Role that moved him to tears

SIVAJI GANESAN donned so many roles, his face mirroring emotions as swiftly as the mind registered them. But there must have been one character which he cherished and loved to portray.

This correspondent was fortunate to meet the thespian at his house a few days before he was hospitalised. The conversation meandered touching subjects of all sorts and inevitably arrived at cinema. Among the 300 films which was his favourite?

Pat came the answer, ``Kappalottiya Thamizhan''. ``Enacting a doctor, an engineer and others are not very difficult. But to portray a person, a revered freedom fighter, whom people had met, seen and moved with, is a different proposition. So when the late Panthulu asked me to enact the role, I first hesitated. Then I decided to meet the challenge. I got all the material on V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and studied it.

``On seeing the film, I cried, not because my performance was moving but because it hit me with new impact - the sacrifice VOC and others had made for the country. When VOC's son Subramaniam said that he saw his father come alive on the screen, I considered it the highest award.''

In fact, Sivaji Ganesan is the only hero who has enacted the maximum number of freedom-fighters - VOC, Bharati, Tirupur Kumaran, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Vanchinathan, Balagangadara Tilak and Bhagat Singh.

What did he think of cinema today?

``Everybody is doing well. I do not believe in the concept of heir. Whoever performs well will be rewarded.''

His last days were spent on watching television. He would avidly see all the films and serials. His only grievance was that nobody pronounced Tamil words correctly. ``It breaks my heart to hear them maul Tamil, in both TV programmes and films. Even my son Prabhu is not an exception. All the TV comperes must take lessons from experts. And producers must insist that they spell Tamil correctly.'' Such was his love for the language.

For Sivaji ``Navarathri'' was not about nine characters. ``It is navarasas. I tried to portray them and it came out well as it had a good story line,'' he would say modestly.

Punctuality was his hallmark. He would be there on the spot, at least 15 minutes earlier, with full make-up. He would not leave the set until the director said `Break'.

He would insist that co-artistes were present to see his expression so that they could give better reaction. He was always there to help anybody with tips on acting. The aim was that the scene and the film should be a well-made product.

Why did he not venture into direction?

``It is a big job and I am not ready for it,'' he would say. The truth is that he knew everything about each and every department of film- making - the nuances of acting, camera movement and position, script- writing. He never missed a thing in maintaining continuity. This correspondent had seen him remind the director about things he had omitted in a particular scene continued after a few months. His memory was amazing.

That brings us to his ability to memorise dialogue. He memorised the script of the play, ``Vietnam Veedu'', during the break of a film shooting. A.V.M. Saravanan, talking to this correspondent, marvelled at the way the veteran memorised the dialogue as someone read it out to him. On stage, the next day, Panchapakesa Iyer was delivering the lines complete with a perfect Brahmin accent.

He was the inspiration for hundreds of actors. But who was his role model?

There were no CDs or video cassettes to watch and learn from. English films would not come here as promptly as they do now. Sivaji relied only on his imagination.

Many of his films were remade in Hindi and the late Sanjeev Kumar who had done some of those roles once said that he would be happy if he could achieve at least five per cent of the original performance.

Sanjeev Kumar never failed to meet Sivaji when he visited Chennai. It is ironical that except singer Lata Mangeskar none from the North chose to pay their last respects or condole the death of the greatest actor India has produced.

Simple, he would listen with child-like curiosity to whatever one had to say. And then he would add his views revealing his knowledge.

The subtle sense of humour which laced the conversation made exchanges delightful. The man who loved laughter has left millions in tears.


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