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Tamil Actor-Politician Dead : Screen Darkens for Fans of India's Romantic Sagas

December 25, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

Thursday morning, the senior minister in Ramachandran's Cabinet, V. R. Nedunchezhiyan, was sworn in as active chief minister of the state. The Cabinet member considered most powerful, however, is the food minister, S. Ramachandran, who has previously acted as an unofficial regent while his leader was recovering from his strokes and surgery. That recovery was only partial, however, and the late Ramachandran was left with a speech defect.

The Tamil leader was born in Sri Lanka to a very poor Indian Tamil family. He once said he did not attend school after the third grade.

Rapid Success as Actor

Although handsome, with curly black hair and broad shoulders, he was never a good speaker and only a fair dancer. But almost as soon as he became an actor, he was the most popular performer in Tamil-language films. Tamil Nadu film audiences are among the world's most intense and the state boasts more theater seats per capita than any other state in India or country in the world.

On occasion, his film life spilled over into his public life. In 1967, he was wounded when a man who played the villain in several of his films attacked him with a handgun.

Poor people loved his performances so much that they would sell blood to buy tickets. Even today, his films play in many Tamil Nadu cities. He always played morally upright characters and in none of his films was he ever seen smoking or drinking.

Ramachandran began his political career as a member of the Indian National Congress party of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As early as 1953, he joined the Dravidian movement of the late Tamil leader C.N. Annadurai.

Followed Populist Course

He formed his own political party in 1972 after breaking with fellow Dravidian leader Muthuvel Karunandhi, who led the state until supplanted by Ramachandran in 1976 and remained his main political foe. Mourning demonstrators attacked statues of Karunandhi on Thursday night.

During his 11 years as leader of the state, Ramachandran followed a basically populist course. His most famous reform was a lunch program for millions of school children, veterans and pensioners. Civil servants described him as a terrible administrator who insisted on reviewing every major decision but whose home was a clutter of unread memorandums.

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