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Chip off the old block

A memorial is being planned for the legendary Sivaji Ganesan on land donated by the Government. Son and actor Prabhu takes a trip down memory lane, remembering the thespian as an actor and as a father...

PRABHU IS on cloud nine these days. The State Government recently honoured his father, the legendary Sivaji Ganesan. The Tamil Nadu Government has sanctioned land opposite the Satya Studio in Adyar to build a memorial for a man whom the industry refers to as an actor's actor.

Prabhu, one of the most liked actors in the industry, remembers his father who passed away a year ago. He talks about his father's love for cinema and how his family and the Nadigar Sangam plan to propagate the memory of the great actor. Excerpts...

A year after your father's death, the 75th diamond jubilee birthday was celebrated.

Appa always believed that the show must go on. So a Sivaji-Prabhu charity trust has been set up. A galaxy of stars attended the inaugural function where we presented a purse of Rs. 50,000 each to Mrs. P.A.Perumal, wife of the late producer who launched my father as an actor in "Parasakthi" and Mr. V.K.Ramaswamy, a fine actor who was my father's senior and a good friend. Every year, `The Sivaji Ganesan Memorial Award' will be given away to two people from the film industry. We would like to honour the unsung people who may be a star or a technician.

You had commissioned T.S.Narayanaswamy to write an biography of Sivaji Ganesan?

The biography in Tamil "Enu Suai Saritai" will be translated into English by Narayanaswamy himself. It is an authentic work that portrays the life and times of Sivaji Ganesan. It is already a bestseller. My father spent more than 200 hours, for months with Narayanaswamy and spoke in depth about various issues. Appa never went to school but he was a great educationist. On top of our house "Annai Illam", there is a statue of a boy reading a book.

The icing on the cake was Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's gesture of donating government land for the Sivaji Ganesan memorial.

Yes, it was a magnanimous gesture by the Chief Minister to gift 11 grounds of prime land to the Nadigar Sangam to build the memorial in the name of my father. The Nadigar Sangam is planning to build a fitting memorial for the legend. I must also thank the Nadigar Sangam chief Vijaykanth and actor Sarath Kumar and others who are going out of their way to pay a fine tribute to Sivaji Ganesan.

What are your plans for the memorial?

We would like to build the finest memorial for a great actor. We are thinking of having a `Sound and Light show' plus a display of Sivaji memorabilia.

How would you define Sivaji Ganesan, the actor?

Sivaji Ganesan was an institution by himself, a university of acting. Appa used to tell his critics who said that he `overacted', to consult the Lord's dictionary that defines acting as an "exaggerated expression"! He used to say that after all he was a stage actor who worked without mikes. And at times when he shouted for the last benches, his expressions might have looked like over acting. Even today whenever his films are telecast on television, people call me up and say that they enjoyed his style of acting.

There are actors like Kamalhassan, who consider him as a role model.

Like my father, Kamal Hassan is an actor who has taken the risky path of doing offbeat or challenging roles. And he makes no bones about it when he says that his biggest inspiration is Sivaji sir. As a son and an actor, I consider Appa as one of the greatest actors that India has ever produced. I am sure that no Indian would disagree with me on that. (smiles).

The critics and writers say that Tamil cinema is all about glamour and superstardom.

They are not off the mark, as right from my `periyappa' MGR's days it has been glamour and fan clubs, which ruled. But Sivaji Ganesan was able to get recognition as an actor.

Have you ever tried to analyse why an actor like Sivaji Ganesan could never make it to politics?

Politics was never his cup of tea.

He lacked strong and able advisors. Shanmugham, Appa's youngest brother, was his constant companion and advisor who took care of his film career.

But after his death in 1984, Appa was heartbroken and desolate. It was around this time that he jumped into politics and I think he lacked proper political advisors. He was a good actor only in front of the camera.

As a son, how would you like to remember your father?

We all look upon him as a role model and he always made us aware of the joint family system. Even today all of us including Appa's brother's children and grandchildren stay together. My elder brother Ram Kumar sits at the head of the table and runs the family very efficiently.

And the best compliment that I received from Appa was "Prabhu is good stuff, if directed well" in his biography.

How do you assess yourself as an actor and what's happening on your career front?

My career is not too good or too bad at the moment. I am not in the superstar race. Still I would like my films to sell better. Right now I am doing a comedy titled "Yes Madam".


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