Full Biography of Actor M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar
Mayavaram Krishnamurthy Thyagaraja Bhagavathar (1 March 1910 – 1 November 1959), also called M.K.T., was an Indian actor, producer and Carnatic music singer. He is considered to be one of the most successful actors in Tamil cinema ever.
Bhagavathar was born in the town of Mayiladuthurai in then Tanjore district of the Madras Presidency, British India. He started his career as a classical singer and stage artist in the late 1920s. In 1934, he made his début in films with the movie Pavalakkodi which turned out to be a hit.
From 1934 to 1959, Bhagavathar acted in 14 films of whom 7 were box-office hits. Bhagavathar's 1944 film Haridas ran for three consecutive years at Broadway Theatre, Madras and created the record for the longest continuous run at a single theatre. Bhagavathar was arrested in 1944 as one of the main suspects in the Lakshmikanthan Murder Case and spent three years in prison before being released in 1947after a privy council verdict came in his favour. Bhagavathar's career declined after his arrest and though he did continue to act in Tamil films after his release from prison, none of them did well. Bhagavathar died of diabetes at the age of 49 on 1 November 1959.
Bhagavathar was acclaimed for his powerful, melodious voice and the ease with which he could sing high pitch notes. Critics and film historians acknowledge Bhagavathar as the "first superstar of Tamil cinema".
Bhagavathar was born "Thyagaraja" in Mayiladuthurai (then known as Mayavaram), Tanjore District on 7 March 1910. He was the eldest son of Krishnamurthy achary, a goldsmith. A few years after his birth, the family moved to Tiruchirappalli (then known as Trichinopoly), where Thyagaraja was admitted in a local school.
Right from his boyhood, Thyagaraja neglected his studies. Instead, he desired to become a singer. According to a popular anecdote, Thyagaraja once ran away from home after being reprimanded by his father for his decision to become a singer as singing was not considered to be an honourable profession in the conservative Indian society of the early 20th century. Krishnamurthy Achari, eventually, found his son in the Telugu-speaking town of Cuddapah as he was singing to a large group of admiring listeners. Krishnamurthy achary relented and encouraged his son to hone his skills. Soon, Thyagaraja began to sing Hindu religious songs or bhajans.
Early singing and stage career
F.G. Natesa Iyer, a railway officer with South Indian Railways, Trichy and the founder of an amateur theatre group, Rasika Ranjana Sabha, is credited with introducing Thyagaraja to the stage. One story is that he heard Thyagaja singing at a bhajan. Impressed with his talent, F.G. Natesa Iyer offered him the role of Lohitadasa in his play Harischandra; with the permission of Thyagaraja's father. Thyagaraja, who was ten at the time, agreed, and the play was a success. He also started getting trained under the guidance of theatre veterans at that time in Trichy. However, Thyagaraja concentrated more on singing than acting and took a six-year training in Carnatic music from Madurai Ponnu Iyengar, an acclaimed violinist.
In 1934, businessmen Lakshmana Chettiar and Rm Alagappa Chettiar and film director K. Subramaniam happened to watch a Hindu mythological play called "Pavalakkodi" in which Bhagavathar played the lead role of Arjuna. Thoroughly impressed with the performance, Chettiar planned to produce a movie based on the same story with Bhagavathar playing the lead role. The film was shot in Adyar and was a success. It helped launch Bhagavathar's career in films.
Bhagavathar's second film Naveena Sarangadhara (1935) was again directed by K. Subramaniam and was based on a play called Sarangadhara. Bagavathar's next film was his first own production film under the banner Trichy Thyagaraja Films, "Sathyaseelan" (1936). The film had the novel feature of two Bagavathars appearing on the same frame, though it was not strictly a film with Bagavathar playing a double role. Bagavathar, apart from playing Sathyaseelan, also briefly appears as a court singer himself in the film.
Rise to stardom 1937–1944
In 1937, Bhagavathar was cast in role of Bilwamangal in the film Chintamani directed by Y. V. Rao. Chintamani was a record-breaker and became the first Tamil film to run continuously for a year. Bhagavathar's songs in the movie were especially popular. The Tamil writer Kalki Krishnamurthy wrote that the film has made such an impact on the viewers that the housewife would sing the song Mayaprapanchattil from the movie while preparing coffee in the morning and her husband would sing Rathey unakku kobam to please his sweetheart. However, the songs that were featured in the gramophone records produced by Saraswathi Stores were not sung by Bhagavathar as he did not have any business understanding with the company. With the profits obtained from the movie, the owners of Rayal Talkies constructed a theatre in Madurai and named it Chintamani.
The very same year, Bhagavathar was offered the title role in the film Ambikapathy made by the American film director Ellis R. Dungan. The film was Bhagavathar's second consecutive hit in the year and broke records set by Chintamani. Dungan was, however, heavily criticised by the conservative Hindu society for introducing controversially intimate scenes between Bhagavathar and the heroine Santhanalakshmi. Bhagavathar played the role of Saivite saint Thiruneelakanta Nayanar in the 1939 movie Thiruneelakantar.
Most of M.K.T.'s songs were devotional with a South Indian classical base. Along with lyricist Papanasam Sivan, M.K.T. composed many songs, including "Unai Alaal", "Neelakanta", "Amba Manam Kanindhu", "Soppana Vazhvil Makizhndu", "Maraivaai pudhaitha Odu", "Gnana Kann", "Sathva Guna Bodhan", "Rajan Maharajan", "Krishna Mukunda Murari", "Naatiya Kalaiye", "Radhe Unaku Kobam Aagadadi", "Vasantha Ruthu", and many others.
M.K.T. made his début in the 1934 film Pavalakodi; in all, he appeared in 14 movies before he died. Most of his films were record-breakers. Thiruneelakandar, Ambikapathi, Chintamani were among the first highly successful Tamil films. Haridas, released in 1944, ran continuously for three years at the Chennai Broadway Theatre.
In 1944, M.K.T., actor N. S. Krishnan, and Coimbatore – based movie studio owner Sriramlu Naidu were charged in the murder of Lakshmikanthan; M.K.T. was acquitted and released in April 1947. Prior to his arrest, he was signed up to act in 12 more films, but he lost interest and the few movies he did make after his release were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he still drew huge crowds at his concerts. He had lost almost all his wealth in his case defense.
Followers of the Dravidian movement, such as C. N. Annadurai (the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) political party and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), tried to entice him to their fold, but because of his convictions, M.K.T. remained apolitical and a staunch bhakta until his death. It is believed that his absence from the film industry provided a window for the Dravidian atheist movement to move in and establish themselves in the Tamil film industry.
Final years and death
MKT turned more towards temples and developed a philosophical attitude towards the end of his life. He undertook journeys to many pilgrimage centres. He lost interest in wealth and popularity.
After 1955, he visited many temples in South India including Dharmapura Adheenam and other places such as Pandharpur etc., with one of his best friends, Mr. A. Nagarathnam, a school teacher from Erode and who also learnt carnatic music from Alathur Brothers along with MKT. He visited Ramakrishna Tapovanam near Trichy and stayed there for well over a month. He visited Tiruvannamalai and another place called Tirumoolaranyam near Tiruvannamalai and stayed in an ashram for a few days. He also visited Puttaparthy to see Sathya Sai Baba.
MKT also suffered from diabetes and used take the insulin injection himself in the middle of concerts in the last years of his life.
During the closing days of his life, Bagavathar suffered from high blood pressure and acute diabetes. Only ten days before his demise, he gave a concert at Pollachi. At the end of the concert, a person offered him some Ayurvedic tonic to cure the diabetics. But instead of providing relief, the tonic resulted aggravated the condition so much so that he had to be taken to Madras to be admitted immediately in the General Hospital.
On October 22, 1959, he was admitted in the General Hospital, Madras. He took treatment for a week, but he died on 1 November 1959 at about 6.20 p.m.
His body was taken to Trichy and was buried in Sangiliyandapuram, a small village in the outskirts of Trichy. His funeral procession started in the cantonment from his house at about 4.30 p.m. and took about 4 hours to reach the burial ground due to the gathering of an overwhelming crowd.
During the Second World War, at the request of the Governor of Madras, Arthur Oswald James Hope, Bhagavathar organised concerts and plays to raise money for the British war effort. The Governor recognised his contributions by offering him a "Diwan Bahadur" title which Bhagavathar declined.
Bhagavathar was the first super star in Tamil film industry, himself along with Chinnappa started the culture of dual stars ruling the Tamil industry who attained demigod status in Tamil Nadu.
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