Book Review: The Legends Of Indian Cinema - Sivaji Ganesan


By Joginder Tuteja, Bollywood Hungama News Network

Oh, now this one really makes for a boring read. In the six book series of 'The Legends Of Indian Cinema', the first two books on Shammi Kapoor and Mehboob Khan made for quite an interesting read. However, S. Theodore Baskaran's book on Sivaji Ganesan doesn't excite at all in spite of not much being known about the legendary Tamil actor.

Though down South, he has been a household name, in the major part of the country, Ganesan hasn't been explored much except for the fact that he is one of the trail blazers in Tamil cinema. This is why one looks forward to what does this 100 page book have to offer.

However, to one's disappointment, the book comes across as just a peripheral tale of the film career of Ganesan while concentrating a great deal on his political journey. Not just that, even the narrative isn't really engaging as one passively turns across pages and closes the last chapter with a sense of discontent. No, this one doesn't really work!

The book does narrate the thespian's journey from being a 10 year old boy who was an errand boy with a blacksmith to a superstar who ruled from the top. Just like any other rags-to-riches tale, Sivaji Ganesan too had his own struggling days when he worked with a drama troupe as a youngster. As was the trend more than half a century back, these troupes roped in actors on contract who would be treated nothing better than slaves. Confined to closed rooms with not much interaction allowed with outsiders, they were even caned in case they forgot their dialogues!

From a situation like this, it was quite an achievement for Ganesan who started his journey towards the film world. As mentioned in the book, Ganesan was willing to play a walk-on role of a bodyguard to begin his film career but was rejected by the makers. While many a filmmakers didn't quite consider him as an actor who could carry off a film on his own, he later reached such superstardom that films ran entirely on his name.

Such was his popularity and style of acting that in the films where he acted, there hardly seemed to be any control of proceedings by the director. Each of his films bore a similar style and they were 'Ganesan' films more than anyone else's! The book also mentions about how 'melodrama' ruled majority of his films and viewers lapped it all with no complains whatsoever.

However, the book is clearly divided into Sivaji Ganesan - The actor and Sivaji Ganesan - The man who was thoroughly involved in politics. Though he contested elections just one (and failed), his support was much needed in the political arena down South. This is where his much talked about rivalry with MGR finds a mention. Quite a few pages are dedicated on their rivalry which does make a reader feel that it would have made for a much better read had the author spoken more about Ganesan - The actor.

One incident though does make for an interesting read where there is a mention about how Ganesan saved Indira Gandhi's life. Legend has it that when Indira Gandhi arrived at a Railway Station in Chennai, some miscreants threw stones at her. This is when Ganesan came to her rescue by bringing out his pistol and dispersing the crowds. Interesting!

His wasn't a smooth stay in politics though. He couldn't quite reach the peak in the world of politics and in his own words, 'he was not defeated but cheated out of politics'. So disheartened was he about his political stint that he went on to advise his fellow film-folk by saying - "Artists, be sympathetic to political ideologies but do not get into politics. Be a friend of politics but never become one. Do not become a member of the party and get entangled in that web."

However, in spite of some interesting reads like as above, the book in entirety doesn't quite work. In fact one tends to draw parallels with Dr. Gayathri Sreekanth's written 'The Name Is Rajinikanth' which extensively explored the life of the living legend. Just like Ganesan, Rajinikanth too came from a humble background, did theater, struggled for his big break, rose to stardom with his unique mannerisms and also involved himself into politics.

While Gayathri's 'Rajinikanth' made a reader look forward to what's next in store, Baskaran's 'Ganesan' remains to be a passive read. Of course the space limitation doesn't quite allow S. Theodore Baskaran to go the whole hog but still in the limited space available, he doesn't quite keep the reader's attention on.

Rating: **