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In Memory of Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan (Part-1)
If there was a matinee idol in the realms of Indian cinematic history who received as much accolades and an equally strong bout of criticism for his histrionic abilities, it was Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan. Given that he never achieved the national status that he deserved perhaps is a reflection of the complexities of the language of his mother tongue that required strong grammar, poetic undertones and louder decibels for dialogue delivery. Film critics and audience forming the majority in the North of the Vindayas who were used to the much softer, subtle shayaari and ghazals perhaps found it difficult to applaud Sivaji’s daredevilry in characterization of roles he depicted in his film career. Perhaps if he were to be born out of the Dravidian State and culture, there would have been a national consensus that he was the greatest actor Indian cinema ever produced. It is indeed a misfortune to know that Mr. Nehru pleaded ignorance of the actor when President Nasser of Egypt enquired dearly about him after seeing his stellar performance in “Veerapandia Kattabomman” in the Cairo Film Festival.
Nehru did make amends when he made Sivaji the main host when Nasser visited India subsequently! Whilst this article is not to Sivaji’s defense, it presents certain facts and situations that made Sivaji a master of his own craft.
It is important to know that Sivaji in his prime time did not have the liberty of exposure to media that is available to the actors today, to benchmark performances, as he spent time from dawn to dusk facing the arc lights churning out volumes that was needed to establish him as a matinee idol of Tamil Cinema. What he did use was his intelligence, imagination and creativity - traits that formed the hallmark of his entire career. This article also presents a viewpoint of a layman, outside the ambit of the film industry and the fourth estate, on what made Sivaji acquire cult status in the hearts of the Tamil cinema audience.
Sivaji was never considered to be a stylish actor by his critics. Style for men was always associated with their wardrobe, poise, and sophistication of their linguistic abilities and perhaps certain habits they carried on to give the added punch! Sivaji knowing his limitations used his “walk” to bring in the style. Whether it is the majestic walk in “Thiruvilayadal”, or the over-confident one in “Saraswathi Sabatham”, or the humble one in “Thiruvarutselvar” or the millionaire’s arrogant walk in “Navarathiri”, or the Bridge-on-the-River-Kwai inspired walk in “Thangapadakkam”, Sivaji answered his critics for his lack of style by walking. In some instances he added another dimension to the walk by using a walking stick - see him do that in soulful “Ponaal Pogattum Poda - Paalum Pazhamum” or move forward to see the swing of the stick in “Antha naal gnabagam - Uyarntha Manithan”. Unfortunately the critics missed these, but his fans remember!
Smoking was definitely considered to give that extra dimension to a man’s style. Sivaji criticized for his lack of sophistication, smoked in his films to bring style into his characters. In a film “Shanthi”, the music maestros Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, came out with an astounding composition, a Cliff Richard-like number, with continuous strumming of the bass, rhythm and jazz guitars (song: Yaar Antha Nilavu”). This song produced the magic of the three musketeers, Viswanathan - Kannadasan and Sounderrajan and they did produce
a masterpiece. Sivaji, who usually is present in the recording, missed it and got to know about this song and requested director K.Shanker more time to picture this sequence. The musketeers waiting to find what he was going to do, were simply dumbfounded when Sivaji came out trumps, singing the entire solo number, mimicking the song by smoking a cigarette! The entire efforts of the trio were sidelined and till date it is Sivaji who got associated with the song and it beats every imagination to know that he produced a masterpiece with a cigarette stub! Look at him smoke the cigarillo in the song sequence “Paartha Gnabagam Illayo - Pudiya Paravai”, or go back to “Paar Magale Paar” where he smoked with a cigarette-holder, move forward to the cigar in “Gnana Oli” or the pipe in “Gauravam”, or just stoop down to the beedi in “Bale Paandiya”. Sivaji smoked each one of them the way it should. If smoking is a bad example, watch him eat peanuts in “Aandavan Kattalai” or the different dimensions of laughter he brought in the way-to-dusty death crime chiller “Antha Naal” or the way he picked up the rickshaw-handle with his left leg for the film “Babu”. Sivaji perhaps used his power of observation, mixed it with his creative intelligence and produced these characters with the sophistication and style that they deserved. to be continue...
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