Viluppuram Chinnaiahpillai "Sivaji" Ganesan (Tamil: சிவாஜி கணேசன்) (October 1, 1928 - July 21, 2001) was an Indian film actor and one of the first method actors in India, active during the latter half of the 20th century. His fame came from his versatility and expressive prowess in Tamil cinema.
He was the first South Indian film actor who won a best actor award in an international film festival, the Afro-Asian Film Festival held in Cairo, Egypt during 1959. Sivaji's legacy of acting is still admired today, also being an influence to many other Indian film actors. Many contemporary actors in South India have confirmed that their acting styles were influenced by Ganesan.
Debut as a lead artist
Apart from his immense success and reception in Tamil cinema, he has also acted in Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, and Kannada-language films. Ganesan's first film was the Tamil film Parasakthi in 1952, co-starring actress Pandari Bai. The script for the film was written and directed by the now-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi. He took his stage name from Emperor Shivaji, one of the roles he had once enacted.
Donning versatile roles
In most of Ganesan's films, he played multiple roles, commercial roles, and roles of a Hindu deity specially the Lord Shiva role. The portryal of Lord shiva in the movie Thiruvilayaadal won him lot of accolades in and around the film industry. In the film Navarathiri (1964), Ganesan donned nine different roles that represented the nine emotional states of a person.
Hindi actor, Sanjeev Kumar, was inspired by this film and reprised the nine roles in Naya Din Nayi Raat in 1974. Ganesan could strike a balance between commercial cinema,Mythological cinema and experimental cinema. Sivaji was always unique when compared to other actors in India during his generation.
Expert analyst from cinema admitted the three best versatile actors from India at that time were Shivaji, Dr.Rajkumar and N. T. Rama Rao. He experimented in films like Thiruvilayaadal, Thiruvarutselvar, Thirumal Perumai, Karnan, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Thillana Mohanaambal and Raja Rishi. His role in the film Veerapaandiya Kattabomman made him the first South Indian actor recognized outside India in the Afro-Asian film Festival at Egypt. He was also applauded for his acting in the film Aalyamani which was remade later by N. T. Rama Rao.
Appealing to the masses
Sheer variety of Ganesan's roles gave him much acclaim and honour. He co-starred with his counterpart, M. G. Ramachandran in one film, which was Koondukkili. He has worked with many of the leading actresses of his time, including Savithri, Padmini, B. Sarojadevi, K. R. Vijaya and J. Jayalalitha. He also co-starred with other lead actors such as Gemini Ganesan, Muthuraman, M. R. Radha, and many more.
Though he accumulated awards throughout the '50s and '60s, it was in 1972 that Ganesan delivered his first all-time blockbuster Vasantha Maaligai. In 1979, he delivered his second and final all-time blockbuster Thirisoolam, adapted from the Kannada film Shankar Guru in which Dr Rajkumar had played the lead role. After this, Sivaji Ganesan began acting in supporting roles.Due to his popularity and his rival MGR's success in politics Shivaji entered politics and had to face big setback as he lost consecutive elections. But due to his proximity with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi he was made the member of rajya sabha in 1983. Indira Gandhi's death in 1984 also brought Sivaji's political career to an end.
In the 1990s, as Ganesan was aging, he co-starred with several other actors. His notable films supporting roles were Veerapaandiyan, Jalli Kattu, Pudhiya Vaanam, Thevar Magan, Pasumpon and En Aasai Raasaave. His last film before his death was Padayappa in 1999 which was also a blockbuster.
Apart from his numerous roles as a single star on screen, Ganesan has acted in supporting roles with many leading actors from different eras. Ganesan has co-starred with M. G. Ramachandran, M. N. Nambiar, Gemini Ganesan, Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Prabhu Ganesan, Sathyaraj, Vijayakanth, Mohanlal, Ramarajan, Y. G. Mahendran, Sivakumar, K. Bhagyaraj, Karthik Muthuraman, Arjun Sarja, Joseph Vijay and Abbas. He has also worked with a vast amount of directors and producers. His legacy continues to be remembered today and is looked upon by many leading film actors.
Suffering from respiratory problems, Ganesan was admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai on July 21, 2001. He also had been suffering from a prolonged heart ailment for about 10 years. He died at 7:45pm (IST) on July 21, 2001 at the age of 73. A documentary, Parasakthi Muthal Padayappa Varai was made to commemorate Sivaji Ganesan's legacy. His funeral was attended by thousands of viewers, polititians and personalities from the South Indian film fraternity.
A statue was erected in Chennai, Tamil Nadu to honour the actor in 2006. It was unveiled by the Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.
The former South Indian Film Artistes' Association president Vijayakanth declared that October 1, the birth day of Ganesan, would be observed as Actors' Day in the Chennai film industry.
Sivaji Ganesan has remained as the most popular Tamil actor with the most of number of fans. This fact has been confirmed by many independent surveys conducted.
The popular Tamil magazine Kumudam conducted a survey in 1990. Sivaji Ganesan was voted as the most popular actor with (35%) votes followed by M. G. Ramachandran (30%), Rajinikanth (20%) and Kamal Haasan (15%). Though the survey was conducted in 1990, when Sivaji Ganesan had almost retired from acting and Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan were rising stars in Tamil cinema.
Popularity in the US
During a visit to the U.S. in June 1995, Sivaji Ganesan found himself in Columbus, Ohio. Mayor Greg Lashutka named him honorary citizen of Columbus at a special dinner.
In 1962, Ganesan toured the U.S., where he was given the honour of being the mayor of Niagara City for one day. He along with the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were the only two Indians to be honoured this way.
When actor Marlon Brando visited India, he was shown film footage of Sivaji Ganesan. From then on Brando admired Sivaji Ganesan for his acting style. He also stated that "Sivaji Ganesan may act like me but I cannot act like Sivaji Ganesan."
Legion of Honour
Sivaji Ganesan's most prestigious award was the 'Chevalier' in 1995, awarded by the National Order of the Legion of Honour in France. This is one of the main decorations of the French Republic which is conferred to honour the most original and talented personalities, for their remarkable contributions in the field of Arts and Literature in France and all over the world.
On April 22, 1995, at a ceremony held at the MAC Stadium, Chennai, Sivaji Ganesan was presented the Chevalier title and medallion by the French Ambassador to India, Philip Petit. J. Jayalalitha, the entire Tamil film industry and representatives of all other Indian regional film industries were present at the ceremony.