His own space
|He played everything from college student, to music guru to romantic hero, in a career that spanned nearly half a century. S.THEODORE BASKARAN looks at some of the best roles of Gemini Ganesan.|
A long innings in Tamil cinema — Gemini Ganesan.
GEMINI RAMASWAMY GANESAN left us quite a few insights about Tamil cinema to think about. Despite his long innings on the screen, he never got any National award, not even as a supporting actor. He neither dabbled in politics nor did he nurse a fan club. Is there a link between these? Trying to find his space, when the two giants, MGR and Shivaji, backed by a scaffolding of fan following, were striding the Tamil screen, Gemini eventually established his place — by playing roles that suited him.
When you look at the film portrayals by Gemini, there is one characteristic that stands out. Unlike his contemporary stars, he did not come from the stage and, therefore, did not carry the customary excess baggage of stage conventions, of frontal positioning, gesticulations and body language. So there was a freshness in his screen presence He brought subdued acting and understatement to the Tamil screen. The lines he delivered seemed to come straight from the heart rather than from the script book. The dear man's singularity was that he remained apolitical in his career. The only time when he got any where near politicians was when he organised a function in 1963 for poet Subramania Bharathi at Ettayapuram.
After getting a degree in Chemistry, he worked for a while in the Madras Christian College, Tambaram, as a demonstrator before he got a job as a casting assistant in Gemini Studios. Actor Ranjan's career was on the wane at that time and with the good will of the boss S.S.Vasan, Ganesan slid into the screen. Fresh-faced and heart-breakingly handsome, he made his debut in the film "Miss Malini" (1947), at a time when the medium he helped to grow itself was young. This was followed by a number of small roles including a cameo appearance in "Avvaiyar" (1953), as the King of Tirukovilur who marries the daughters of Paari.
But it was in "Missiamma" (1955) — where he donned the delightful role of a teacher, a Hindu, who pretends to be married to a teacher, a Christian, to be able to rent a place to live — that established him. This charming film ensured a place for him and the heroine, Savithiri, a place in the film firmament. The pair won the hearts of filmgoers with enduring duets like "Varayo Vennilaave".
His career peaked in the late 1950s and 1960s with films like "Vanjikottai Valiban" (1958).
His role in "Kanavanae Kankanda Deivam" (1955), particularly his portrayal of the hunchback, evidently inspired by the film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939) brought him fame and popularity. In "Kalam Mari Pochu" (1956), a film with leftist ideology, he played an uncharacteristic role of a struggling farmer; it was a memorable portrayal. It was the era of Kannadasan, Viswanathan-Ramamurthy and P.B. Srinivas. In his long career, that has spanned nearly half a century, Gemini has played everything from college student to music guru. With his signature costume of kurta and pyjama, he projected a romantic hero as he broke the hearts of women: Decades later, through a character in the film "Avvai Shanmuki" (1996) he was to refer to this image.
His was a time when melodrama ruled the Indian screen. The plots of his films were often sentimental, like in "Kalathur Kannamma" (1960). The eroticism he depicted in the love scenes was beautifully understated. By just throwing longing looks, smiling and holding hands he earned the title Kadhal Mannam (The Prince of Love). A typical Gemini hero was zestful, warm and gracious and not given to violence.
In his elements
He was at his best in his films with Savithiri. The Gemini-Savithiri film that I like most is "Prema Pasam" (1956) in which he plays the role of a benevolent thief, an enduring theme in Indian cinema. The song "O..ho Vennilave. Vinnalum vennilave", by Ghantasala, rocked Tamil Nadu and turned out to be one of the most durable songs of Tamil cinema. This pair, frolicking in the garden of Sathanur dam, with Gemini singing "Kalangalil Aval vasantham" ("Pavamannipu", 1961), is one of the most lasting images of Tamil cinema. He was in his element in mythological roles also and the one that comes to mind first is his portrayal of Abimanyu in "Maya Bazaar" (1957).
The tragedy of Gemini is that he got fossilised in one type of portrayal. One reason is that he did not get a director who could harness his potential.
Though he was a director's delight, not trying to dominate by suggesting camera positions, he never reached his artistic peak. When other stars in the Western world, such as Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, and in India, Kamal Hassan responded to a similar situation by turning to film direction, so that they could have greater creative control over the films, Gemini did not choose that path. His portrayal of the forlorn lover in the film "Kalyanaparisu" (1959), who did not get what he wanted, is the enduring image his admirers and fans have of him.
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