If there was a matinee idol in the realms of Indian cinematic history who received as much accolades and an equally strong bout of criticism for his histrionic abilities, it was Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan. Given that he never achieved the national status that he deserved perhaps is a reflection of the complexities of the language of his mother tongue that required strong grammar, poetic undertones and louder decibels for dialogue delivery. Film critics and audience forming the majority in the North of the Vindayas who were used to the much softer, subtle shayaari and ghazals perhaps found it difficult to applaud Sivaji’s daredevilry in characterization of roles he depicted in his film career. Perhaps if he were to be born out of the Dravidian State and culture, there would have been a national consensus that he was the greatest actor Indian cinema ever produced. It is indeed a misfortune to know that Pandit Nehru pleaded ignorance of the actor when President Nasser of Egypt enquired dearly about him after seeing his stellar performance in “Veerapandia Kattabomman” in the Cairo Film Festival.
This Tamil superstar Shivaji Ganeshan was born in a poor family in Tamil Nadu, on October 1, 1928. His father worked in the railways. On the day of his birth his father, Chiniah Pillai, follower of Mahatma Gandhi, was jailed for participating in the Independence movement in Nellikuppam,of Tamil Nadu State. He was frequently in and out of jail, and was raised by his mother, Rajamani Ammal.
He joined theatre groups when he was young. He earned his screen name ‘Sivaji’ after acting in C.N. Annadurai’s play ‘Sivaji Kanda Indhu Rajyam’, a historical play on the Maratha Emperor Shivaji. He made his film debut in Parasakthi (1952) as Gunasekharan. He became an icon of the DMK party who made DMK films (founded by C.M. Annadurai).
He entered politics in the mid-50s where he joined the Congress party and then defected to support the opposition Janata Dal. He is most well know for his mythological and patriotic portrayals, like in his most famous films like Karnan(mythological) and Veerapandiya Kattabomman (patriotic). Shivaji was awarded Dadasaheb Phalke award by the Government of India for his outstanding contribution to Indian Cinema.
One of his many awards (many for humanitarian activists), he received the Chevalier, the Order of Arts and Literature (‘Chevalier dans ordre des Arts et Letters’) by the Ministry of Culture, Government of France (it’s highest civilian award), in 1995 for his contributions in the field of Arts and Literature in France and all over the world. He could only estimate the number of films he appeared in – 170 to 300.
During a visit to the USA in 1962, he was named honorary mayor of Niagara City for a day and presented with a key to the city — the only Indian besides Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to receive the honour. During a visit to the US in June 1995, Sivaji Ganesan found himself in Columbus, Ohio. Mayor Greg Lashutka named him honorary citizen of Columbus at a special dinner.In 1976, Sivaji Ganesan was honoured with the Padma Shri and in 1984, Sivaji Ganesan was conferred the Padma Bhushan in recognition of his many contributions to cinema and philanthropy. Shivaji Ganeshan was equally honoured with Telugu stars like NTR, ANR and Kongara Jaggaiah, and he acted in the famous movies-Karna, and Chanakya-Chandraguptha.
Even today, his fans want shivajee to return back from the heaven, and to associate with the Indian screen. Hope, the legend is listening to the words of crores of his fans.