April 10, 1998
MUMBAI, April 9: Meeting an actor is always a difficult task, especially if the actor in question is Sivaji Ganesan. One gets the feeling you are being closely observed by the interviewee even as the conversation progresses.
Seventy-year-old Ganesan is a man who acts life out. His face is a canvas of myriad expressions which flits in and out while speaking about his illustrious life. In an informal chat with Express Newsline, Sivaji dwelt at length on his early life and theatre, his first love.
Talk about his childhood seems to bring bad memories to Sivaji. "My father was a revolutionary who planted a bomb on a train," he says. Drama seems to have accompanied Sivaji right from his birth. "He was arrested the day I was born. I was then introduced to him four-and-half years later, when he was released from jail on account of good behaviour," he said. But the long absence of his father seems to have affected their relationship a great deal. "I have been able to speak to my mother freely, but I couldnot communicate with my father till his death," Sivaji said with a tinge of sorrow.
Uncomfortable at home, Sivaji decided that he wanted to be an actor when he saw the street play Veerapandi Kattabomman staged in his village. "I ran away from home and told the theatre company that I was an orphan in search of work. They took me in and taught me all that I know today," he said.
Nicknamed Sivaji by renowned reformer E V Ramaswami alias Periyar after a show where he played the title role at the age of 14, he made his debut on the big screen at 22. Since then, he has not looked back. Theatre has always been close to Sivaji’s heart. He regrets having had to give it up since it did not agree with his health. "Moreover, all my colleagues have grown old. Only I remain young, at least at heart," he says with a smile. But he says the training that he had in theatre has stood him in good stead. "The discipline that theatre demands has made me what I am, otherwise you would not be sitting here, listening to anold man," he remarked.
He recalls the time when he visited the US in 1962 on an invitation from President John F Kennedy. "The US was going through a phase where television had weaned away viewers from the theatre, much like what is happening in our country today. But now, the theatre is flourishing there because people miss out on many things in the small screen. I’m sure this will be the case in India too, some time in the future," he says.
The only difference between theatre and films according to Sivaji is the amount of time put in. He feels that theatre involves more risk than cinema. "If you perform badly in front of a few hundred people, you will be thrown out. In cinema, your bad shots are cut and the scene shot again," he remarked.
Sivaji is full of hopes for the film industry as well. He claims that the present breed of film makers are among the best in the world. "It is only a matter of time, we will soon overtake the world in quality," he says confidently. At present, he is working on afilm En Aasai Rasave in which he plays the role of a street dancer, which is expected to be released by May.
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