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`Comedian' par excellence

With Jayalalitha in "Sumathi En Sundari".

IF YOU get a chance to watch the funny episode in the four-decade old film, "Arivali" that had Sivaji Ganesan and Bhanumati in the lead, don't fail to note the latter's reactions to her hero's pranks. The film was a take-off on Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew", with all the desi masala of the day. The arrogant wife had to be put in place and the hero nags her, only to reform her. How angry should she be? Yet in that scene, Bhanumati, a talented actress herself, can be seen suppressing her laughter and desperately trying to get her reactions right. Such was the effect of Sivaji Ganesan's comic portrayal and his rendition of the "Santhamulekha ... " song.

Today when you watch Vivek's spoof on the veteran's portrayal (in "Mudhal Mariyadhai") in the recently released "Parthiban Kanavu", you can only recollect with awe the potential of this multi-faceted actor whose face could portray an entire gamut of emotions with ease. Comedians can imitate him and stop at being just that — imitations. But here was an actor who could perform any role with élan, comedy included. So you have a whole body of films in Ganesan's repertoire, which are excellent examples of the thespian's comedy skills.

From "Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari" to "Arivali" and further down to "Galatta Kalyanam", "Sumathi En Sundari", "Ooty Varai Uravu" and ever so many films, Sivaji did many light roles. And each of his humorous characters has a different hue — only Ganesan could do it! In serious films also, the comic touches in the lighter sequences came to him ever so naturally. The roles of a Therukoothu dancer and that of a naïve villager in "Navarathri", and the spoilt, fun-loving son of a rich man in "Deiva Magan are just a few of them.

Sivaji Ganesan and Nagesh in "Galaata Kalyanam".

There are these four sisters and our hero flips for one of them. The girl's father lays just one condition — the lover has to find grooms for the other three and the four weddings have to take place at the same time. The experiences unfold in a vein that has you in splits. The hero is Ganesan and the heroine, Jayalalitha. "I am like a captain and all of you have to obey me," he tells the other husbands-to-be. The tone and expression would make even the most serious viewer break into a smile. His encounters with a thief, a woman who claims to be his wife, a baby and a stage actress are a few of the most hilarious sequences in the film. Together with Nagesh, Sivaji Ganesan made watching "Galatta Kalyanam" a memorable experience.

Those were the days when comedy was always a clean and healthy affair. And whenever he got a chance, Ganesan contributed his bit to Tamil cinema's wholesome light-hearted fare. Anyone with a sense of humour would vouch for the fact that timing in dialogue delivery is a prerequisite in comedy and by and large, our comedians have excelled in such spontaneity. But that a serious actor like Sivaji Ganesan could be equally at ease in comedy, is remarkable. "Ooty Varai Uravu", the laugh riot from Sridhar and `Chitralaya' Gopu had dialogue that you could recollect over and over again and laugh aloud every time. It had several funny scenes in which Ganesan with Balaiah, Nagesh, V. K. Ramasamy and Muthuraman revealed admirable timing sense. Sadly, these artistes are no more but their "Ooty Varai Uravu" would continue to rev up sagging spirits. And if the actor had to resort to apt body language to add to the fun, he was game for it. That's why "Sabhash Meena", one of his earliest comedy ventures, with Chandrababu to add to the melee and "Balae Pandiya" with M. R. Radha are rib ticklers even today. Ganesan's potential in this arena of expression, comes to the fore again in "Bharatha Vilas".

Comedy is serious business. Making people laugh is definitely no joke. And Sivaji Ganesan understood it as much as the greatest comedians. That's why his attempts at levity continue to live. To this moment actor Sivaji Ganesan remains ubiquitous, thanks to television. Not a day passes without one channel or the other airing his film or at least clippings from his films. Two years have passed but you still cannot believe that Sivaji Ganesan is no more.


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