Sivaji Ganesan

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Sivaji Ganesan
Sivaji Ganesan autobiography english.jpg
Portrait of Sivaji Ganesan on his autobiography
Villupuram Chinnaiya Manrayar.Ganesamoorthy (V. C. Ganesan)

(1928-10-01)1 October 1928[1][2][3][4][5]
Died21 July 2001(2001-07-21) (aged 72)
Other namesNadigar Thilagam
Years active1952–1999
Spouse(s)Kamala Ganesan
Parent(s)Father : Chinnaiya Manrayar
Mother : Rajamani Ammal
RelativesBrother/Sister & Family Members
6)V.C.Padmavathi Venugopal
1)Dushyanth Ramkumar (Grandson)
2)Shivajidev Ramkumar (Grandson)
3)Vikram Prabhu (Grandson)

Villupuram Chinnaiya Manrayar Ganesamoorthy,[a] better known by his stage name Sivaji Ganesan, (1 October 1928 – 21 July 2001)[8][5] was an Indian actor, and producer. He was active in Tamil cinema during the latter half of the 20th century. He was known for his versatility and variety of roles depicted on screen,[9] which gave him also the Tamil nickname Nadigar Thilagam (transl. the pride of actors).[10] In a career that spanned close to five decades, he had acted 288 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi.[11]

Ganesan was the first Indian film actor to win a "Best Actor" award in an International film festival, the Afro-Asian Film Festival held in Cairo, Egypt in 1960. Many leading South Indian film actors have stated that their acting was influenced by Ganesan.[12][13][14] He received the President Award for Best Tamil Actor on twelve occasions.[15] In addition, he received four Filmfare Awards South and a National Film Award (Special Jury). In 1997, Ganesan was conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honour for films in India.[16][17] He was also the first Indian actor to be made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[18]

Ganesan is remembered as an iconic figure of Tamil cinema.[19][20] Many prominent actors across India cutting across various film industries still rever Sivaji Ganesan as the pinnacle of acting. He has been described by the Los Angeles Times as "The Marlon Brando of India".[21][22][23]

Early life[edit]

Ganesan was born name Ganesamoorthy on 1 October 1928[1][2][3][24][5] to Chinnaiya Manrayar and Rajamani Ammal as 4th Son at Soorakottai, Thanjavur District. Early in his career, Ganesan acted under the name V.C. Ganesan. Media outlets said this stood for Villupuram Chinnaiya Ganesan, though one of Ganesan's sons stated that the V stands for Vettaithidal, a village from which their family originates.[7] Without his father's consent,[25] Ganesan decided to join a touring stage drama company at the age of seven.[11] At the age of 10, he moved to Tiruchirappalli and joined a drama troupe in Sangiliyandapuram and began to perform in stage plays.[26] From the drama troupe trainers, he was fortunate enough to learn acting and dancing. He was trained in Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Manipuri dance forms.

Ganesan exhibited the ability to remember lengthy lines easily. The group favoured Ganesan to play the lead and he would continue to do so. His portrayal of Shivaji in the stage play Shivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam earned him the name "Sivaji",[11] which was conferred on him at a public function presided over by social reformer E. V. Ramasamy. Since then, he was referred to by the name of "Sivaji".[27]

Film career[edit]

Early career: 1952–1959[edit]

Two factors can be attributed the entry of Ganesan into films: The principal artists in Tamil films during the 1940s and 1950s were Telugus, whose acting was not matched by their dialogue delivery in Tamil. (In fact, Sivaji Ganesan lent his voice to Mukkamala Krishna Murthy, a Telugu actor, for a Tamil film Niraparathi. The film was well received by the Tamil audience.) Secondly, the 1950s saw the growth of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, under the leadership of C. N. Annadurai, and M. Karunanidhi. Their transformation of language skills to films through script writing ensured their instant acceptance.[28] Ganesan's entry into films at this stage of popularity was easy and inevitable, and he could establish himself in a better position.

Ganesan made his acting debut in the 1952 Tamil film Parasakthi, directed by the famous directors Krishnan-Panju, produced by P. A. Perumal Mudaliar of National pictures, co-starring actress Pandari Bai.[29] Periyar E. V. Ramasamy recommended him for the lead role in Parasakthi to the producer, which was supposed to be portrayed by the Telugu actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao. The script was written by later Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi.[27][29][30] Since actors who are well-trained in classical dance can effectively showcase expressions called Nava Rasa on their faces, Ganesan went on to become one of the popular actors in Tamil cinema in the 1950s. His unique voice had a greater appeal. His style of dialogue delivery with a long spell of dialogues — like a poetry recitation with much clarity — earned him critical recognition.

Andha Naal (1954) was a trendsetter in Tamil cinema because it had no songs[31] and Ganesan played an anti-hero. The film won the president's silver medal the following year. The same year, he co-starred with his competitor M. G. Ramachandran in Koondukkili, where he played the antagonist.[32]

Donning versatile roles: 1954–1968[edit]

His role in the film Veerapandiya Kattabomman won him the Best Actor Award at the Afro-Asian Film Festival held in March 1960 at Cairo.[27][33] Incidentally, Ganesan was also the first Indian actor to get an award for Best Actor abroad.[34] Often considered to be a landmark film in Tamil cinema, Pasamalar is arguably one of the best films of Sivaji Ganesan and Savitri together. Once again directed by A Bhimsingh, the film has a cult following and rightly so. When it released in 1961, it became a trendsetter of sorts and was a money spinner at the box-office. Post its release, several films based on a similar theme were made, for example, Mullum Malarum.[35] It also won the National Award that year and was remade in several languages. Sivaji Ganesan has acted in many Tamil movies co-starring with many popular and talented Tamil actresses of his time.[36] He gave many commercial success films such as Palum Pazhamum, Kappalottiya Thamizhan, Karnan, Kai Koduttha Dheivam, Puthiya Paravai and his 100th film, Navarathri. who began his career as a stage artiste at the age of nine. It one of Sivaji Ganesan's best films in its tribute to the actor.[37]

His flair for comedy was showcased very well in several blockbuster movies such as Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari (1954), Sabaash Meena (1958), Ooty Varai Uravu (1967), Galatta Kalyanam (1968) and many more in which he partnered with other super stars like T. R. Ramachandran, J. P. Chandrababu, Nagesh and others, delivering some of his most memorable performances.

Puranic and historical roles: 1965–1969[edit]

His portrayal of Lord Shiva in the movie Thiruvilayadal (1965) won him many accolades.[38][39] Ganesan could strike a balance between commercial cinema, Mythological cinema and experimental cinema. His epical portrayals in films such as Thiruvilayaadal, Thiruvarutselvar, Saraswati Sabatham, Thirumal Perumai and Thillana Mohanambal won him critical acclaim.[40] He played a variety of roles such as freedom fighters, like Tiruppur Kumaran, Bhagat Singh[27] and epic characters like Karna, Bharatha, Narada, Appar, Nayanmars and Alwars.[41] Spanning genres like epics to Crime thrillers; from romantic escapades to comic flicks and action flicks, Ganesan has covered it all.

Superstardom – varied roles: 1970–1979[edit]

Ganesan played supporting role to Rajendra Kumar in the Hindi film Dharti in 1970, which was a remake of his 1969 Tamil film Sivandha Mann, in which he played the lead role. In the Hindi version, Ganesan played the role which Muthuraman had played in the original. Several directors such as Krishnan-Panju, T. R. Sundaram, T. R. Ramanna, A. P. Nagarajan, L. V. Prasad, B. R. Panthulu, T. Prakash Rao, Dasari Yoganand, A. Bhim Singh, K. Shankar, C. V. Sridhar, A. C. Tirulokchandar, P. Madhavan, K. S. Gopalakrishnan, Muktha V.Srinivasan, C. V. Rajendran, and K. Vijayan directed Ganesan in different roles.[40] Kongara Jaggayya offered his voice to Sivaji when his movies were dubbed into Telugu.

In the 1960s and 1970s his films have been well received and he was able to deliver constant hits. Some of his famous hits during this period are Vasantha Maligai, Gauravam, Thanga Pathakkam and Sathyam.[42] Many of his films inspired remakes in Sinhalese. Films such as Pilot Premnath and Mohana Punnagai were shot in Sri Lanka, with Sri Lankan actors such as Malini Fonseka and Geetha Kumarasinghe playing the female lead.[40] In 1979, he appeared in the biggest blockbuster of his career, Thirisoolam his 200th film, an adaptation of the Kannada film Shankar Guru in which Rajkumar had played the lead role.

Matured roles: 1980–1999[edit]

The 1980s was a period in which Ganesan started enacting more matured roles. But still films such as Rishi Moolam, Yamanukku Yaman and Chiranjeevi had Ganesan portraying lead roles. Muthal Mariyathai (1985) won him a Filmfare Award and Tamil Nadu State film Award under Best Actor category. In 1992, he acted with Kamal Haasan in the critically acclaimed Thevar Magan, which won him a Special Mention Award at the 40th National Film Awards.[38] His other films released during this period are Pasumpon, Once More, En Aasai Rasave and Mannavaru Chinnavaru, where he was cast in prominent roles. He worked in Pooparika Varugirom, which released as his last film before his death, however the last film he worked in before his death was Padayappa (1999).[43]


Chinna Ponnusamy Padayatchi is the teacher of theatrical arts who trained Ganesan in his troupe. During an interview with V.S. Srinivasan, Ganesan said: "Theatre has taught me everything. My teacher (Chinna Ponnuswamy Padayachi of Chidambaram) taught me Bharatnatyam, acting, body movements & practically everything. Padayachi, was himself an outstanding stage actor and I learnt in an atmosphere that was reminiscent of an ashram school."[44]

Political career[edit]

Sivaji Ganesan (far left) with M. Karunanidhi next to him.

Until 1955, Ganesan was a staunch sympathizer of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Once, he went to the Tirumala town in Tirupati district and worshiped Lord Venkateswara in the world-famous temple there. Due to this act, he was heavily criticized by his party men; as DMK propounded atheism and looked down worshiping God. Ganesan was very hurt by this incident.

Later in 1961, Ganesan became a strong supporter of the Indian National Congress. Due to his popularity, he was requested to be part of the National Congress Tamil Nadu. His respect for Kamaraj made him support Congress. He was made the Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi's death in 1984 also brought Ganesan's political career to an end.[45]

After 1988, he floated his own political party (Thamizhaga Munnetra Munnani) and contested in only 50 seats, trying to play safe instead of contesting in all seats which possibly cost him the chance to win the elections because 50 seats would not make a significant difference to any election result.

In 1989, he became the President of the Tamil Nadu wing of the Janata Dal.

Unlike his highly successful acting career, his political career was rather unsuccessful.[28]


Ganesan was the fourth son of his family. He had three brothers and one sister.[46] Ganesan married Kamala in 1952 and had four children.[46] His younger son Prabhu is a notable Tamil actor.[47] Ganesan established a film production company in the late 1950s, now called Sivaji Productions, which is now being looked after by his eldest son Ramkumar.[48] He has two daughters Shanthi and Thenmozhi. Three of his grandsons have also appeared in films, with Ramkumar's two sons Dushyanth Ramkumar and Shivaji Dev, both having the stage name of Junior Sivaji. Moreover, Vikram Prabhu debuted in the critically acclaimed film Kumki in 2012.


Suffering from respiratory problems, Ganesan was admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai on 1 July 2001.[11] He also had been suffering from a prolonged heart ailment for about 10 years.[49] He died at 7:45 pm (IST) on 21 July 2001 at the age of 72 just three months prior to his 73rd birthday for which he had special plans. A documentary Parasakthi Muthal Padayappa Varai was made to commemorate Sivaji Ganesan's legacy. His funeral the next day was telecast live on Sun TV and was attended by thousands of viewers, politicians and personalities from the South Indian film fraternity.[50] His eldest son, Ramkumar, performed his last rites at the Besant Nagar Crematorium, Chennai.[51]


Ganesan Statue on Kamarajar Road in Chennai

When President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt visited India, Sivaji Ganesan was the only individual granted permission by the then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to host a party for Nasser. Nasser was given a number of valuable mementos depicting the civilization and culture of South India.[52] Sivaji Ganesan was the first artist from India to visit the United States, in the cultural exchange programme of the US government, in 1962, invited by the then-US President John F. Kennedy, where he took the role of India's cultural ambassador. During his visit there, he was honoured by being made the honorary mayor of Niagara Falls, New York for one day and was presented the golden key to the city. The only other Indian who has had this honour before Ganesan was Jawaharlal Nehru. When Sivaji returned from America, there was a huge crowd to receive him at the Madras Airport and MGR was there. When Sivaji returned from Egypt after winning the best actor award, there was a huge crowd to receive him at the Madras Airport. On 22 March 1976, he went over to Mauritius on an invitation from Prime Minister Ramagoolam and took part in their independence day celebrations and stayed as their government guest for four days.[52]

During his visit to the United States in June 1995, he visited Columbus, Ohio. Participating in the dinner hosted to honour Ganesan, the Mayor of the city, Greg Lashutka honoured him by announcing him as an honorary citizen of Columbus. On the same occasion, the Mayor of Mount Vernon read out and gave him a special welcome citation. The Columbus Tamil Sangam was formulated on that day and Ganesan was made the honorary President of that association.[52]

Ganesan has remained as one of the popular Tamil actors with a large fan base. At the peak of his career, Ganesan had 30000 registered fan clubs, which worked at promoting his image and films.[53]

It was Sivaji's tragedy that, as the years progressed, opportunities for him to display his acting talent became scarce. But he did act in cameo roles, often stealing the scenes, as in Thevar Magan, which won him the National Awards Jury's Special Jury award in 1993. Sivaji, incidentally, declined the award.[54]


Sivaji Ganesan is considered as one of the best Indian actors of all time.[11] He was also acknowledged as a consummate actor and one of the most imitated ones. He was praised for his body language and his resounding voice and dialogue delivery. Ganesan is known for his versatility and has acted as a blind man in Paalum Pazhumum, a physically handicapped person in Bhaagapirivinai, enacting Nine numbers of totally different personas from various social strata and the corresponding body language ( gait, voice, facial expression, etc., ) in " Navarathiri", thereby becoming probably the first-time in Indian cinema history as an actor reprising Nine roles in a single film and in extension, inspiring subsequent films (at least) in Tamil like "Navarathinam" ( the great MGR – starred ), "Dasavatharam" ( featuring Sivaji's torch-bearer Kamal Haasan ), a man with a scared face as in Deiva Magan, a murderer in Pudhiya Paravai, or a traitor as in Andha Naal, the first movie that had no songs at all.[28][31]

Awards and honours[edit]

Ganesan has won the President's Award for more than 12 times for his performance in various films.[15] He was also honored with civilian awards such as Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Dada Saheb Palke Award, the highest award in India for people involved in film industry.

Civilian honours: national and international[edit]

International awards[edit]

  • He is first Indian actor to get the best actor award from a foreign film festival 1960 – Best Actor in Asia – Africa Continent Award at the Afro-Asian Film Festival for Veerapandiya Kattabomman[27][40][55]

Other international honors[edit]

  • 1960 – One-day Mayor for the city of Niagara Falls and was presented with the Golden Key of Cairo.
  • 1964 – Cultural Ambassador of India invited by John F. Kennedy under the Cultural Exchange Programme
  • 1991 – Citizenship in the Columbus, Ohio, USA by the Government of United States

National Film Awards[edit]

Filmfare Awards South[edit]

Tamil Nadu State Film Awards[edit]

Other honours[edit]

Posthumous honours[edit]

Pondicherry (Puducherry) was the first state to erect a statue of Sivaji Ganesan in honour of his acting skills and his huge fan base in the state and it was unveiled by the then Puducherry Chief Minister N. Rangasamy.[61] A statue of Ganesan was erected on Kamarajar Road in Chennai, Tamil Nadu to honour the actor and was unveiled by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in 2006.[30][52] The South Indian Film Artistes' Association as a tribute to Ganesan, declared that 1 October, the birth day of Ganesan, would be observed as Actors' Day by the association Chennai film industry.[62] The Government of Maharashtra has instituted a state award, in the name of Ganesan, which is given under the Best Actor category every year entitled "Sivaji Ganesan Award".[16]


In 2017, a memorial built at a cost of 28 million was opened in Chennai.[63] Located in Adyar, a southern neighbourhood of the city, it is built in the Dravidian style of architecture, adorned with domes, and houses a statue of the actor, which was previously erected on the Marina Beach in 2006.[64][65]


Sivaji Ganesan's most critically and commercially successful films include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Although the V is widely considered to stand for Villupuram,[6] Ganesan's son Ramkumar says it stands for Vettaithidal, their ancestral village.[7]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Sivaji Ganesan at Wikimedia Commons

Annai Illam Sivaji House