Oct 01, 1928 in Villuppuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Oct 01, 1928 in Villuppuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Villupuram Chinnaiah Ganesan popularly known as Sivaji Ganesan was one of the legends of Tamil cinema and theatre. In a five decade long career, he acted in hundreds of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi films. In 1997, he was honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award – the highest award for films in India.
Born on 1st October, 1928, in Sirkali in Tamil Nadu, Sivaji dropped out of school at a young age to join a boy’s acting troupe. He learnt all his acting as well as the dance forms of Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Manipuri from Chinna Ponnusamy Padayatchi, who was the mentor of that troupe.
Personal Life Sivaji was the second oldest son of his parents. He married Kamala in 1952 and they have four children from their marriage - Prabhu, Ramkumar, Shanthi and Thenmozhi. While the younger son Prabhu is a noted actor in Tamil cinema, Ramkumar runs the production house Sivaji Productions started by Sivaji. Three of his grandsons – Dushyanth Ramkumar, Shivaji Dev and Vikram Prabhu – have also acted in the Tamil film industry.
Sivaji passed away on 21st July, 2001 after suffering from respiratory problems and prolonged heart ailment at the age of 72 years.
Sivaji made his acting debut in the 1952 Tamil film Parasakthi directed by Krishnan – Panju and co-starring Pandari Bai. He steadily rose to become one of the most popular actors in the 1950s due to his trademark dialogue delivery.
Andha Naal (1954) had him playing an anti-hero. The first film noir in Tamil cinema, Sivaji played the role of a radio engineer in the film. Written by Javar Seetharaman and directed by Sundaram Balachander, the film was about finding the murderer of Rajan. Each of the suspect’s interrogation leads to a new suspect. The film was lauded for experimenting thematically and also for Sivaji’s performance. He then played the titular role in the 1956 flick Tenali Raman which was adapted from a play by the same name. It is based on the life of the Telugu poet Tenali Ramakrishna and the ruler Krishnadevaraya of the Vijaynagar Empire. The film won Sivaji a lot of praise and lead to him playing a number of historical characters on screen.
Veerapaandiya Kattabomman (1959) is probably his best known work. The film directed by B. R. Panthulu is loosely based on the 18th Century South Indian chieftain of the same name. He was a brave warrior who fought the British and was later hanged in the year 1799. The film brought Sivaji name and fame not only in India but also internationally. Not only did Sivaji Ganesan win the award for Best Actor at the Afro Asian Film Festival in Cairo, the movie also bagged the Best Film award there. The exchange of the chieftain with the Lord Jackson is widely considered as one of the most famous scenes in the history of Tamil cinema.
Sivaji Ganesan’s role in Pasamalar (1961) is one of his most loved. He plays a loving brother to his younger sister in the film. Despite rifts between the two, Sivaji who plays Rajasekar loves his sister equally till his last breath. The film was a massive commercial success and ran for months in the theatres. It is held as a classic tale of brother-sister love. The film written by A. Bhimsingh and Arrur Dass was based on a story by K.P. Kottarakara. A. Bhimsingh had also directed the film.
Sivaji played nine different roles portraying nine different emotional stages of a person in the film Navarathiri (1964). It inspiredSanjeev Kumar to make Naya Din Nayee Raat (1974) and Akkineni Nageswara Rao to make Navarathri (1966). The film Karnan (1964) began a series of mythological characters for which Sivaji received great popularity. As the name suggest, the film is about the mythological character Karna who Kunti delivered as a blessing from the Sun god. Sivaji playing the titular role of Karna received lot of accolades. The film also was mighty successful commercially. This was followed by Thiruvilayaadal (1965) which narrated four stories of Lord Shiva appearing in various disguises to test his devotees. Sivaji played Siva in the film and again won the hearts of the people. This film by written, directed and produced by A. P. Nagarajan received unprecedented success at the box office. Thiruvilayaadal is widely held as a trend setter for devotional films in Tamil cinema. Other mythological films like Saraswati Sabatham (1966), Thiruvarutselvar (1967), Harichandran (1968), Thirumal Perumai (1968) and Thillana Mohanambal (1968) went a long way in making Sivaji an iconic actor of Tamil cinema.
Apart from the epical characters he even played freedom fighters like Kappalottiya Thamizhan, Vanchinathan, Tiruppur Kumaran and Bhagat Singh in his films. Sivaji was also adept at subtle acting apparent in films like Motor Sundaram Pillai (1966) and Uyarndha Manidhan (1968).
Galata Kalyanam (1968) gave everyone the glimpse of Sivaji’s flair for comedy. Adapted from a stage play by the same name, the film was written by Chitralaya Gopu and written by C.V. Rajendran. It was a romantic comedy in which Sivaji played Madan who is given permission to marry Lalitha (Jayalalitha) only on the condition that he finds grooms for all her sisters. The film was well received by the critics and masses alike.
In the 1970s, he won a couple of Filmfare Awards for Best Actor for Gnana Oli (1972) and Gauravam (1973). While Gnana Oli had him playing Tony a village orphan who has to face multiple tragedies in his life, despite marrying the woman he loved and having a lovely child, Guaravam had him playing the dual role of a prideful lawyer (Rajnikanth) and his humble nephew (Kannan). Rajnikanth’s ego makes the till then undefeated lawyer suffer a setback in the hands of his nephew. Sivaji also won a Filmfare Award for his performance in the film Muthal Mariyathai (1985) directed by the renowned director Bharathiraja. In the film he played the role of a village head who is unhappy with his married life and seeks solace in a friendship with a young daughter of a boatman. Their relationship raises eyebrows among the village folk.
Puthiya Vaanam (1988) is one of Sivaji’s popular film from the latter part of his career. He played a supporting role of D.I.G. Pandiraj in the film. The lead role of a police officer brought up by Pandiraj was played by Sathyaraj. He is posted in Shanthinagar which is a city controlled by Govindan who had killed Sathyaraj’s father.
It was Thevar Magan (1992) that finally won Sivaji a Special Mention at the National Award. The multi-starrer directed by Bharathan had Kamal Haasan, Nassar, Revathy, Gouthami and Vadivelu in the lead role, apart from Sivaji. Loosely inspired from the classic Godfather (1972), the film was about the return of an heir of from abroad, causing fissures in the family. Sivaji played the role of the patriarch Periya Thavar in the film. Thevar Magan is considered by many as a classic of Tamil cinema which ran for a very long time in the theatres as well.
Padyappa (1999) was the last film he worked as an actor. Sivaji again plays a village chieftain but has a shorter role. He plays the lead character Padyappa’s father. The film written and directed byK.S. Ravikumar was a massive success at the box office. It had Rajinikanth playing the lead role and Ramya Krishnan as his love interest.