On Wednesday (October 1), the Music Academy shed its usual Margazhi ambience. Men clad in white veshti and shirts, and women in Kanchivarams alighted from private buses that arrived from several parts of Tamil Nadu.
All vehicles, though, had a singular photo on the windshield: a black and white portrait of Sivaji Ganesan.
It was the 86th birthday of the Nadigar Thilagam.
Fans of all ages thronged the auditorium to celebrate, with stars like Y Gee Mahendra, Mohan Raman, Chithra Lakshmanan, and Santhanam arriving in time too.
While the hall was filling fast, a large group of fans waited outside to receive Sivaji Ganesan’s family. Some held placards featuring a picture of Sivaji Ganesan. Some chanted slogans hailing the star. And, when actor Prabhu’s Audi arrived, the crowd went berserk. Young men tried prostrating at Prabhu’s feet. The older lot held Prabhu’s hands and ushered him into the packed auditorium. As we tried finding our way to the hall, we overheard an ecstatic fan saying, “Prabhu marave illa. Appa pola!”
After hugging his father’s fans, Prabhu went on-stage right away, where his elder brother Ramkumar awaited him.
It was one of those well-arranged events.
The curtains slid smoothly, quite dramatically to the sides.
And revealed with folded hands, were Central Minister Pon. Radhakrishnan, Ramkumar, Prabhu, dancer Padma Subrahmanyam, singer Jamuna Rani, yesteryear actors VS Raghavan and CR Parthiban. When they greeted the audience, the auditorium rang with applause for several minutes.
Fans chanted the name of their beloved star. “Nadigar Thilgam vaazhga!”
When the cheers died down, Ramkumar announced that the Sivaji Ganesan Memorial Foundation would honour the artistes seated on-stage. And without much ado, an AV that explained their individual achievements was played, along with a clip from the movies in which they starred with Sivaji Ganesan.
During VS Raghavan’s turn, quite fittingly, a popular scene (from 9:17) from Vasantha Maligai, in which the Man Friday wishes Sivaji Ganesan on his birthday was featured. Paavaiyin Mugathai Paarthaar Oruvar from Pasamalar, a song rendered by Jamuna Rani, was played. And the iconic scene from Veerapandiya Kattabomman, where CR Parthiban plays Jackson Durai was screened to whistles and deafening applause.
Fans struggled to contain their excitement and often interrupted the host’s speech to add more trivia about their idol. The atmosphere grew more electric when Padma Subrahmanyam, Jamuna Rani, VS Raghavan and CR Parthiban were given their certificates and cash award of Rs 50,000. The onlookers were even more pleased when Vikram Prabhu and Dushyanth Ramkumar brought the garlands and certificates to their fathers whenever an artiste was honoured. Rest of the time, the young actors stood behind the screen, watching the event with a bright smile on their faces, ready to follow their fathers’ instructions.
Pon Radhakrishnan made an interesting observation; as to how a Sivaji Ganesan film would be used to describe emotion. “When I become emotional, my family used to say, “periya pasamalar Sivaji ivaru.” His movies have become a part of our lives, quite organically. Those days, police officers wanted to be like SP Choudhry of Thanga Pathakkam, lawyers wanted to be like Rajinikanth of Gauravam…”
Adding that he admired Sivaji Ganesan as a great villain and drag-queen too, Radhakrishnan said, “He couldn’t succeed in politics. Thiraila nadikka therinjavarukku, nijathula nadikka therila!”
The actor’s birthday is celebrated by the family every year. Radhakrishnan also declared that the Tamil industry should come forward to celebrate Sivaji Ganesan’s birthday. “To honour Nadigar Thilagam, an award at a national level must be instituted in his name. Avar thaan indha thiraiulgathukku mudhalvar.”
When the curtains were drawn, Prabhu and Vikram zoomed away in their cars, as fans raced the vehicles to wave at the stars one last time.
Muruganandham, a teacher and an ardent fan, who has come all the way from Madurai and who has been attending the celebration since 2002 said, “When we sit with Sivaji’s family, when we listen to the speeches of people who have worked with him, we are reassured that he hasn’t left us yet. And we will forever be in touch with his family, for they know how much we meant to the Nadigar Thilagam.”