Monday, December 31, 2007

Autobiography of An Actor - Sivaji Ganesan

A seven year old boy fascinated by the street play called "Kambalathaar Koothu" which has the story of Kattabomman, ran away from home to join the drama troupe , later immortalised the same character on Drama as well as on Cinema winning awards and accolades for the same "Kattabomman". Here is a story of one of the outstanding actors of Modern India , an actor most of the contemporaries envy and the subsequent actors tried to emulate.

Reading this book, brings back those nostalgic memories of my 5 years of Pondicherry life. Accompanying my ex-boss Sri Aravamudhan to those second show movies of yesteryear actors in the now extinct 'Naveena' and 'Kandan' theatres watching those Black&White movies. Watching those movies were like attending a class. He was so much informed of the stories and other background information of actors, movies, scenes etc. That was my entry into the grand world of Tamil Movies. Reading this was a similar experience. Stories, anecdotes, incidents and history all mixed and told from none other than the thespian of Tamil movies.

From a stricter sense, this is not an auto biography. It is in the form of question and answers. The biographer Sri T S Narayanaswamy asks questions to Sri Sivaji Ganesan and the replies are given. So, technically, it is more of dialogue and he justifies in one of the question as " the best way to clear an issue is through question and answer: thus this book is in such a format". The limitation of this style is that the thought process is not free flowing. It is not what Sri Sivaji Ganesan wants to tell us, it is what Sri TSN wants us to know. The direction and the control here is not with the ACTOR but he merely replies as directed by someone else. Having said that Sri TSN has done a commendable job in terms of covering all aspects of the life of the actor and controls the flow of thought and the chronological details. The acting, political and family aspect of his life was adequately covered in these discussion. Undoubtedly, hard work and research has gone into making this book.

The story starts from his childhood and with clarity sri Sivaji recollects the incidents of his birth, his father's arrest ("this child is born to send his father to jail") and the struggle of his mother to bring up the children. His fascination towards the street plays and the desire to act in plays , which leads to his running away from home at the age of 7 and joining the drama troupe. His rigorous training from the able drama artists and stalwarts in shaping up the actor in him and his gradual progress in the ranks as an established actor.

Here is the story of him adorned with the title of Sivaji in his own words.
"Sivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam" a play written by Anna , for the Dravida Kazhakams Seventh Conference in 1946, was the reason for the title "Sivaji" ... It was MGR who was originally supposed to play the lead role. MGR refused for some reason and it had fallen on Ganesan to take the lead role. E V Ramaswami Naikar ( thanthai periyar ) who after watching the electrifying performance declared " Today onwards you will be called Sivaji".

Sivaji like all other actors from the Drama / theatre experience are known for their classical style of acting. They are so self confident , their body language the movements of limbs their hand eye coordination are all exact. I consider their style as the classical style of acting and it has the influence of drama all over them. It might not be admired by the current generation ( as over-acting ) , but he definitely opened a path for the later generation to follow. By the way , according to Sivaji this is justified as he puts it " Acting is exaggeration of emotions".

To me ( who is not fromTamilnadu) , Sri Sivaji is known for his amazing screen persona and his ability to be the centre of attraction on any character he portray. How many mythical and historical characters have he brought back to the mind of people. It is the way he mesmerised the audience with those long sentences written by Sri Karunanidhi and made them live evergreen in the mind of people. He claims to have the Guinness world record for the longest sentence spoken in a movie, shot in single shot for approximately 9 minutes.

He has clear understanding about thin line between the character and actor in a performance. This is one topic hugely misunderstood and continue to be debated. He says:
"Actors should not remark that they have morphed to become the characters, which is not correct. Only mis informed people would say so. If he gets emotional, his vision clouds and he wouldn't know where the heroin stands, where the mike is and where the camera placed. The marking of a good actor stands out only when he is able to slip in and out of his character without actually being touched by it. This is why I implore actors not to be emotionally attached to their characters."

When coming to lip-sync I cant see any other actor who comes closure. He is perfect and create an impression with his lip , face and the vocal chord changes that it is performed by him. "Moving one's lips for a song and singing a song are two different things. While I listened ( the song to be shot) , I would enquire about the number of shots that had been allocated to me, rehearse a few times. While shooting, I would absorb the song and hum the tune, this is to get the rhythm of the song and to create an illusion that I was singing. "


What comes out strongly through this conversation is his passion for this medium and his strive to excel in each performance, be it on the stage during a drama or on scene for a movie. His pride and confidence about his stature as the best actor is evident in these words and rightly so. There was not an actor like him and there wont be one.

On the other hand, we also see a not so successful public person. His multiple attempts in the political arena have failed miserably time and again. His closeness to Anna, Kamaraj and other political icons have not won him great strides in the political systems. Of course he blame ( without naming) vested interests working against him continuously. His repeated errors have an answer from him, but are too feeble to be convincing to the reader ( that is me !!).

He is a nationalist and his love towards the country ( which many times goes beyond the local boundaries of Tamil Nadu) and its leaders are absolutely strong. Apart from the PadmaSri and Padmabhushan awards ( which are no less in terms of value attached) , I'm not sure if we ( the country) have recognised him for his acting. He has not won any national award ( though his movies have won many awards at the national level) and it has to be the Afro-Asian Film Festival to recognise him and award him with the best actor.

The discussions also touches his personal life ( to a much shorter extend) and we see his relationship with his mother, wife, siblings and his children. He is also comes out as a friendly person with his co-stars and his directors ( whom he says respect the most in the sets to one of the question) and shows his admiration to his contemporaries in cine field.

We also see a smart person in here. There are only good things to talk about. Except his political setbacks ( which is dealt in multiple places), he doesn't discuss much of his struggle as an actor ( except when he was introduced to film field during Parashakthi ). May be he was an established actor prior to his joining the films and was always delivered numerous hits to discuss the low phases of his career ( The list of Silver Jubilee and hundred days films are astonishing to note) . Also, this book is noncontroversial. He has not rubbed anyone at the wrong place. Even while discussing his political disasters , he refuses to name people but merely passes them as "vested interest". He also clarifies in the negative about his rumored tiff with the other big actor of his time , MGR. He gives enough and more of evidences to prove that he and MGR enjoyed a very friendly and close relationship.

Smt Sabita Radhakrishna has done the translation from Tamil to English. One could understand the difficulty in translating the colloquial Tamil into English, and it is evident in the early pages. The translation was much better later on as she seems to have moved out of word by word translation. The book also has a huge collection of photographs from his life as well as from the films.

This is an invaluable book. It gives you the fascinating story of cinema in general and Tamil Cinema in particular in the second half of the 20th Century with the inseparable political spectrum( inseparable as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned) though the life and times of a man who lead this from front. Though he is no more ( the book is released on his 75th birthday -post his death), he will remain in memory of millions and millions of film goers, from critics to common man and aspiring young artists continue to practice the lengthy dialogs from his movies to impress the listeners.

1 comment:

KMA said...

I just finished reading this book. Overall, 'yea, fine'. To me, it endorses the human side of a great actor. If you are looking at how the actor in him was developed, or how he actually did, you will not have much, except for some patches. This is not a story on acting; it is a story of a person who acted. You will not be surprised to see that he holds the same thoughts as just any other ordinary person. As for his acting itself, he has put and effort to justify his style, which are hard (for me) to get convinced. I still believe he has not realized the differences between two mediums - Theatre and Films.

However, the book justifies for its reputation- it is a story of an actor in his own words. And it really is worth for its countless, priceless photographs.

The problem with Q&A is that it almost makes you believe that they are not as straightforward as they were intended. It is very clear that questions themselves give answer. More than "It is not what Sri Sivaji Ganesan wants to tell us, it is what Sri TSN wants us to know", it is what collectively they have decided that we should know.

As for the translation, it is not worth a comment, except for the effort to bring this book to a larger audience. For a book that is not a literary/fiction effort, the objective should have been on translating/presenting the context, than the word-by-word translations. You don't need an English book to read Tamil!