V.P. Jaiganesh | People | July 20, 2009
Memories about a Lion! Sivajiganeshan

Once upon a time, I saw a lion in Nandan Kannan zoo. I had seen lions in Chennai’s vandalur zoo as well, but this lion, I saw was bigger and it looked every bit like the lions I had read about in the stories as a child. It evoked a kind of fear and awe in me, the feeling you have when you see the smaller hair in the back of your head rising in a moment of electric tension. I have never been able to feel that awe ever since (Of course a different awe and goose flesh experience comes over when I hear a Ilaiyaraaja’s soul searching melody). It is my life’s pity that I never faced that lion without the iron/aluminium bars in between and the deep hole and moat that seperated the lion and me. For a moment there was this urge to cross the fence and observe its brilliance upclose and personal.

There was another lion, whose most brilliant moments I have seen in a much smaller cage – Tele Vision. As a person born in the late 70s and with a growing passion of cinema in the 90s, I have been denied the opportunity of watching this lion perform on the big screen, save for certain fortunate moments. This lion I am referring to here is Late.Chevalier Shivaji Ganesan, popularly known in thamizh nadu and rest of south india as ‘Nadigar Thilagam’. This post was in my mind for a while, but when I remembered that tomorow (July 21st – Thanks to Murali Srinivas of for reminding everyone) was the eighth death anniversary of the legendary actor, i could wait no more and hence the birth of this post

There are thousands of articles and web pages devoted to this actor par excellence that inform the discerning reader about the life and interesting tidbits about him. This blog post is devoted to recounting the pain and loss of not being able to watch some of his memorable performances on the big screen. Sivaji Ganesan aka ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ ( I donno how to translate this one) aka ’simmak kuralon’ (the one with the voice of a lion) was the single most defining actor in the thamizh cinema and stage. His magnificience and range is unmatched till date in thamizh film world. His dedication to the character above everything else set him apart from the actors who subverted the character to beat their own drums and advancing their political doctrines and plans. His craft was ever so perfect and method – probably the best in the industry and his obedience to the director unmatched and discipline and respect for his profession is still being talked about as the right example.

He broke into the silver screen from theatre and as a result was blessed with supreme beauty of diction and absolute command over the language Thamizh, which he presented so beautifully and with grace that an entire generation of thamizh youngsters took it upon them to pronounce thamizh ‘the sivaji way’. More than his mastery over the language and superior memory that comes with intense theatre practice, it was his understanding of his face, eyes and voice and the rest of the body as efficient tools of his craft and the perfection of their use to convey the complete mood, thought and emotions of the underlying character being fleshed out by him, that made him the most hailed and sensational actor from Thamizh nadu. He was a man possessed in the ’scene’ and became almost the characters he enacted . He did this not just for the shot where he was in focus, but also for the shots where someone else was being captured, so that the other actor too was able to bring out the ‘mood’ of the shot properly in camera. Most of his directors maintain that he is a major reason why overall acting in a sivaji movie is so good. Coming back to the words in paragraph one, I have a huge regret that I have seen a sivaji performance on the big screen only on a handful of occasions and that too in movies mostly released in modern times. From what I have seen, I can vouch for the fact that his performances are best seen in the big screen, for his acting is not just ‘bombastic’, but it is packed with so many minute details about the characters that come across by way of those perfect expressions and gestures that would make any world class actor of critically acclaimed art house films proud. It is a pity that the critics of his acting did not stop to observe those beautiful intricacies and took pride in labeling his performances as ‘Over the top’. However to them I would like to quote the famous Sunny Gavaskar joke ‘Look where the ball is‘. For Sivaji Ganesan always chose to be an artist of the masses, he designed his performances in such a way that they reached everyone while serving requisite information for each layer of his audience.

As a person who grew up on a staple diet of sivaji performances over Door darshan, I was enchanted by the ‘diction’ and voice that was designed for maximum impact. Sample the thunderous scene that went over the top, yet made me feel like a million bucks in Veerapaandiya kattabomman in the clip below