A tribute to actor S.R. Sivakami, who passed away recently

The announcement of S.R. Sivakami’s death with a picture of her, in The Hindu recently, caught my attention. Y.Gee. Mahendra’s UAA had placed the insertion. It isn’t often that you see a drama troupe mourning the passing away of a member in this fashion. “She was more than a member. She was family,” says Mahendra. “Sivakami has played my wife, mother, grandmother and office manager on stage. And though it’s a decade since she gave up acting she has been a part of every function at UAA. She even attended the 50{+t}{+h} show of our play, ‘Venkata 3,’ on October 3!” Sivakami was 72.

The effervescent actor ably balanced theatre, films and later television, before she decided to call it a day. “Her diction and voice modulation were exceptional. On stage these matter more than facial expressions. And the best part is she could also adapt herself to films and TV where expressions are vital,” says actor ARS. The two have been paired together in quite a few UAA productions. “She was my sister in the play, ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ remembers ARS.

Sivakami had been interested in acting even from her school days. “My father wanted her to take up nursing as a career but she toed our mom’s line,” remembers her brother anaesthetist Dr. R. Thiruvengadasami. Sivakami was the eldest of three. Her other brother was an engineer. Their mom, K. Shanthi Devi, had been a stage actor along with the likes of Sivaji Ganesan and Thangavelu in the Original Boys Company. The budding actors respected their senior and hence getting into Thangavelu’s drama troupe was easy for the young Sivakami. That was way back in 1956.

A. P. Nagarajan, who watched her performance, introduced her in his film, ‘Thaayai Pol Pillai Noolai Pol Saelai.’ Beginning as a character actor in cinema she continued to work in innumerable films. “She was an excellent performer, who never got her due,” observes ARS. “But she’s worked with the best directors including A. Bhimsingh, A. C. Trilokchander and K. Balachander.”

None can forget her remarkable portrayals in films such as ‘Padikkatha Maedhai’ (the cantankerous daughter in law) ‘Thamarai Nenjam’ (the editor of a weekly) and ‘Bhadrakali’ (heroine Rani Chandra’s mom). Even as the bedridden mother of Rajesh, Sivakami made quite an impact in Bhagyaraj’s ‘Andha Ezhu Naatkal.’

Paralleling cinema was her career in theatre. She essayed prominent roles in National Theatres’ (R. S. Manohar), ‘Chanakya Sabatham,’ and ‘Lankeswaran,’ Sivaji Ganesan’s stage sojourns including ‘Vietnam Veedu,’ and Ragini Recreations’ (K. Balachander) theatre endeavours, such as ‘Edhir Neechal’ and ‘Navagraham.’ Sivakami became a part of UAA in 1968. “She opted out only because she wanted to retire -- not to join another troupe. She was with us from my father’s days,” says Mahendra. “In 1978, during our maiden trip to Singapore, we were at sea when the organisers suddenly suggested we present a dance event too. It was Sivakami who rose to the occasion. She choreographed a piece that afternoon and presented it in the evening,” he recalls.

None can forget her roles in KB’s serials either -- like when she played poet Vaali’s wife in ‘Kai Alavu Manasu.’

Sivakami stayed single till the end. “‘I don’t wish to get into family tangles and in-law scuffles,’ she would say. She had her house in Besant Nagar, Chennai, and lived there alone. We would visit each other every week. She doted on my children and was more a mother to me,” says Thiruvengadasami. Just the previous evening, the brother had met her at the bank. “So when next morning she called up to say she was very unwell, I was shocked. She had suffered a heart attack. I rushed her to the hospital, in vain …”

Independent by nature, the veteran remained so till her last breath!