‘Sivaji’ Ganesan was one of a kind. He got the title of ‘Sivaji’ after he essayed the role of Chhathrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha ruler, during a stage performance.
For a person who left his home to become a theatre artist, the cinematic journey was really long and illustrious. He was a man who overcame many obstacles and would go on to achieve stupendous success in Tamil cinema. He would go on to influence Tamil politics too. He stayed away from joining either the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu. He did not like either.
Sivaji Ganesan was born as V Chinniah Mandrayar Ganeshamurthy in Soorakottai, Orathanadu, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Although he began his career as a theatre artist, it was Tamil cinema that made him a household name. While he essayed many roles in Tamil cinema, it was his strong theatre background that made his cinema performances special. His landmark movies were Parasakthi in 1952, Andha Naal in 1954, Uthama Puthiran in 1958, Veerapandiya Kattabomman in 1959, Thiruvilayadal in 1965, Thillana Mohanambal in 1968, and Deiva Magan in 1969 among others.
He often donned female roles in his theatre years. Strangely, that very experience made his walking style very special. Generations of audiences were to be enthralled by his walking style. He was a versatile actor who essayed a variety of roles.
Sivaji Ganesan acted in meaningful cinema. His movies extolled the virtues of honesty and bravery. Veerapandiya Kattaboman, Manohara, Raja Raja Cholan and Kappalottiya Thamizhan were epitomes in this regard.
He essayed brave characters like Kattabomman, Karnan, Raja Raja Cholan and freedom fighter VO Chidambaram Pillai with effortless ease. He made a great combination with the Tamil actor Nagesh. He was the hero and Nagesh was the comic relief.
In many ways, Sivaji Ganesan was also a social reformer. In the movie Parasakthi, we see how the socio-political set up affects the common man. The dialogues in his movies are relevant even today.
Sivaji Ganesan’s dexterity in delivering dialogues, his elephantine memory to be able to speak such long dialogues, his baritone voice, his majestic look and his inspiring personality are all legendary.
His long monologues and acting prowess in Veerapandiya Kattaboman got him the honorific of ‘Nadigar Chakravarthy’ or Emperor of Actors.
One can see the transformation of Sivaji Ganesan into Raja Raja Cholan in the movie Raja Raja Cholan. The memorable dialogues between the character of the sculptor and the character of Raja Raja Chola is an excellent portrayal of the greatness of King Raja Raja Chola.
There are some awe-inspiring dialogues in Veerapandiya Kattaboman too. It is one of the most patriotic movies ever made in India. The film exposes the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British as well as well as the greed of the Indian traitors.
In Kappalottiya Thamizhan, Sivaji Ganesan portrayed the role of freedom fighter, nationalist and patriot VO Chidambaram Pillai, who founded the Swadeshi Stream Navigation Company to break the monopoly of the British over maritime trade out of India.
The actor was born to don the role of kings but essayed the main role in many religious movies with equal ease.
Sivaji Ganesan was addressed as ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ or ‘The Highest in Acting’, and won the great French honour, Chevalier Award, in 1995. He won the highest honour in Indian cinema when he was decorated with the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1996.
A versatile actor who played patriotic and spiritual characters to perfection, Sivaji Ganesan was a staunch nationalist, Tamizhan and Hindu.
Dr S Padmapriya is a Chennai-based writer. Views expressed are personal.