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Picture perfect

Sivakumar stands out for his down-to-earth demeanour in a profession where glamour rules


FOR SOMEONE who had seen just 14 movies till he completed his SSLC, cinema was all but a dream. But, little did Sivakumar realise when he embarked on a journey from a small village in Coimbatore to Madras to study painting at the Government College of Arts and Crafts that he would actually be a part of the dream.

The dream was not a short-lived one. More than 100 movies in a span of just 14 years and sharing screen space with the doyens of Tamil cinema, M.G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan. What else could Sivakumar have possibly asked for?

No doubt, the `Markandeyan' of Tamil cinema has left his mark on the marquee. But, was it easy? "Not really," says the actor. Starting off from a village that did not even have electricity to travelling to Mahabalipuram in a cycle all the way from Chennai to sketch paintings, Sivakumar has gone through it all, only to emerge stronger.

"I spent Rs.15 per month on house rent. The mess bill worked out to Rs. 13. I had to travel all over the country for my course. And, believe me, the entire course (six years) cost me just Rs. 7,145," he recounts. The actor considers travelling the arduous road to success as the "golden period" in his life.

Sivakumar is known to be a teetotaller and a disciplinarian. "I learnt yoga when I was 14 years old. I imposed restrictions on myself. I don't take even coffee, or tea. You have to be disciplined to be successful in your career. In showbiz it helps to be this way."

Down memory lane

He still vividly remembers his first shot at cinema in AVM studios. "I was given a two-line dialogue and asked to rehearse it for three days. I wondered why so much time was being given. But, when the scene was being shot, I couldn't even speak. People started making fun of me. I broke down in front of the camera," he recalls.

And, in the early days of his film career Sivakumar did many things not needed in cinema. "For a song sequence, I climbed a coconut tree and got hurt. Only to be told later that I could climb using a ladder."

While playing Rajendra Chola in the movie Rajaraja Cholan (with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead), Sivakumar fell off a horse. "I decided to act again only after getting trained in horse riding. I went to the beach at 4 a.m. everyday for the training."

He continues, "MGR took an effort to know his co-star before hand. I was surprised when he referred to me as a painter. Sivaji was very strict on the sets. Both of them had a powerful and magnetic screen presence. Luckily, I got the script well in advance for their movies. So I was able to practice all the dialogues."

Sivakumar even had to learn dance to play the role of Lord Siva in Karaikal Ammayar. In the film, he had to do a classical dance sequence with Srividya, a Bharatanatyam dancer. "Can you believe it, I learnt to dance in 15 days."

Before acting in Sindhu Bhairavi (as the versatile singer JKB), Sivakumar did not even know the basics of Carnatic music. "It was a complicated role. But, I learnt a few things about music and managed to do well."

Why the switchover from art to acting? "I always wanted to be a painter. But, my professor A.P. Santhanarajan advised me to take up acting even before I completed my final year. Initially, I had a lot of apprehension. However, I decided to take the plunge."

Appreciating art

"Painting provided the base for cinema. In art, all you need to do is observe things and sketch on a canvas. Films are not any different. You have to watch people, study their behaviour and emote in front of the camera."

Sivakumar, however, believes it will take time for people to understand what paintings are all about. "When you look at a portrait of Goddess Saraswathi in your home, how many of you try to know the name of the painter? This being the case, how can you expect people to comprehend modern art? How many of you know the errors in your face?" he asks.

"Unlike in Western countries, art does not have much takers in India. You can't blame the people. Bread and butter issues take precedence," he says.

After so many years in cinema, how has been the experience of working on the small screen? "In TV, a lot of importance is given to roles. You can spread good messages," he says with a smile.

M. ALLIRAJAN

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