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Historicizing the Film Stars

Rajan Krishnan

By Dr. T.S. Narayna Swamy. Translated by Sabita Radhakrishna
Sivaji Prabhu Charities Trust, Chennai, 2007, pp. 250, price not stated.

By Bhawana Somaaya
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 218, Rs. 495.00


The autobiography of Sivaji Ganesan is admittedly a compilation of ‘reflections, reminiscences and perceptions of Dr. Sivaji Ganesan’s life, which includes the personal as well as the professional – theatre, film and political.’ Sivaji Ganesan’s name is inseparably linked to Tamil popular modernity. One may remember Mani Ratnam’s whimsical fictional account of Tamil political history in his film Iruvar ‘The Two’ referring to M. Karunanidhi and M.G. Ramachandran. It could have been ‘Moovar’ or ‘The Three’ since Sivaji is the third of the vertices of the triangle that constituted the popular matrix of socio-political history. To be exact, the MGR-Sivaji oppositional stardom defined the evolution of modern subjectivity for the masses.   This orally narrated autobiography of Sivaji Ganesan is a necessary read for anyone wanting to learn about the roles played by this man of destiny on and off screen. The book is full of rich historical details and significant thought-provoking anecdotes that would enhance the understanding of a casual reader and those with specialized interests in cinema, history and politics. Altogether, we find that Sivaji Ganesan’s personal history subsumed in the larger socio-political history and discover him as a historical actor.   The book is divided into seventy-nine short segments comprising a few prompting questions and Sivaji Ganesan’s answers to them. Even as the segments bear cryptic thematic titles, which are listed in the contents index, the sequence of segments is roughly based on the chronological events in Sivaji Ganesan’s life from childhood to old age. While the segments on thematic issues intervene like one on the actor’s views on acting, the titles do not serve as strict thematic demarcations. For example, the title ‘Nationalism in Films’comprises two questions, one referring to the films of overtly patriotic themes in which Sivaji emphasized his identity as an Indian vis-à-vis the identities of a Tamilan or a Dravidan as is the wont of the Dravidian movement. However, the other question in the segment relates to the historical film Raja Raja Chola in which he played the role of Chola emperor of 10th century CE, the discussion of which bears no connection to the theme of nationalism. Further, the arrangement of segments though guided by a sense of chronology is not knitted thematically. A chapter on the actor’s theatre experiences playing the role of anti-colonial warrior Kattabomman is followed by one on the ...

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