Sivaji Ganesan was arguably one of the finest actors of Indian Cinema and among the brightest Tamil stars ever to grace the silver screen. In a career spanning four decades, the thespian acted in more than 300 films inspiring generations of artists including the likes of Kamal Hassan, Vijay Sethupathi and Vikram among others. With his vast repertoire of work, Mr Ganesan could fit into any role and often surprised the audience with his wide emotional range. Using his distinctive body language and immaculate dialogue delivery, Ganesan infused immortality in his characters.
Born as ‘Villupuram Chinnaiah Ganesan’, the doyen got his screen name ‘Sivaji’ after his portrayal of the Maratha King Sivaji in the drama ”Sivaji Kanda Samrajyam” written by DMK leader CN Annadurai. Of the 300- odd films he had acted in, around 65% were successful with most of them completing 100 days and more. Ganesan’s dedication to make every performance a memorable one, earned him the moniker of ‘Nadigar Thilagam’, the pride of actors. As we remember the veteran actor on his 20th death anniversary, let’s have a look at some of Sivaji Ganesan’s memorable performances.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1959): In this biographical war film, Ganesan brought to life the extraordinary valour of freedom fighter Kattabomman. It chronicled the story of refused to accept the sovereignty of the British East India Company and waged a war against them. Directed by BR Panthulu, the biopic proved to be a turning point in the actor’s career. Ganesan’s intensely emotional and moving portrayal of Kattabomman ensured film’s glorious run at the box office. Notably, it was the first Tamil film to be shot in technicolour and had its premiere in London. The film was a commercial success, running for over 200 days in theatres, becoming a silver jubilee hit. Such is the aura of the cult classic that when the digitally restored version was released in 2015, the film again ran to packed theatres.
Karnan (1964): In this mythological epic, Sivaji was on top of his game. With Mahabharata as the backdrop, the film chronicles the story of Kunthi’s eldest son Karna, who joined forces with the Kauravas due to his friendship with Duryodhana. Sivaji excelled in the titular role perfectly emoting the dilemma of a righteous warrior. It was a landmark film as it brought together two superstars of South Indian cinema. The ace actor’s scenes with the Telugu superstar NT Rama Rao who played Lord Krishna with the required gravitas formed the highlight of the film. The B R Panthulu directorial was a major box office success, running for over 100 days in theatres, and later won the Certificate of Merit for the Third Best Feature Film at the 11th National Film Awards. The digitally restored version of Karnan was released in March 2012 to critical and commercial acclaim.
Thiruvilayadal (1965): Yet another blockbuster that saw the great actor portraying the role of Lord Shiva, Thiruvilayadal single-handedly led to the resurgence of films with devotional and mythological themes. The film depicts Lord Shiva in various disguises working his wonders and mystifying his disciples. Ganesan shines in this role displaying the myriad facets of his histrionic prowess. It was a huge success, as nothing stopped it from raking in the moolah. It ran for over 200 days in several theatres and becoming a silver jubilee film.
Vasantha Maligai (1972): The Sivaji Ganesan-starrer was a remake of 1971 Telugu film Prema Nagar. The romantic drama follows the life of an alcoholic rich man who falls in love with an air hostess and how she transforms him. It became a milestone in box-office history, running for over 750 days in theatres. It held the record of running the highest continuous full-house showings in Madras. The film had 271 continuous full-house screenings in all the three theatres it was released, namely, Shanthi, Crown, and Bhuvaneswari. It was also successful in Sri Lanka where it ran for more than 250 days.[
Mudhal Mariyadhai(1985): It was at the fag end of his career, critics had written off Ganesan as a spent force. However, the thespian proved yet again he had more to offer. Mudhal Mariyadhai saw Sivaji Ganesan portraying the role of an obese widower who becomes an object of fascination for a young boatwoman. It explores the social tensions arising out of caste and community in Tamil society. The film opened to great reviews and ran for over 25 days in theatres, becoming a silver jubilee film.