Sivaji Ganesan needs no introduction. The innumerable characters he made memorable on screen gave him a permanent place in the hearts of millions of movie-goers, and he still lives there, 20 years after he passed away on July 21, 2001, at the age of 73.
On Friday, October 1, to celebrate his 93rd birth anniversary, the legendary actor, who was also a recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the country’s highest award for cinema, has been honored by Google with a Google Doodle.
Doodle, illustrated by Bangalore, India-based guest artist Noopur Rajesh Choksi, celebrated the 93rd birthday of Sivaji Ganesan, one of India’s first method actors and widely considered among the nation’s most influential actors of all time.
On this day in 1928, Sivaji Ganesan was born as Ganesamoorthy in Villupuram, a town in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, India. At a young age of 7, he left home and joined a theater group, where he started playing child and female roles then lead roles. In December 1945, Ganesan made a name for himself–literally–with his theatrical portrayal of 17th-century Indian King Shivaji. This regal stage name stuck and Ganesan carried the crown as “Sivaji” as he conquered the world of acting.
He made his on-screen debut in the 1952 film “Parasakthi,” the first of his over 300 films spanning a nearly five-decade cinematic career. Renowned for his expressive voice and diverse performances in Tamil-language cinema, Ganesan quickly ascended to international fame. His best-known blockbusters include the trendsetting 1961 film “Pasamalar,” an emotional, family story considered one of Tamil cinema’s crowning achievements, and the 1964 film “Navarthri,” Ganesan’s 100th film in which he portrayed a record-breaking, nine different roles.
Ganesan’s big break in acting came when he was portraying the Maratha King, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, in the play ‘Sivaji Kanda Samrajyam’, written and directed by the late former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and doyen of Dravidian politics, C.N. Annadurai.
The name Sivaji became iconic and Ganesan retained the name throughout his extraordinarily brilliant acting carrier. The big break for the legendary actor came with the Tamil film, ‘Parasakthi’, directed by Krisnan-Panju and written by M. Karunanidhi, DMK leader and late former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Critics have listed several movies as his best, but Sivaji Ganesan himself rated his performance as V.O. Chidambaram in and as ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan’ as his most memorable one.
Sivaji Ganesan was remembered for his extraordinary flair for dialogue delivery. He pioneered an exquisite style, diction, tone and tenor. His style of dialogue delivery helped him play such mythological and historical characters as Lord Shiva in (‘Thiruvilaiyaadal’), the great Chola emperor in and as ‘Raja Raja Cholan’, the Vaishnavite saint (and one of the 12 Alvars revered in southern India), Periyalvar, in ‘Thirumal Perumal’, and the seventh-century Shaivite saint Appar in ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’.
The legend was addressed as ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ (literally translated as ‘the pride of actors’) for his all-around acting performance, but ironically, Sivaji did not receive any National Award, except for a Special Jury Mention for a cameo appearance in the Kamal Haasan-starrer ‘Thevar Magan’ released in 1992. Predictably, the legend rejected the award.
Sivaji Ganesan was unsuccessful in politics, unlike his compatriot M.G. Ramachandran, fondly referred to as MGR, who became Chief Minister and one of the most popular leaders of the state. The legend was engaged in politics as a Dravida Kazhagam activist and later as a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), but he crossed over to the Congress in the late 1950s.
He joined hands with the Congress (O) led by another Tamil leader K. Kamaraj, after the Congress split in 1969 and later aligned himself with Indira Gandhi after the passing away of Kamaraj. Eventually, Sivaji Ganesan left the Congress and floated his own ‘Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani in 1989, but had to face a crushing defeat at the electoral hustings.
In 1960, Ganesan made history as the first Indian performer to win Best Actor at an international film festival for his historical movie “Veerapandiya Kattabomman,” one of his biggest blockbusters with people remembering the dialogues from the movie even today. Other distinguished accolades came near the end of his career. In 1995, France awarded him its highest decoration, Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
The Indian government in 1997 honored him with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award which is India’s highest award in the field of cinema. Today, his legacy is carried on for international audiences through the performances of the many contemporary Indian acting greats who cite Ganesan as a major inspiration. Lights, camera, happy birthday, Sivaji Ganesan!