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Incredible charisma on screen

The passing away of Sivaji Ganesan on July 21, 2001, will remain a dark hour in the history of Tamil cinema. A year has gone by, but the immense talent of the actor will be remembered and revered forever, writes A. V. ASHOK.

Sivaji Ganesan... a complete artiste in every sense.

SIVAJI GANESAN raised an amazing body of work from "Parasakthi" (1952) to "Thanga Padakkam" (1974) that is unequalled in the history of Indian cinema. He was the most gifted actor of our times and a complete artiste in whom voice, diction, looks, face, expression, posture, gesture and presence miraculously combined to create a histrionic charisma of haunting intensity and awesome dignity.

Endowed with a sterling voice that he magically modulated, Sivaji excelled in histrionics of aural splendour that beautifully brought to the fore the glory of the Tamil language.

It is no exaggeration to say that Sivaji's heroic outpouring as Veerapandiya Kattabomman is an integral part of the Tamil cultural psyche. Alongside his enchanting voice, Sivaji was gifted with a malleable face that so naturally accepted any type of moustache and hairstyle and that inflected an infinite range of expressions from royal majesty to rustic simplicity.

Superadded to voice and face was Sivaji's singular gift of mesmerising bodily postures and gestures that he aesthetically used with inventive embellishment in his art of characterisation.

All the intensity, wonder, and dignity of Sivaji's histrionics were in place even in his very first film and in that poignant courtroom "still" deeply etched in the Tamil imagination.

Sivaji scaled a new and brilliant standard of histrionics in the 1960s in a captivating series of films of family melodrama directed by Bhimsingh: "Bagappirivinai", "Padikatha Medhai", "Paava Manippu", "Paasamalar", "Palum Pazhamum", "Paarthal Pasitheerum", "Padithaal Mattum Podhumaa", "Paar Magale Paar" and "Pachai Villaku". Whether it was a patriot like V. O. Chidambaram Pillai or a mythological character like Karnan or a saint like Appar or a monarch like Raja Raja Chozhan or an aristocrat or a middle class householder or a village idiot or even the Lord himself, Sivaji composed manifold portraits of attractive form and soulful depth.

The veteran had a flair for comedy too... with `Thengai' Srinivasan and Nagesh in "Anjal Petti 520".

The simpleton Rangan with a heart of gold in "Padikatha Medhai," the struggling, sacrificing gentleman Raghu in "Nenjirukkum Varai," Lord Siva rescuing the poverty-stricken poet Dharmi with resplendence and rage in "Thiruvilaiyadal," the love-struck brilliant nadhaswaram vidwan Sikkil Shanmugasundaram in "Thillana Mohanambal," the disfigured and disowned son Kannan in "Deiva Magan", Prestige Padmanabhan, the good-hearted Brahmin factory manager heart-broken by family tragedy in "Vietnam Veedu," Saapaturaman, the epileptic village bumpkin in "Raman Ethanai Ramanadi," Rajnikanth, the glamorous and hypersensitive Brahmin barrister stuffed with self-importance in "Gauravam," the long-suffering village elder refreshed by a breeze of love in middle age in "Mudhal Mariyadhai" and the hired suave "foreign"-father in "Once More" are among Sivaji's many unforgettable roles.

It is not so much the staggering range of Sivaji's roles that inspires awe but far more importantly that Sivaji crafted his infinite roles from the inside with uncanny understanding. All the memorable roles of Sivaji are manifestations of one sovereign role: that of a custodian of culture.

With lip-sync of stunning perfection, Sivaji revealed an unattainable dimension of his own, in rendering songs. T. M. Soundararajan's resonant voice and Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy's lilting music also made Sivaji's songs a perennial delight.

Sivaji enacted philosophical songs with gripping seriousness and love songs with vivacious joy. His songs sung as a husband in the company of the wife while musing over an hour of sorrow in the family are deeply moving images of conjugal spirituality. Sivaji was much more than an actor. For an entire generation, he was synonymous with "excellence". Sivaji is the only Indian actor who leaves us awestruck by the stupendous scale of his achievement and makes us curious about the source of his genius.

(The writer is a professor, School of Critical Humanities, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad.)

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