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Sivaji: Then, now and forever

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It is now five years since the greatest actor Tamil movie had ever produced became an immortal. The name Sivaji Ganesan is synonymous with great screen and stage performance. It’s a name synonymous with quality, hard work and discipline.

His death sealed his immortality, mainly because it opened many eyes. Suddenly, with him not being around, the audience began to feel the big void he left behind. True, he was not working towards the last few years of his life, but the gap was not felt until his (untimely) death.

His contribution to the Tamil film industry is tremendous. He may have produced a few films, hence a contribution as a producer. But it is his contribution as an acting talent. Before Sivaji, as far as acting is concerned, there was nothing. There were a few wonderful singers who could emote. That’s all.

When Sivaji came into the industry, he did not just walked in. He stormed in. He roared like a lion on its first meal after days. The audience stood up and took notice. While Parasakthi was noted for its writing (by Kalaignar Karunanithi), its hard to argue the fact that Sivaji carried the whole movie like Atlas and the world.

That, the audience noted, is acting. That is performance. You scorch the scene. You tug the heart of the viewers. And you, the audience, you buy everything this man has to give. That is the power of persuasion. That is the power of Sivaji’s performance.

That power went on for almost fifty years, and one day, on 21st July 2001, the light blinked for the last time.

When he was alive, he was mostly misunderstood. Labels like ‘overacting’ and ‘bad wigs and make up’ or ‘poor fashion sense’ were applied to him. But these critics were referring to a very recent history. Sivaji’s choice of assignment in the late seventies and eighties were questionable.

But now that he is gone, they understood him. Try saying Sivaji Ganesan is the greatest actor to an 18-year-old Vijay fan, and chances are he will not argue. Everyone knows and admits that. Even the fans of his rival, MGR, would grudgingly accept the fact that acting is one arena you will see Sivaji KO-ing everyone else.

One could safely argue that he had many good films to work with, and the credit should go to the writers and the directors.


But with a talent like that of Sivaji’s, you can go everywhere. With a lesser actor, you find limitation. You can only go that far. But Sivaji can drive you to distances. His talent allowed directors to experiment with emotions. In fact, the entire Navarathiri was an experiment in characterisation and who else but Sivaji to play the nine roles. If there were no talents like Sivaji’s, Navarathiri would not have materialised. Tiruvilayadal would have been a forgotten costume drama. Gauvaram would have been a nice attempt if not for substandard performances.

No. It took the presence of Sivaji to make those films work. That and more. His talent inspires writers to come out with many stories that the audience can relate to. Conflicts that afflict a regular man. Dialogue writers gave their best, lyricists cried the loudest, and composers were underlining the scenes with beautiful music. Without Sivaji, contributions would have been mostly hack-like products.

Witness the time when Sivaji ceased his participation in the film industry. That was when the golden era of Tamil film died. The era, 50s to 70s, was an era where the talents were at their peak. It will never be back. Sivaji is up there entertaining the inhabitants there. All I can say is that they are bloody lucky.

Let us not only remember Sivaji today. Let us remember him everyday.