This article was on the "Chennai online October 2009" web for the memory of Great actor Sivajiganeshan.

In Memory of Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan ( Part -2)

In most cinemas, physically handicapped persons are normally characterized as downtrodden to obtain public sympathy. Sivaji on the other hand, used physical deformation to the character’s advantage. Watch him in the evergreen - “Alayamani” where he used the wheel chair. In fact so sophisticated was his maneuvering of the wheelchair that it became a part of himself and nobody missed his majestic walk in the film. See him in “Paarthal Pasitheerum” as an injured soldier who has a hop in his walk In the entire film he never missed the frequency of the hop - even in tight close-up (“Songs: ullam enbathu or pillaikku thanthai oruvan”) the head bumped up and down at the right time! The news of him holding his left hand up much after the movie -“ Bhaagapirivanai” - is a part of film folklore! 

You can’t beat Sivaji when it comes to playing musical instruments and look at the range. Contrast his sax in the interlude of “Unnai Onru Ketpen”- Puthiya Paravai” to the nadaswaram in “Thillana Moganambal” or just look at him play the guitar with a breeze in “Naan Kavignanum Ilai - Padithaal Mattum Poduma”.

In one instance, when Viswanathan played the piano himself for a song in “Paasa Malar” he was astonished the way Sivaji delivered the piano scene - what Viswanathan saw was not Sivaji, but himself! Sivaji had watched Viswanathan play the piano during the recording and reproduced the act like magic. It is in all probability, that people watching these sequences believed that he and no one else did play that musical instrument!

Never acknowledged as technical genius, in the mould of MGR who was depicted as a cinematic guru, Sivaji had indeed mastered technical nuances in film making by his sheer experience. Fact remains that Sivaji delivered his lengthy dialogue in front of the camera after a cursory glance of dialogue sheets probably due to his photographic memory, present his walk to the chalk marks drawn by the cinematographer to ensure he remained in focus and perhaps closed his dialogue simultaneously! When dubbing became the state-of-the-art in sound engineering, Sivaji could recall his entire stretch of dialogues delivered 6 months back, with the same pause and punch that bewildered men behind the camera. He was indeed a photographer's or an editor's and a director’s delight. 

In most accolades to the Chevalier, the historical and mythological roles come into prominence. It is indeed true that many of us till today believe that this was how Kattabomman, V O Chidambaram, Subramaniya Bharathy talked, walked and lived - not to forget the many mythological characters, which any actor of any era would have even made an attempt. Perhaps most actors neither had the guts to perform them nor they dared, or simply kept it out of their range to prevent damage to their image! Despite this, many actors achieved much more status than what Sivaji did in the national arena. Ironically, no one can imagine other actors don the mantle of the great Maratha warrior “Shatrapathi Sivaji”, the very character that rechristened V C Ganesan as Sivaji Ganesan!

Although Sivaji’s prime time ended in the 60s there was that occasional spark in the 70s and 80s that lit up the entire tinsel world. Whether he came in as the Inspector General of Police in “Thangapadakkam” or the Bar-at-law in “Gauravam” or a retired middle class civil servant in “Vietnam Veedu” no one remembers him but those characters. It was unfortunate that producers and directors had commercial propositions overlooking his real value to make blunders like Pilot Premnath, Hitler Umanath, Mirudanga Chakravarthy and Lorry Driver Rajakannu! 

Perhaps one cardinal sin Sivaji committed in his entire lifetime was his foray into politics. If there were the brand image consultants of today, they would have rightly advised him to stick to his film career, which could have enlarged his brand equity across the globe! It is presumed he was more thrust into it as a strategy to grab market shares obtained by another matinee idol - MGR. Perhaps it is his fate that he lived in a lifetime that made people draw a parallel with MGR that eventually brought in the MGR-Sivaji divide amongst the film fans. Perhaps his association with one political party invited the wrath of the powers that be in the North Block in the past and Fort St. George in the present. Ultimately, it saddens that he was lured in getting his pet grand-daughter married to a family which conducted the "mother of all marriages", taking the happiness out of his life in his twilight years or perhaps his life itself!

Despite that folly, Sivaji continues to live in the heart of Tamizhars and Tamil speaking people over the globe. Perhaps the right conclusion should be drawn from the caption provided in Sridhar’s film “Nenjirukkum Varai - Till the Heart lives” in the closing shot - it read “Nenjirukkum Varai, unnai maravathiruppom - Thou shall not forget you as long as the heart lives”. The majority of Tamil film fans - past, present and future, know his true value and would always cherish his memory through the characters he played on the silver screen. Actors may come and actors may go, but for the Tamils, there is only one Sivaji!

Adieu Chevalier........your’s was a class act! -------
Ram N Ramakrishnan