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An actor and a gentleman (Article copyed from "The Hindu)
Sivaji Ganesan was well known as one of India's best actors but what was the man like?
SABITA RADHAKRISHNA profiles the thespian.

SEVEN-year-old boy watched the "Veerapandya Kattabomman" nadagam in fascinated silence. He was hoisted on stage to make an appearance as a British soldier. He enjoyed the stage and savoured the applause. Once home, his father, a freedom fighter, thrashed him mercilessly. How could he play the role of an "enemy"? How dared he preen himself on stage! Something broke in the little boy's psyche. What was wrong in being an actor and fending for himself? It would mean one mouth less to feed.

Ganesa joined the Madurai Shri Bala Gana Sabha on the pretext that he was an orphan, aware that his parents would never permit him to leave home, much less join theatre. This young boy became the legendary Sivaji Ganesan, who played the role of "Veerapandiya Kattabomman" in the film of the same name.

Sivaji's growth as an actor was meteoric and phenomenal thanks to single minded pursuit of his goal despite the most adverse of circumstances. His dedication to the theatre, passion, hard work and a grim determination to reach the heights of excellence made him one of the greatest actors in his lifetime with a career span of 65 years and nearly 300 films and innumerable plays to his credit.

The training at the gurukul was rigorous beginning with early bath and then prayers. Training in music and dance followed, and the next session involved learning the dialogues for the night performance. "We did not get one square meal in a day. Though we led an austere life, we had to talk loudly and act like kings on stage... " In Periyakulam, a kindly soul sent the boys a bag of rice. One of them accidentally poured kerosene on the bag. They were so hungry that they washed the rice with soap and ate it. The boys were not permitted to go home in years and letters were censored. They would find centipedes in the shirts, red ants in the wigs and the place was rife with snakes and scorpions. However daunting this may have been, young Ganesan's dogged determination to make it big one day kept him from being resentful or rebellious. He never once forgot a good deed done to him and venerated those who were instrumental in promoting his career.

Annadurai wrote a play "Sivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam" and MGR, who was supposed to play the lead role, backed out with hardly a week left. When the 17-year-old Ganesan rattled off the dialogue in one go, he bagged the coveted lead. Periyar who saw the play announced that in future the young actor would be known as Sivaji Ganesan.

Having suffered abject poverty, he saw to it that his family was well provided for, and took his siblings and their children under his wing, once he began earning well. Often, one who has suffered intense hardship and has abysmal poverty clutches at money when it flows in. But Sivaji, on the other hand, became a great philanthropist. There is no record of how much money he gave to people as it was always done quietly. "Parasakti" catapulted him into fame and fortune. After his foray into films, Sivaji started a drama company just so his colleagues in theatre should not face unemployment. He began to work relentlessly unmindful of his health.

His family life suffered. He worked three shifts a day, often moving from one studio to another hardly going home. "I do not know how my children grew up. They received all the love and attention from their mother Kamala and my brother Shanmugham." Marrying Kamala was the best thing that happened to him and he has often said that she was his greatest asset. Though Sivaji was not actively involved in politics, he supported the ideologies of the leaders he loved, and would always be ready with donations he had collected for a good cause. M. Karunanidhi, whom he considered a brilliant playwright, was a dear childhood playmate. Annadurai and Periyar loved him. Sivaji was so close to M.G. Ramachandran that he visited him in the U.S. when the latter was very ill. Politics was a bitter pill to swallow and time and again, the actor suffered the crushing disappointment of being let down by the very friends that he sought to support. After many such disappointments, he realised the wisdom of moving away from the political arena.

Intensely patriotic, Sivaji Ganesan was quoted as saying that the most valued of his awards were the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan where the Government of India recognised his contribution as a good citizen. Much later than he deserved he received the Dada Phalke Saheb Award. The Chevalier award from the French Government in 1995 in the last phase of his life made the Indians sit up and notice his achievements once more.

Overwork and a hard life took its toll and, on July 21, 2001, the colossus passed on. The world and his family wept, but those who loved him knew that it was not an end but a beginning — for all those children who are being educated with his legacy of love.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

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