A tribute from iFlickz on his death anniversary.

by Mani Prabhu

Sivaji Ganesan – the legend lives on...

21st July will always be a tragic day for Tamil cinema. The demise of Sivaji Ganesan, arguably the greatest actor ever to be part of Tamil cinema, brought down the curtains to the most read and referred chapter in Indian cinema. Born as ‘Villupuram Chinnaiah Ganesan’ to Chinnaiah Pillai and Rajamani Ammal at Sirkali in 1928, Ganesan left home in his teenage years to pursue his passion of acting. The multifaceted actor would always be remembered as someone who became famous and established himself in the industry only through his sheer hard work and immense magical talent.

Choosing best moments from this man’s repertoire is akin to an attempt to pick drops from the ocean. Yet, on the occasion of his death anniversary, here are ten of our favourite moments from his illustrious oeuvre.

Parasakthi: The court scene

At a time when films had in excess of 30 songs and the most subtle social messages, Parasakthi arrived with a bang, there by ushering in an era of strong political movies. How could we ever forget the magic of the court room scene? The use of informal conversational dialogues written by the then debut writer M. Karunanidhi, delivered with stunning passion of a stage actor by debutant Sivaji Ganesan, and the bold usage of strong visuals of anti-elitism made it a trendsetter for dialogue delivery and acting for later Tamil films.

Veera Pandia Kattabomman: The encounter with Jackson Durai

There are some performances that you can’t write about. You just reverently see them unfold and celebrate them. Sivaji Ganesan’s performance as Veera Pandia Kattabomman falls under this category. A classic for all time, Sivaji’s encounters with Jackson Durai have become part of popular culture. Even someone born in the 90s in Tamil Nadu would be familiar with that ‘goosebumps’ sequence. Sivaji’s emphatic portrayal of the rebel hero’s spitfire personality fetched him the best actor award in the Afro-Asian film festival at Cairo.

Pasamalar: The ‘Malarnthum Malaradha’ sequence

Some films stay on forever in our hearts. Pasamalar brings out the best from two magical stars Sivaji Ganesan and Savitri, arguably the best actors to have ever graced the Tamil movie screens in those times. In spite of the melodramatic script that was in fact a staple of the era, the ‘Malarnthum Malaradha’ song sequence is heights of celluloid poignancy, which is bound to leave you emotionally overwhelmed. One of the most melodious songs in Tamil ever, this number had lyrics written by the Kannadasan, composed by Viswanathan-Ramamurthi and sung by T M Sounderarajan and P Susheela..

Karnan: The climax

An epic about the most controversial and much debated character Karnan from Mahabharatha, with its titular character essayed by none other than Sivaji Ganesan. Enough to send shivers down your spine! Ganesan aces the character in his own style, perfectly portraying the despair of a righteous warrior who does not know the secret of his birth, revels in the friendship of an antagonist, and stands firmly alongside his friend even when he knows that Duryodhana is wrong. The sheer arrogance in Ganesan’s eyes when he is unfazed at the departure of his charioteer, and the painful incapacity when Krishna in disguise asks him his virtues as donation, have to be seen to be believed.

Thiruvilaiyadal: ‘Netrikan Thirapinum Kutram Kutrame’

Sivaji Ganesan revels in the role of Lord Shiva, exuding a regality and jest that makes him riveting. Shiva tests the knowledge and ego of a famous scholar and rags a poor poet with loads of conviction. Both of them get their prizes, but for Shiva the reward seems to be testing their faith. The intensity in Ganesan’s eyes in extreme close-up when in confrontation with Natkiran, as the poet stands by his opinion even though he knew that the person disputing him is the Lord himself, is something that words cannot do justice to.

Thillana Mohanambal: The ‘Nalandana Naladana’ segment

Sivaji Ganesan plays “Sikkal” Shanmugasundaram (Sundaram), a Nadaswaram player in Thillana Mohanambal with unmatchable grace and style, a musical drama adapted from Kothamangalam Subbu’s novel of the same name. The segment conveys emotions of love, distress and concern between a classical bharathanatyam dancer (played superbly by Padmini) and the nathaswaram player, without the need for lengthy dialogues, incorporating music and dance into the soul of the movie. Ganesan is said to have attended Carnatic music concerts, and consulted Carnatic musicians in preparation for his role. The body language of Ganesan as he goes about playing his music is in one word ‘incredible’.

Dheiva Magan: The father-son encounter

Sivaji Ganesan enacted three roles for the second time in his career after Bale Pandiya, essaying the characters of a father and his two sons. Arguably, a lead hero for the first time in Tamil cinema did a full-length protagonist who actually didn’t look ‘heroic’. With one side of the face being fully burnt, only an actor of Ganesan’s calibre and confidence could have given so much life to the character and made us still empathize with their conflicts! Sparks fly in this particular scene as the deserted elder son comes to meet the guilt-ridden father. Incidentally, Dheiva Magan was the first ever Tamil film to be submitted by India in contest for the Academy Award under the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category.

Aalayamani: The ‘Satti Suttadhada’ sequence

An emotional story of pathos, possessiveness and distrust towards one’s partner and the eventual redemption by sacrifice, Aalaymani has Ganesan playing a lonely rich bachelor, subjected to a deep seated trauma in the form of witnessing the death of a childhood playmate which is caused by his possessiveness. Sivaji Ganesan revels in conflicting emotions of love, friendship, loyalty, jealousy, guilt, absolution, physical debilitation and incapacity in this musical number, written insightfully by Kannadasan, orchestrated brilliantly by Viswanathan-Ramamourthy and soulfully sung by TMS.

Gouravam: The veteran lawyer and nephew court face-off

Sivaji plays double role in this courtroom drama as uncle and nephew; one of the egoist atheist uncle and the other the humble, god fearing nephew, both being lawyers. Right from the first frame of the movie until the very end, Ganesan delivers in two different conflicting demeanours. The sequence by itself is like a ‘masterclass’ for budding actors.

Thevar Magan: The father son argument.

Sivaji Ganesan as the grand old man and leader of a village community and Kamal Haasan as his urbane son who graduates from London – should I say anything more! Each of the scenes featuring Ganesan and Kamal are sure to leave anyone short of words to describe them. Both actors represent different generations of cinema but it is very evident from this particular faceoff scene, where the father argues with his son over his decision to leave the village, that their passion for cinema and talent is timeless. Any movie buff’s delight!