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Talent, charisma and much more

In the history of cinema, no other actor has played such an incredible variety of roles. But initially all was not hunky-dory for Sivaji Ganesan, says RANDOR GUY, in aninteresting recollection.

SIVAJI GANESAN (ORIGINAL name, Villupuram Chinnaiya Ganeshamurthy), the mighty oak of Tamil movies, has returned to his roots in Mother Earth. The great screen presence, that inimitable voice capable of reflecting and registering even the minutest change of hue and colour in the spectrum of human emotions, the indefinable factor, charisma and more, that elevated a mere V. C. Ganesan to Sivaji Ganesan, can now only be seen and heard in the rich legacy of the 300 plus movies he has left behind.

He had played an incredible variety of roles in his long career - thief, king, cult figures, historical characters, rebel, playboy, labour leader, mythological figures, religious personalities, selfish man, unselfish head of the family... you name it and he has played that role to perfection!

Indeed in the history of cinema no other actor has played such wide and winsome range of roles. And he was never typecast for a particular role like most stars of today. Excepting perhaps for the stunts-oriented action roles, he felt at home in every role!

Even though he woke up one fine morning, like Lord Byron, and found himself famous with ``Parasakthi'' (1952), he had his first dip in the waters of cinema earlier in ``Nirabaradhi''(1951). Made in Telugu and Tamil by the sadly forgotten pioneer, the Grand Old Man of South Indian cinema, H. M. Reddi, it had Mukkammala Krishnamurthy as the hero, in both versions. As he could not speak Tamil, Reddi looked round for suitable voice to dub the dialogue for the hero, and he found a young struggling stage actor named V. C. Ganesan! The voice-lender received a princely sum of five hundred rupees!

Even in ``Parasakthi'' some had doubts if he were the right choice. Indeed shooting was stopped for some time and better actors were considered to replace the new man. But the main man of the project, P. A. Perumal (known as PAP among his pals), stood firmly like a mighty rock refusing to replace his first choice. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. No wonder Sivaji Ganesan revered P. A. Perumal as his God on earth.

When ``Parasakthi'' was undergoing its birth pangs, another film, ``Poonkothai'' faced similar problems. Indeed in this film Sivaji Ganesan played the supporting role (known as second hero in the local filmland lingo) with the Telugu film star, A. Nageswara Rao as hero. Interestingly in the initial ads promoting the film his name appeared as V. C. Ganesan and not as Sivaji Ganesan!

Stardom did not come to him on a silver platter even after ``Parasakthi'' as many are inclined to think today. In the early 1950s he had to struggle, for some of his films did not fare well at the box-office. ``Andha Naal''(1954) the first song-dance less Tamil film, in which he played the then not so popular anti-hero, won him high praise but the film did not do well money-wise. Very few are aware that Sivaji Ganesan was the third actor to play the role. The film was begun with S. V. Sahasranamam cast in the lead role and as he was thought to be rather old he was replaced by that fine actor, Calcutta N. Viswanathan who was then knocking on the doors of Tamil cinema with no success. (Later he did act in Tamil films and played many character roles brilliantly.) For some reason he too was removed, and entered Sivaji Ganesan with bells on.

Who inspired Sivaji Ganesan as his role model in his career? While he created his roles with his own genius and observation of real life persons, he did draw inspiration from that actor's actor and the brilliant Hollywood superstar, Spencer Tracy. Observant visitors to his Shanthi theatre on Anna Salai, in Chennai, would have noticed above the entrance to the balcony class a photo showing him and Spencer Tracy. It was taken in Hollywood, when he visited it in the early 1960s. (During a chat some years ago, he told this writer about his adoration for Spencer Tracy. ``I took ideas from his style of walking to form my own style!'' he said.)

Did Sivaji Ganesan overact as remarked by many? The answer is yes and no! His background was Tamil theatre. In theatre one has to be loud - gestures, voice, emotions, and all. Consequently he could not escape such legacy. The other telling reason is the Tamil cinema of that day - its producers, directors and writers. They took advantage of his incredible memory, talent and skill to speak reams of jaw-breaking alliterative, high-flown Tamil dialogue in a single take of the shot. And they found gold in it! In every other film of his they introduced historical and other plays, or scenes specially written for him. It was a kind of exploitation! Ashoka the Great, Akbar, Othello (both in Tamil and English! ) Cheran Senguttuvan.. and many more, he did them all. Sivaji Ganesan, the great actor may be gone but his films shall live forever.

As somebody remarked a movie actor never dies for he shall always live in his movies. So will Sivaji Ganesan.

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