Sivaji Ganesan: The Nationalist Antidote in Dravidian Land Lala


‘Knight’ ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan was one of a kind. He got the title of ‘Sivaji’ after trying out the role of Chathrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Indian Maratha ruler during a stage performance. For a person who left home to become a theater artist, the cinematic journey has been truly long and illustrious. He was a man who overcame many obstacles on his way. He would go on to achieve prodigious success in Tamil cinema. He would also go on to influence Tamil politics.

Early days

Sivaji Ganesan was born as V. Chinniah Mandrayar Ganeshamurthy at Soorakottai in Orathanadu in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Although he started his career as a theater artist, it was Tamil cinema that made him a household name.

Although he tried many roles, it was his solid theatrical background that made his film performances very special. His landmark films were ‘Parasakti‘ in 1952, ‘Andha Naal‘ in 1954, ‘Uthama Puthiran‘ in 1958, ‘Veerapandiya Kattabomman‘ in 1959, ‘Thiruvilayadal‘ in 1965, ‘Thillana Mohanambal‘ in 1968, ‘Deiva Magan’ in 1969 etc.

He often donned female roles in his theater years. Strangely, this very experience made his walking style very special. Generations of spectators were to be captivated by his walking style. He was a versatile actor, who tried out a variety of roles. He made his acting debut in the film, Parasakti, in 1952. The story is truly impressive in the way it depicts the interplay between India’s history during the World War II period and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. Sivaji became the propaganda vehicle of DMK leader Karunanidhi in Parasakthi.

The actor who was key in instilling nationalism among the Tamil masses

Sivaji’s films extolled the virtues of honesty and bravery. For an ordinary Tamil, it is Sivaji’s majestic allure that appears when one hears the name “Veerapandiya Kattaboman”.

He also brought Raja Raja Cholan and VO Chidambaram Pillai of “Kappalottiya Thamizhan” to life with effortless ease.

The memorable dialogues between the character sculptor and the character of Raja Raja Chola portrayed by Sivaji Ganesan is an excellent depiction of the greatness of King Raja Raja Chola, the king who worked for the welfare of his people. The film immortalizes the great cultural and historical significance of the Chola reign.

Sivaji Ganesan tried out for the lead role in the film, Bharatha Vilas, which emphasized national integration and brotherhood. The song ‘Indhiya Naadu’ (from ‘Bharatha Vilas) had lyrics that emphasized Bharatiya nationalism and brotherly bonds.

Sivaji was born to take on the role of kings

Sivaji Ganesan’s complete and true-to-life portrayal of larger-than-life characters like in ‘Karnan’ and Veerapandiya Kattaboman’ is very memorable. So Sivaji was able to play both mythological characters like Lord Shiva and Karna as well as historical characters like Veerapandiya Kottabomman very well. He brought his characters to life. Ganesan had the ability to make people smile, cry, feel angry and was therefore able to create a variety of many other types of emotions.

The Hindu antidote to atheistic Dravidian propaganda

He tried the main role in many religious films. In Thiruvilayadal, Ganesan acts with great power and force. The character of Lord Shiva was portrayed with great elegance by Ganesan. He also starred in other landmark movies like “Kandhan Karunai”. Her character of ‘Veera Bahu’ in the movie is quite amazing.

His rendition of Karnan always brings tears to tears whenever the song “Ullathil Nalla Ullam” is heard.

The embodiment of acting

He has been called ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ which means ‘the embodiment of acting’. He won France’s top honour, the Chevalier award in 1995. He won Indian cinema’s highest accolade, when he was decorated with the Dada Saheb Phalke award in 1996. What a versatile actor, Sivaji was. He could step into the shoes of any character – from Lord Shiva in Thiruvilayadal to a factory worker and a wealthy man in Pasamalar. The most important aspect of the performance of Sivaji Ganesan, the actor is his constancy in acting performance! Whether it was ‘Parasakthi’ or ‘Veerapandiya Kattabomman’ or ‘Raja Raja Cholan’ or ‘Thiruvilayadal’ or ‘Pasamalar’ or ‘Deiva Magan’, his performances were always consistent. He has always amazed his audience with his repertoire. Sivaji Ganesan remains an unparalleled actor in Indian and world cinema.

An impassive nationalist

He refrained from joining the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and was a true nationalist. It joined the Congress (when it retained a nationalist character) and later split to form a short-lived political party called Thamizhaga Munnetra Munnani.

Ganesan eventually regretted his decision to start his own party and merged the party with Janata Dal.

So Thiru. Sivaji Ganesan portrayed patriotic and spiritual characters with perfection and passion. He was a staunch Indian, Tamil and Hindu nationalist. He believed in an all-encompassing Bharat.

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