Frankly, when Y Gee Mahendra insisted I join a group of diehard admirers of Sivaji Ganesan at Shanthi Theatre, Chennai, to watch A. P. Nagarajan’s 1967 classic, ‘Thiruvarutchelvar,’ I wasn’t quite prepared for the adoration that the actor commands till date. His every nuance on screen was greeted with joy. But, it wasn’t a packed hall! “The crowd is less today because Chennai Super Kings are on the cricket field now,” said B. V. Murali, whose Archana Films has released ‘Thiruvarutchelvar.’ All the same, it was obvious that Ganesan’s staying power has shown no signs of let-up, and probably never will!
“Even today a Sivaji film draws full house on Sundays, and during the week the strength averages 200. Generally, on weekdays a new film has only around 100 viewers for a show. But Sivaji is still very viable,” contends Murali. He is planning re-runs of ‘Gauravam,’ ‘Engal Thanga Raja’ and ‘Mannavan Vandhaanadi,’ in the weeks to come. “It’s more than mere business for me. I’m a hardcore fan of the actor,” he smiles.
Murali was once secretary of the Central Madras Sivaji Rasikar Mandram. “His fans are spread out all over the world. M.L. Khan, the present secretary of the All India Sivaji Mandram, has been helping me out with the promotion of ‘Thiruvarutchelvar,’” he says. The film will soon be screened in theatres in other areas of the city.
Though publicity for the film was minimal, on Sunday last, ardent followers of Sivaji, from Kadalur, Tiruvannamalai and Puducherry travelled all the way to Chennai, to watch their hero on the big screen. “The house was almost full. They had engaged mini vans to ply them to Chennai for the purpose,” he smiles.
Recalls Murali: “We would often go over to his house to meet him. He would tell us, ‘Acting is my job. But just following actors shouldn’t be yours. You have a duty towards your parents. Don’t fritter away time, it’s precious. I’ll be very happy if you all come up in life.’ Great man!”
Sekkizhar is seated in the king’s court. His literary work on the Nayanmars is to be inaugurated. Beads of sweat reveal his anxiety. “Reading out the manuscript to such an august gathering makes me tense,” he confesses self-consciously. Sivaji in the role (among several others in the film) bowls over the audience with his underplayed portrayal in the sequence. “This is how you portray fear, this is what you call acting,” cheered Mahendra. The audience’s applause seconded it.
“And note director A. P. Nagarajan’s service to Tamil with a spate of films. Sad that the doyen has gone unsung,” he adds.
You are bound to find V. Raghavendar at all venues where events for Ganesan are organised. “My devotion to Sivaji is as deep as YGM’s,” he laughs. This former employee of the University of Madras created a website for his favourite actor in 2007 -- nadigarthilakam.com offers authentic info and updates about Ganesan’s repertoire. “It attracts 20 to 30 hits a day, and 23000 fans have visited the site so far.”
“I had no knowledge of computers but when I saw sites carrying incorrect details about Sivaji, I decided to redress matters. Sheer love for him goaded me on to become a computer literate and set up a site, without a tutor to guide me,” he says. Raghavendar designed the banner for ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’ that was placed at Shanthi this week.
Not a day passes without a Ganesan film being telecast on one or the other of the satellite channels. With such a fare available at the click of a button, can theatre releases woo people? “A year ago, his ‘Pudhiya Paravai’ was released and went on to do brisk business. Watching Sivaji hits on the big screen is a worthy experience. The response makes it clear that many feel so,” says Murali.
Has he watched all of Sivaji’s films? “He’s worked in 298 films totally. ‘Pooparikka Varugirom’ was the last. Most of us have watched nearly all of them, but we are still hunting for the five we missed out -- ‘Thembudu Kodukku’ in Telugu and ‘Mudhal Thaedhi,’ ‘Thuli Vesham,’ ‘Kangal’ and Manidhanum Mirugamum’ in Tamil. Among these ‘Mudhal Thaedhi’ with Anjali Devi had him playing a middle-aged father even at the beginning of his career,” Murali goes on.
July 21 will signify the 10 years of void that the remarkable actor’s death created. Murali plans to bring ‘Gauravam’ back to the theatres then. “His fans will lap it up,” he says.
They do it every time, don’t they?