Sivaji (Ganesan). An Actor for the Ages.

For me, Sivaji Ganesan is the greatest actor the world has seen. Period. Of the 288 films he has acted, more than 80% movies are probably trash. But in the remaining movies, he has left a legacy which cannot be even matched let alone surpassed. 

First the name. Only people who were contemporary to him, called him ‘Ganesan’ his real name. For all the others he was just known as Sivaji/Shivaji, named after the great Maratha Warrior. He acted the role of the Maratha King on a stage play and was called Sivaji and the name struck.

It was not the ‘only King role’ he played. There was this King Kattabomman ruler of a Small Kingdom in down Tamil Nadu. The king refused to pay taxes to the British, fought a war with them, was captured and hanged for treason. He would have remained a footnote in history. But Sivaji Ganesan played the role in a movie Verapandiya Kattabomman (Kattabomman the brave warrior). The movie was released in 1959. Ever since the release of the movie, for last six decades plus, every single aspiring actor in Kindergarten, Primary and High School, College and social club in Tamil Nadu played that role to get some recognition and applause from audience. Can any actor inspire generations of people with only one act? 

A Single Act which inspired generations of ‘wannabe’ actors

For the baby boomer generation of Tamil Nadu, we know most of the great personalities of the state only from the role Sivaji Ganesan played. From the warrior kings to freedom fighters to Alvars and Nayanars (Poet saints of Tamil who lived more than a thousand years ago) to Gods to heroes of the epics, we identified everyone as Sivaji Ganesan depicted them. I was searching for a poem by Thondaradipodi Alwar of 8th Century. And I ended up Sivaji Ganesan reciting it in a movie. No one knows how Thondaradipodi Alwar looked. But for us, he looked like how Sivaji made him out to be.

Thondaradipodi Azwar from 8th Century reciting Pachai maamalipol meni as played by Sivaji.

And yes, we know how Lord Shiva looks like. As the role of the God played by Sivaji in ‘Thiruvilayadal.’ And Karnan, the most selfless warrior in the epic Mahabharata? Well! Sivaji played the titular role in the movie ‘Karnan.’

Not only he played the roles of kings and poets, but he also acted in most of the tearjerkers that were produced from 1950s to 1970s. When these movies were popular, he made everyone who came to watch him cry and flood the movie hall with tears. I actually wonder why anyone would go to a theatre, pay hard earned money and cry for three hours and forty-five minutes. That’s not relevant here. He could play the role of a worker who would raise against the tyrannical owner of a factory, an engine driver who spends all his earnings to make his sister a doctor, a doctor who buries his loved one who dies of cancer, a physically challenged man who herds cows. He played them all and with aplomb. 

He was an outstanding comedian and would rank among the best. He could play slapstick and was extraordinary in satire. His comedy roles in Sabash Meena, Bale Pandiya and Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari are some of the best movies in comedy genre. And these roles are timeless. You can watch them even today without getting bored for a second. 

He was not just a gifted actor. He combined that with his hard work, discipline, phenomenal memory power and devotion to his craft. He would just glance through a twenty-page dialogue, emote and deliver it within minutes. Every actor (male or female) who has acted with him recalls how Sivaji was always the first to arrive at the set in complete make up though he was the senior most actor. Such was his discipline. He was a director’s dream. He always delivered what the director wanted. One of the best movies of his later years was ‘Muthal Mariyathai’ (First Honours). The director wanted him to walk in a certain way and deliver the dialogue and was not happy with the scene. It is said that Sivaji understood what the director wanted and walked in seventeen different ways and asked the director to choose one. And he always delivered his best. His friends in the industry said, in every movie Sivaji delivered a million-dollar performance whether you paid him one dollar or one hundred thousand dollars. 

Probably that was also his Achilles’ heel. He kept acting in movies which had no merit in them and delivered sub-par performances. I think for close a decade Tamil Cinema went through a crisis with no imaginative stories, no good directors and the producers who just wanted to produce movies without even a good story. He was caught in this whirlpool. Not only these roles did not do any justice to his talent, but he was also called an ‘over acting’ actor. 

I am not a great movie buff, but I have seen some good movies in English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi and French. Of all the movies I have seen and the actors who performed in them, I can’t equate one actor who can match Sivaji in his versatility. From Brando (Marlon) to Bachchan, from Dilip Kumar to Dustin Hoffman to Denzel Washington, from Soumitra Chatterjee to Naseeruddin Shah to Kamal Hassan no one has even attempted to play the variety of roles Sivaji has played. 

My father was a great fan of Sivaji Ganesan. He would always refer to him as Ganesan as he had seen him performing in stage plays before he earned his nickname Sivaji. He had watched some of the actor’s movies more than a dozen times and his first movie ‘Parasakthi’ a whooping seventeen times. An amateur actor, my father often said that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would go on to become a famous actor. And Sivaji did become one and the greatest ever actor in my mind.

Villupuram Chinnaiya Manrayar Ganesamoorthy also known as Sivaji Ganesan was born on 1st October 1928. I need to thank Naga for sending me a message about Sivaji in the morning, a timely reminder to write a tribute to ‘The Actor of our Ages.


2 thoughts on “Sivaji (Ganesan). An Actor for the Ages.

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  1. சிவாஜி கணேசனின் பிறந்தநாள் எப்போதும் என் நினைவில் இருக்கும்,என் தந்தை பிறந்த அக்டோபர் 1 ம் தேதியில் தான் அவரும் பிறந்துள்ளதால் 🙂,சினிமா பார்ப்பது நேர&பண விரயம் என சொல்லும் என் அப்பா, என் சிறுவயதில் சிவாஜி படங்களை மட்டும் பார்க்க அனுமதித்தார்

    மற்ற நடிகர்கள் தங்களது முப்பாதாவது படம் நடிக்கும் பேசும் தெளிவான வசனங்களை தனது முதல் படத்திலேயே பேசினார்

    வரலாற்றின் படி ஜாக்சனின் ஆணையின் படி கப்பத்தை சுமந்து கொண்டு அவர் செல்லும் ஊர்களுக்கு பின்தொடர்ந்து சென்ற கட்டபொம்முவை தன் நடிப்பால்,வசன உச்சரிப்பால்,வீரபாண்டிய கட்டமொம்மனாக ஆக்கினார்

    தன்னுடன் நடிக்கும் நடிகர்களும் நன்றாக நடிக்க வேண்டும் என விரும்பி அவர்களுக்கும் நடிப்பு சொல்லி கொடுப்பார்,உயர்ந்தமனிதன் படத்தில் அசோகன் நன்றாக நடித்து பேர் வாங்கியது சிவாஜி சொல்லி கொடுத்ததாம்,அப்போது இருவருக்கும் சரியான உறவில்லை,தான் நடிக்கும் காட்சி நன்றாக வரவேண்டும் என மெனக்கெடுபவர்

    தன்னுடன் நடிப்பவர்கள் நன்றாக நடித்து பேர் வாங்குவதை அனுமதித்தார்,திருவிளையாடல் படத்தில் நாகேஷிற்கு புகழ் வரும் என தெரிந்தே அனுமதித்தார்( இதை நாகேஷே சொல்லி இருப்பார்)

    பார்த்த ஞாபகம் இல்லையோ பாடலில் அவர் சிகரெட் புகைக்கும் ஸ்டைலால் நிறைய பேர் புகைக்க ஆசைப்பட்டிருப்பர்

    ரஜினி பின்நாட்களில் காட்டிய ஸ்டைல் அனைத்தையும் “யாரடி நீ மோகினி” பாடலில் காண்பித்து இருப்பார்

    MGR முதல்வராக இருந்த போது வெளிநாட்டு விருந்தினர்களுக்கு தமிழ் சினிமாவை அறிமுகப்படுத்த அவர் போட்டு காட்டிய படம் தில்லானா மோகனாம்பாள்,ஆட்சேபித்த கட்சியினரிடம் உயர்ந்த கலைஞன் என சொன்னாராம்

    எந்த பாடகர்கள் பின்னனி பாடினாலும் தானே பாடியது போல் வாயசைப்பதில் வல்லவர்,அதனாலயே அவரது பாடல்கள் சிறப்பாக இருக்கும்

    அவரது பிறந்நாளில் உனது சிறப்பான எழுத்தால் அவரை கௌரவித்ததற்கு பாராட்டுகள் ரமேஷ் 👏👏👏


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