Suave, sophisticated, romantic

Gemini Ganesan, Ranga Rao and Baby Farida in Gemini's

Gemini Ganesan, Ranga Rao and Baby Farida in Gemini's "Vaazhkai Padagu."  

THE ROMANTIC icon of Tamil Cinema is no more. Better known as `Kaadhal Mannan' and `Gemini Mama' to his intimate friends, one of whom was this writer, he has departed to the `Land of No Return.' One of the leading personalities of Indian Cinema, he left behind indelible footprints in the form of his romantic roles in Tamil movies and was respected beyond the borders of his native Tamil Nadu. When he was given the Filmfare `Life Achievement Award' some years ago, the entire gathering in the packed auditorium in Mumbai gave him a standing ovation proving his national fame even though he had not done many movies in languages other than Tamil.

Gemini Ganesh was a sophisticated person, a Madras University science graduate, and well informed on a variety of subjects. He could talk with ease and authority on even esoteric subjects like atomic energy and such. Abundantly articulate, he was a great raconteur with a bubbling sense of humour and wit. Above all, he was a highly disciplined movie star.

The last of the Big Three of Tamil Cinema of its Golden Era - the other two being M. G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan - the outstanding feature of Gemini's film career was that he did not hail like the other two from the `Boys' Company' background nor did he inherit the Tamil 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 was Gemini Ganesh. (All stars are not actors and all actors do not become stars!) He has shown his versatility doing a wide range of roles.... Serious melodrama... romance... comedy... tragedy... suave villainy... swashbuckler... historical figures... the love-sick man... He played them all with no trace of theatricality, exaggeration, and over-stressing.

With Savithri in "Aayiram Rubai... " chemistry on and off the screen.

With Savithri in "Aayiram Rubai... " chemistry on and off the screen.  

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. The glittering list includes "Manampola Mangalyam" (1953, his debut as hero), "Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam" (1955), "Missiamma" (1955), "Maathar Kula Manickam" (1956), "Kalyana Parisu" (1959), "Kalathur Kannamma" (1960, the debut of Kamal Hassan as a kid), "Thaen 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, in a middle-class and prominent Saivaite Brahmin family of Pudhukottah (now Pudukottai). After his early education in his hometown, Ganesan came to Madras and joined the Madras Christian College in Tambaram. Here he took his B. Sc. Degree and for a while worked as demonstrator in his alma mater. Then his life took a different less travelled pathway that would soon fetch him name, fame and fortune. Ganesh joined Gemini Studios in mid-1940. With his stunningly handsome looks and inherent charm, it was not surprising that he had nursed in his bosom a desire for a career in movies. In addition, to encourage him he had close family links with the Gemini Studios' `Boss,' S. S. Vasan. Mrs. Vasan was closely related to him. Ramachandra Iyer, Vasan's father-in law was his grand-uncle.

While he entered the portals of the Studios easily, it was not that easy to face a movie camera in spite of family links and all! 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 Ganesh was shot and he saw the spark in the handsome young man and was most impressed. However, others in the studio pecking order did not share his enthusiasm. By way of consolation he was appointed as the `Casting Assistant' and given a room and an office boy. During this innings Ganesh met and interviewed many screen aspirants of both sexes. Those included some of the later day big names of Indian Cinema, like S. V. Ranga Rao, J .P. Chandra Babu and most interestingly, a young woman from Andhra named K. Savithri.

Meanwhile, Ramnoth's faith in Ganesan's talents 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.' He had very few scenes and not much dialogue to speak. (The drama director was also a newcomer to cinema who would be making a mark not only as an actor but also screenwriter, soon to be known as `Javer' Seetharaman.) 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 Mrs. Henry Wood.

Interestingly the hero of this film was R. S. Manohar who later created history as theatre person and also star-screen villain of Tamil Cinema.

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. However, that did not matter because for the first time moviegoers took notice of the handsome man who began to cause flutters in many a female heart of all ages. 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 33 (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 "Manampola Mangalyam."

A comedy of mistaken identity of two look-alikes, one of whom is an inmate of a lunatic asylum who escapes, the interesting story line was created by the leading and innovative Telugu screenwriter Vempati Sadhasivabramham. The Tamil film script was written by Tamil writer, Umachandran, and filmmaker K. V. Srinivasan and all three received credits in the film for the story and screenplay.

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

With Sowkar Janaki in "Kaaviya Thalaivi" ...

With Sowkar Janaki in "Kaaviya Thalaivi" ...  

Ganesan and Savithri not only played the reel-lovers, but also fell in love in real life too and soon got married. Ganesan had already married young, was father of two children and not surprisingly, the second matrimonial venture was hot news.

The film was a thumping success, the hero became a star, and he never looked back. A new age in Tamil Cinema, that of the Romantic Hero had dawned.

He was a hero who did not indulge in fisticuffs every fifth scene, or did not take off into jaw-breaking long-winded alliterative and seemingly endless passages of Tamil dialogue.

With the success of his films like "Kanavane 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.

His own complicated personal real 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 naive 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.

With his handsome looks and charisma, it is not surprising that he was the cynosure of female eyes.

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 Ganesh was "more sinned against than sinning." (An expression, which he loved, heard from this writer every time they met!)

Keenly interested in sports, he played cricket, billiards and snooker. In his younger days, he played cricket in the Madras City league level with some measure of success.

This suave star and talented actor and above all a perfect gentlemen with old-world culture, values and polish, may be gone but his movies shall be an eternal reminder of the man called Gemini Ganesh.

A scene from "Missiamma" which won great accolades for the hero.

A scene from "Missiamma" which won great accolades for the hero.  

He will be missed by his countless friends and admirers with most of whom he was on first name basis but it is some consolation that they have memories to cherish.

* * *

A strong bond

GEMINI GANESH played the dad of the three-year old toddler Kamal Hassan in the latter's debut film "Kalathur Kannamma." Much later the two repeated the roles in K. Balachander's "Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi."

The affinity that they had for each other came across very clearly on screen, even in "Avvai Shanmughi" when Ganesh's roving eye for the `maid' portrayed by Kamal provided some hilarious moments. Effectively that was Ganesh's last major role, though he made a five-minute appearance later in "Adithadi."

"I thought that like his mom he would live to cross 90," sighs Kamal. Busy as he was with "Mumbai Express," Kamal hadn't been able to meet Gemini Ganesh recently and he regrets it.

"But I've been in touch with Kamalamma (Kamala Selvaraj), his daughter. We are more like a family and we've been maintaining contact throughout ... " Kamal Hassan's relationship with the veteran actor has been on a different plane and from his tone you could make out that the screen dad will always hold a special place in his thoughts.

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