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Sunday, July 22, 2001

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He strode Kollywood like a colossus

By K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI, JULY 21 `Nadigar Thilagam', as Mr. `Sivaji' Ganesan was called, was a doyen of film personalities in the country. Born V.C. Ganesan, he earned the prefix of `Sivaji' because of his depiction of the Maratha icon, Chhatrapati Sivaji.

After reaching the pinnacle of the Tamil films, Mr. Ganesan spread his wings to stride the entire south Indian industry like a colossus, making an appearance or two in Hindi films as well.

Known for his fiery dialogue delivery, penetrating character presentation and the ease with which he could switch over from a historic character to a tragic hero or even a romantic one, Mr. Ganesan will be remembered for his histrionics, breadth of expression and versatality.

Born on October 1, 1928 in a poor family, he ran away from home at a tender age to join a drama troupe. After spending his early years on the Tamil stage, Mr. Ganesan's long and distinguished film career was punctuated by patriotic roles - that of `Veerapandiya Kattabomman' stood out - which seemed tailor-made for him. It fetched him the best actor award at the Afro-Asian Film Festival in 1960. The role even won him the admiration of the Egyptian leader, Nasser.

He was equally at home in mythologicals, where he teamed up with the director, A.P. Nagarajan, to provide films such as `Thiruvilaiyaadal', `Kandan Karunai' and `Thiruvarutchelvar'.

In the 1950s, he donned roles espousing the Dravidian cause, packed with powerful dialogues penned by the DMK leader, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, in films such as `Manohara'. In the next few years, he teamed with some of Tamil cinema's greatest female stars such as Savithri, Ms. Padmini and Ms. Saroja Devi and backed by the directorial skills of the late Bhim Singh, to provide memorable films such as `Paasamalar', `Bhaagappirivinai', `Padiththal Mattum Podhuma' and `Navarathri'.

In the Sixties, he toyed with a variety of genres including mythology, romance, history and tragedy. This continued in the Seventies and Eighties when he paired with actresses such as Ms. Jayalalithaa, Ms. K.R. Vijaya and Ms. Vanishree.

Though they remained rivals in the film world, Mr. Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran were friends, though they acted together only in `Goondukkili'. His relations with Mr. Karunanidhi also had its highs and lows, but they moved close in the last few years.

One remarkable feature of his films was the lack of overt obscenity. Personally abhorring obscenity in films, the actor repeatedly said his films should be ``family entertainers''. In the Seventies and Eighties, in his interaction with the media on the question of ``over-acting'', he would ask reporters if there was any defined limit to playing a character.

One of his early films had a song with the lyrics `Singaththin kaalgal pazhuthupattaalum seetram kuraivadhundo' (Even if a lion has an injured leg, would it lose its majesty?). These lines probably reflect the last days of the thespian.

International recognition came in the form of the French Government's Chevalier award, presented in 1994.

Unsuccessfull in politics

His foray into politics was not as successful. Unable to cash in on his popularity, he moved from the Dravidian ideology to the nationalist stream, inspired by the late Kamaraj. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1982. In 1984, he resigned from the Congress, but changed his decision at Rajiv Gandhi's intervention.

Four years later, he left the party to form the Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani. After a drubbing in the 1989 election, when he tied up with the Janaki Ramchandran faction of the AIADMK, the TMM merged with the Janata Dal. In 1993, he resigned the primary membership of the party.

Mr. Ganesan's final role was in the movie `Mannavaru Chinnavaru'. Sadly, he could not play his dream role as `EVR Periyar'.

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