It so happens that some of the best talents are neglected by every society. Either the government neglects them or the people do so. The artiste lives with a burdened heart and his feelings rarely find a vent. That Sivaji Ganesan lived with such a tumultuous heart can be seen from this interview that appeared in the Deepavali Malar of Dinamani in the year 1998. He gives free expression to the hurts and wounds that he had suffered deep in his heart in the interview. We republish this with the intention of making his feelings more widely known so that no other artiste of talent is pushed into the dark chambers of negligence, untended and ignored, as it happened in the case of Sivaji.
What, in your opinion, is the kind of recognition that satisfies an artiste? Of course, awards and titles are not the complete or ultimate recognition. Nonetheless, they are important too. An award, if not given at the appropriate time, loses its value and it agonises the artiste. How about you?
Any actor finds his reward only when the people recognise him. Actually, he can perform well only if he understands the role he is supposed to play and puts his heart and soul into it. Only his performance speaks for him. After all, there are ever so many artistes. Not all of them are accepted as the best talent by the people. People’s recognition is therefore the ultimate for any artiste.
You see, there is no connection between recognition by people and receipt of an award. An award is given to please someone or because someone pleases somebody. There is the Arjuna award, Bharat award, etc. Not all the recipients receive them because they deserve them. Most of the time, it depends on who has a better lobbyist.
Truly speaking, awards should be given at the time when an artiste is climbing up the steps in his career. That would give him the much-needed fillip to excel his earlier milestones. There are so many youngsters now who deserve these awards - Kamal, Rajini, Sathyaraj, Prabhu, etc. I am past that age.
But I have to express my feelings on this. The fact that these awards were not given to me at the right time has pained me. I have gone through yearning and indeed sorrow in my life. After all, I am human too. If I say that I was not pained, I would be less than honest.
You should have received the Palke award long back. What do you feel is the reason behind the delay for you receiving it after the passage of such a long time, now? Do you feel that partiality and politics have a role to play in this?
Partiality… may be there is. But I do not think there is politics behind it. After all, I was in politics too. If I accuse that the interference of politicians was responsible for it, it would not be fair. More over, I am not sure to what extent it is true that politics has played a role in it.
Palke award is a much respected recognition. As far as my knowledge goes, I understand that there is committee to recommend the names of deserving artistes. And then it is forwarded to the Minister concerned. He should be a dispassionate person, if the artiste recommended by the committee is to receive the award. If he is not, well, it goes to the person named by the minister. I don’t know how far it is true. I understand this from the government officials in Delhi.
The award that came to me this year did not find its route that easily. I was informed that it was to have reached someone else, but found its way to me.
It is said that the French Government decided to honour you with its Chevalier title. But that it was also delayed because the Pondicherry Government did not show much interest in it…
A panel of nine judges recommend the name of the person for conferment of the title Chevalier. They have seen almost all my movies. In fact, I received the title before a Hollywood star could receive it.
I mean to say that the recognition was given to me first. The panel decided my name and forwarded it to the Pondicherry government. But Pondicherry was not so very keen in sending the recommendation to France. And then it so happened that the Indian citizens in France were consulted and then it was decided in my favour. It was sent to me through the French ambassador.
I understood later that the French Government intended to honour me with its title much earlier - at least 3 years earlier. But their attempts were stopped. I don’t know who stopped them. I came to know that it happened in Pondicherry only.
The title Chevalier is not given to all and sundry. There are three categories in that title. What has been given to me is the top grade title. In fact, I didn’t know the value of the title when I received it. Nobody here knew it either. It so happened that Radhika’s husband who was a foreigner and who knew how valuable the title is, came to know of this. He had asked Radhika about why there is no public function even after I have received the coveted title. Then Radhika spoke to Kamal, Rajini and others and it was thus that its value was made known to all. That led to AVM Saravanan and others joining together to convene a public function for me to receive the title. The French Ambassador in Delhi came to Chennai to give the title.Which was the most challenging role that you have played so far? A role that was challenging and satisfying…
Kappalotiya Thamizhan was a challenging and demanding role. Va. Vu. Ci’s son saw that movie. He embraced me saying, ‘I saw my father in person.’ What is a better award that I can ask for? Remember you asked in the beginning - ‘which is the greatest award for an artiste? This is it. There cannot be a better recognition that an artiste can receive.
You have acted in more than 300 movies and played hundreds of roles. Moulding oneself into a character must have been a real mental exercise. What was your experience?
Not a big thing. It comes by practice. Whenever time permits, you should think of the character that you are playing. Where do we get time! Only in the toilet or in the bathroom. That is the only place where you will not be disturbed by anyone. I used to think of the role that I was going to play during those times. And then during makeup. Of course, during the catnap I have after lunch… I used to think of the character that I was playing at that time and constantly whet, polish and hone the presentation. You can be an actor only if you train your mind this way. Theists call this as ‘god’s gift. In the ordinary parlance, I call it with lots of gratitude, ‘it’s all due to my teacher. A good teacher. I owe it to my guru and the training that I received from him.
Who was your guru?
I have only one guru, as far as acting is concerned. Chinna Ponnusamy Padayaachi was his name. I joined the drama company of Yadhartham Ponnusamy Pillai. My guru was employed in that company. Since the name of the boss and my guru were the same, my guru was known as Chinna Ponnusamy. I joined them at a very young age. He trained me from my seventh year. I had the benefit of his training for five years.
In those days I used to play girls’ roles. My guru used to play feminine roles too. Playing the ‘sthree part’ enables one to learn all the nuances and finer points and helps him to become an all rounder and a good actor.
Did you not think that it was good for you - at least when you had considerable influence in politics - to play only ‘clean roles’ like MGR did?
No. I did not think that there was any connection between the roles I played and the role I was supposed to play in politics. But the people thought that way! They thought that there was some connection! And that’s how MGR was a grand success in politics. He did it and I missed the bus.
But politics was only secondary for me. I played the drunkard, loafer, womaniser, murderer, rowdy…every conceivable anti-hero roles. That’s why I could do 300 and more films.
I have to mention a fact here. I understood only much later that people did not want to see me play the politician in real life. They wanted me to see me onscreen only as an actor. So many actors enter politics and not all become leaders. And there are some who could not shine well in acting and turn politicians instead.
It sounds like a comment on your political career of the past…
No no no. Don’t look at it as mere history. It is what is happening today and what would happen tomorrow.
At one time you were accused of overacting. What do you feel about it, now?
It was only Idhayam Pesukiradhu Manian who wrote that way. He even went to the extent of writing that the Sivaji era had ended. He was chief among those who disseminated false information on the Dravidian movement.
There was a meeting convened to felicitate Manian, presided by Kalaignar Karunanidhi. I attended the meeting because he came in person and invited me. Well, Manian during his speech mentioned that I had nothing to do with politics, or that I was not more than a novice. In my address I mentioned that this was the person who criticised the Dravidian movement and this was the same person who was felicitated in Arivaalayam, by Kalaignar. One could understand the kind of politics he was capable of playing, I said. Manian refused it meekly. Forget it. Just forget it.
You see, there would be four or five writers around a bad actor. What is the established method of projecting him as a good actor? Deprecate daub the one with good acting skills as an over-actor! It is a general practice in our place to belittle the other rather than to project one’s talent. That’s how I was branded as an over-actor.
Which actress who played the heroine with you, do you think matched your skills?
No doubt it was Puppi (Padmini). She is a talented dancer. A beautiful woman. She excelled in whatever she did, be it character-role or comedy or dance… what not! She is an all rounder. Puppi and I are known to each other right from our younger days. We have a good intellectual, respectable and divine friendship between the two of us. May be we are one among the pairs who have acted together in the highest number of films in the world.
What is the toughest role for an actor to play - comedy, character-role or the villain?
Comedy. Creativity is at its best when one plays the comedian. The present trend is that if one bends his brows cruelly and laughs loudly, he is a villain. If he is handsome, and is able to dance and throws a few punches on the villain and his team, that person is called a hero. But comedy cannot be that simple. I can play a comedian’s role very well. But who is prepared to give it to me! (Voice turns jovial and jocular) And if I play that role, what happens to dialogue delivery, exploding in emotions and all? What use there is to the glycerine in stock! You see, I am the only one available for them to make use of it all! (Laughs heartily.)