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Star and a versatile actor

Melodrama, romance, tragedy, comedy, historical... Gemini Ganesan effortlessly portrayed heroes of all shades. RANDOR GUY writes.

HE WAS one of the Big Three of Tamil Cinema of yesteryear, the other two being M. G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan. The outstanding feature of his film career is that he did not hail, like the other two, from `Boys' Company' background or did he have any theatrical legacy. He was therefore happily free from the restrictive influence of the dictatorship of the proscenium arch. Such star and actor with a wide range of talents and skills is Gemini Ganesan.

The seasoned performer is still going strong ... Gemini in a tele-serial.

He Gemini showed his versatility doing a wide range of roles... Serious melodrama... romance... comedy... tragedy... suave villainy... swashbuckler... historical figures... the lovesick man... He played them all with no trace of theatricality, exaggeration, and over-stressing. As they say in Hollywood, he never chewed the carpet! As he has acted in hundreds of movies, one can only take note of his more memorable movies in which his performance was outstanding and the glittering list includes ``Manampol Mangalyam" (1953, his debut as hero)... ``Kanavaney Kan Kanda Deivam" (1955)... ``Missiamma" (1955)... ``Maathar Kula Manickam" (1956)... ``Kalyana Parisu" (1959)... ``Kalathur Kannamma" (1960, the debut of Kamal Hassan as a kid)... ``Then Nilavu" (1961)... ``Konjum Salangai" (1962)... ``Sumaithangi" (1962)... ``Karpagam" (1963)... ``Panamaa Paasamaa" (1968)... ``Iru Kodugal" (1969)... ``Poovaa Thalayaa" (1969)... ``Naan Avanillai" (1974, his own production, perhaps his best film in which he plays many roles)...

Ramaswami Ganesan was born on November 17, 1920, into a middle-class and prominent Saivite Brahmin family of Pudukottai. After his early education in his hometown, Ganesan arrived at Madras and joined the Madras Christian College in Tambaram. He took his B. Sc. Degree and for a while worked as Demonstrator in his alma mater before the turning point came. He joined Gemini Studios in the mid-1940s. With his handsome looks and inherent charm it was not surprising that he had nursed an ambition for a career in movies. His family links with the Gemini Studios' boss, S. S. Vasan (Mrs. Vasan was closely related to him) fuelled his desire. Ramachandra Iyer, Vasan's father-in law was his granduncle.

He entered the portals of the studios easily but to face a movie camera was entirely different. According to the sadly neglected genius of South Indian cinema, K. Ramnoth, who was then at Gemini Studios as Controller of Productions, a camera test of Ganesan revealed the spark in the handsome young man and he was most impressed. But others did not share his enthusiasm. However he was appointed as `Casting Assistant' and given a room and an office boy!

During this innings Ganesan met and also, interviewed many aspirants of both sexes. They included some of the later day big names of Indian Cinema — S. V. Ranga Rao, J .P. Chandra Babu, and most interestingly a young woman from Andhra Pradesh named K. Savithri!

Ramnoth's faith in Ganesan's talent remained in tact and when he took up the production of ``Miss. Malini '' (1947) for Gemini Studios he introduced his hopeful in the minor role as an assistant to the play-director in the movie.

Outside the studio and his family and pals, nobody knew who he was and his name appeared in the credit titles as R.G.!

In "Vazhkal Padagu" ... with V. K. Ranga Rao, that superb character actor.

The drama director was also a newcomer to cinema who would be making a mark not only as an actor but also screenwriter. His name was N. Seetharaman and within three years he earned a prefix to his name — `Javer'! What a modest debut for a spectacular career for R. G.! In 1948 he appeared in another minor role as Lord Krishna in the successful Gemini Studio production, ``Chakradhari." Though the film clicked at the box office in a big way Ganesan remained unknown to the public.

Ramnoth, who had left Gemini Studios on August 15, 1947 (worked for the well-known film unit of the day, Narayanan & Company. For it he directed ``Thai Ullam'' (1952), an adaptation of the popular sentimental tearjerker novel ``East Lynne" by the noted writer of yesteryear Henry Wood.

Interestingly the hero of this film was R. S. Manohar. Ramnoth wished to cast that brilliant actor and star, T. S. Balaiah, as the villain but his `asking price' was more than half of the budget of the film!

Enter Ganesan as villain! For this role Ganesan, credited in the titles as R. Ganesh, received a very modest four-figure fee. But that did not matter because for the first time moviegoers took notice of the handsome man who began to cause flutters in many female hearts!

In the same year, he played a supporting role as one of the three sons in the Gemini Studios production, ``Moondru Pillaigal." Sadly this film flopped.

The year 1953... a milestone in Ganesan's life and movie career. The future superstar, then thirty-three (not so young according to old Indian standards!) hit the bull's eye when he was cast in a dual role as the `heroes' in the Narayanan unit production, ``Manampol Mangalyam." A comedy of mistaken identities, the interesting story line was created by the leading and innovative Telugu screenwriter, Vempati Sathasivabramham. (He was so good at creating screen stories that he was popularly known as `Katha-sivabramham'! The Tamil film script was written by Tamil writer, Umachandran, and filmmaker K. V. Srinivasan and all three received credit in the film for the story and screenplay.

``Manampol Mangalyam" had two heroines — one was the buxom Telugu actress Surabhi Balasaraswathi, and the other was a talented attractive actress, destined to make history in South Indian cinema, K. Savithri!

Ganesan and Savithri were not only reel-lovers, but fell in love in real life too and soon married.

Vyjayanthimala and Gemini Ganesan ... an alluring screen pair.

Ganesan was already married and had children and not surprisingly the second matrimonial venture was hot news.

When Savithri endorsed a branded hair oil ad and signed it as `Savithri Ganesh,' it became `news' of the day! The film was a thumping success and the hero became a star who never looked back. This hero did not indulge in fisticuffs every fifth scene, nor did he deliver jaw-breaking long-winded alliterative and seemingly endless passages of dialogue.

With the success of ``Kanavaney Kan Kanda Deivam" (1955), ``Missiamma" (1955), ``Pennin Perumai" (1956), ``Maathar Kula Manickam" (1956), ``Vanji Kottai Vaaliban" (1958) and many others, he acquired an outstanding reputation as the Romantic Hero and soon a befitting prefix ``Kaadhal Mannan" (`King of Love'!) was bestowed on him! A study of his worthy and better films reveals an interesting facet of the hero being drawn to two women and caught in the eternal love triangle.

The soft, romantic hero with Anjali Devi.

His complicated personal life perhaps enriched and invested his reel life romantic roles with rare emotional depth, empathy and such sensitive values which other top heroes of that period could not do without theatrical exaggeration, over-playing, and as they say, emoting in every frame!

His best performance perhaps was in his own production, ``Naan Avan Illai" in which he played many roles as seducer of women. Directed by K. Balachandar, this film won high critical praise for his brilliant performance but according to the star-producer it did not bring home the bacon.

Affectionately known to his close pals as `Gemini Mama,' Ganesan is a voracious reader and has an excellent memory. He has the gift of the gab (and grab!) and is a good penman.

An excellent raconteur with a bubbling sense of humour, he is an entrancing and rollicking companion even for men! With his handsome looks and charisma it is not surprising that many women have thrown themselves at him. As an American film historian wrote about the Hollywood icon, Gary Cooper, ``they came to him with their platefuls of delicacies which he partook." In all fairness to him, Gemini Ganesan is ``more sinned against than sinning!"

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