October 1 this year marks the 85 birthday of acting legend Sivaji Ganesan. There are at least three memorials to him in the city, of which my personal favourite stands inside AVM Studios. I was able to see it a couple of years ago, thanks to a Kollywood heritage tour organised by actor Mohan V. Raman.

Monument to Sivaji Ganesan and Parasakthi
Monument to Sivaji Ganesan and Parasakthi

A simple block of elegantly-fashioned black granite, it stands on the spot where Sivaji first faced the camera for his debut film – Parasakthi. The granite slab has a brass medallion on top that bears a close-up of Sivaji uttering his famous opening word – “Success!”. Below it is a rectangular plaque that gives details of the memorial’s inauguration by Kamal Hassan in the presence of Sivaji’s sons Ramkumar and Prabhu, on October 17, 2002, the 50 anniversary of Parasakthi’s release.

At the base are two plaques shaped like pages from an open book. These bear the names of all the other people involved in the making of the film – directors, writers, lyricists, music director, singers and technicians.

This last was the idea of Mohan Raman, while the monument itself owes its existence to M. Saravanan and M. Balasubramanian, sons of A.V. Meyyappan, founder of AVM Studios.

I don’t remember now but I am fairly sure that the name of P.A. Perumal, owner of National Pictures, who produced the film, is included in the memorial. What I am not sure of is whether the name of Rajeswari Meyyappan, wife of the studio owner is included.

Legend has it that sometime after work on the film began Meyyappan and the directing duo of Krishnan-Panju began wondering if the gangly youth with prominent eyes and powerful voice really had it in him to carry the film on his shoulders. Perumal and Mrs. Meyyappan were however convinced that he was the right choice and ultimately prevailed over everyone else. The film, when released, ran into immediate controversy, the fiery dialogues of M. Karunanidhi that questioned the hypocrisies of religion and the priestly class being the principal reasons. It was however a runaway success and there was no looking back for Sivaji.

Interestingly, at the time of its inauguration, the monument was located 15 to 20 feet away from where it stands now.

Old studio hands felt that it was somewhat removed from the spot where Sivaji delivered his first shot but nothing could be done about it. Some years later, a road had to be laid in the studio and the memorial had to be shifted a few feet, bringing it to its original intended location!

This is perhaps the most aesthetic memorial in a city which otherwise puts up rather drab statues devoid of any artistic merit. It is also perhaps the only monument commemorating an actor’s debut. Sivaji has two other memorials – a full wall in the Shanthi Theatre complex that lists all the films he acted in with a host of other details, and a statue on the Marina.

This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column dated 1st October 2013