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Director of 25 films, actor in 75 films and master of screenplay, Bhagyaraj, became the target of fan fury when he entered Kamalalayam, state BJP headquarters in Chennai. Social media was flooded with memes denouncing him. An old speech of Islamic fundamentalist Palani Baba criticizing him for talking about Dravidianism but marrying a brahmin woman was fleshed out and put up. Taken aback, Bhagyaraj expressed his regret for his speech.

Though he was successful in films, politics never really worked for Bhagyaraj. When he was a star director, he was close to MGR. It’s likely MGR saw his potential and called him his heir in the art world, not in politics though. Later, Bhagyaraj completed a half-finished movie of MGR called Anna Nee En Deiyam and released it as Avasara Police 100. The movie wasn’t a hit, neither did it carry the Bhagyaraj panache. But it was probably Bhagyaraj paying tribute to MGR.

In his movies, Bhagyaraj played innocent, naïve heroes who nevertheless were intelligent in their own way. That made him a hit with women. Even his double-meaning dialogues stayed within limits and only increased his popularity.

Bhagyaraj was no hero material. His dance still remains a subject of parody. Yet he was a successful hero who gave many hits.

Bhagyaraj was no hero material. His dance still remains a subject of parody. Yet he was a successful hero who gave many hits.

His films mostly dealt with love and marriage and sparkled with original humour. They touched audience’s hearts and minds. Though he drew inspiration from Hollywood movies,  the end-product was always his own and suited Tamil sensibilities. Story discussion was all important for Bhagyaraj since the strong points of his films were the screenplay.

Bhagyaraj entered movies as a disciple of Bharathiraja. He was assistant director for the movie Pathinaru Vayathinile in which he had a cameo role. His first directorial venture was Suvarilla Chithirangal in 1979. From then to the mid-1990s, Bhagyaraj had his niche in Tamil films. After Oru Oorla Oru Rajakumari in 1995, the films that came were largely also-rans. Sokkathangam was an exception. But by that time he had switched to acting, mostly.

Bhagyaraj’s blockbusters included Mounageethangal, Indru Poi Naalai Vaa, Andha Ezhu Naatkal, Mundhanai Mudichu, Darling Darling Darling, Sundara Kandam, Rasukutty and Veetla Visheshanga.

An edgy theme was Idhu Namma Aalu that talked about a man falling in love with a brahmin girl and marrying her. The movie dealt with the courtship and troubles in their married life. To be on the safe side if there was any blowback, he had his name shown as Supervisor Director in the title credits. The movie’s title credits showed that the director was writer and scriptwriter Balakumaran, a brahmin.

Careful planning, giving thought to sensibilities were his hallmark. It was uncharacteristic of the Bhagyaraj we have known to actually go to the BJP party headquarters and speak what he spoke.

Bhagyaraj took on the avatar of writer and magazine editor when he launched Bhagya magazine. The Q&A with the editor was a highlight of the magazine issues. Though the section carried the quick wit and smartness of Bhagyaraj movie scenes, Bhagyaraj had help from other writers in framing the answers.

It’s been nearly 25 years since Bhagyaraj’s flag flew high. But that he has sustained himself for so long can be attributed to his success in the early years. Directorial success fed his acting career.

Another highlight of his film career was the movie Oru Kaidhiyin Diary. Though directed by Bharathiraja, Bhagyaraj’s writing was evident in the film. The film was remade as Aakhri Rasta starring Amitach Bachchan. Bhagyaraj was a pioneer in remaking Tamil films into Hindi, a trend that others took up later.

It’s been nearly 25 years since Bhagyaraj’s flag flew high. But that he has sustained himself for so long can be attributed to his success in the early years. Directorial success fed his acting career.

Bhagyaraj’s acting stint was not like Manivannan, another director-turned actor. Manivannan made his mark as an actor, too. Roles were written for him. No other person could play the roles that he did. Bhagyaraj, as an actor in later day movies, played character roles. He was useful to directors looking for a familiar face. Not much else.

His political journey started after MGR’s death. In 1989, he started his party MGR Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, seeking to leverage the vacuum that MGR’s death had created. Though Tamils accepted and celebrated his movies, they rejected his political foray. Bhagyaraj disbanded the party.

Bhagyaraj joined the AIADMK when Jayalalithaa was heading it. But he wasn’t given a role. In 2006, he joined the DMK and campaigned for it in the elections. But he left the DMK, too. He was in the scene later through the directors union and other such activities.

Bhagyaraj made Parijatham starring his daughter Saranya. For his son, he made Vettiya Madichu Kattu and Siddhu +2. But they didn’t make a mark. Siddhu +2 was his last movie as director. It came out in 2010.

The name he earned has probably been lost in the release of the book, India 2020, at the BJP office. It would have been better for Bhagyaraj if he had continued to lie low instead of getting caught in controversies and drawing unnecessary attention.


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