in the emergence of the so called welfare state model of Tamil Nadu with particular reference to the linkages between M. G. Ramachandran’s (MGR’s) articulations of “benevolence” in his films and the expressions of Dravidian socialism in the films that were scripted by his mentor, C. N. Annadurai.

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