Friday, January 4, 2008

Gemini Ganesh: `King of Romance', passes away

Gemini Ganesh, `King of Romance', passes away

By Our Special Correspondent

Gemini Ganesh. — Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

CHENNAI, MARCH 22. Gemini Ganesh, Tamil cinema's first acknowledged romantic hero, (`Kadhal Mannan'), died here in the early hours today at the age of 84 after a prolonged illness. Along with Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran, Mr. Ganesh made up a celebrated triumvirate of actors who dominated Tamil filmdom for three decades from the 1950s.

He was cremated in the evening with full state honours.

Born on November 17, 1920, Ramaswamy Ganesh captured the imagination of an entire generation of film-goers as the archetypal romantic hero with a song on his lips. In about 200 films he essayed a wide range of roles, starting with a minor part in Miss Malini, a Gemini Studio film based on an R.K. Narayan story and script (1947). He starred opposite Pushpavalli, who became the mother of two of his daughters.

Mr. Ganesh did not take the traditional route of the theatre to the tinsel world. His first job was as a demonstrator at Madras Christian College. His first cinema-related work was with the studio that brought the Gemini prefix to his name.

From the casting department, Mr. Ganesh got his first break in films with Miss Malini. This was followed by Chakravarthi, in which he played Lord Krishna. However, not until 1953, when he played the villain in the film Thai Ullam, did people take notice of him as an actor.

The next year, he graduated as a hero with Manampol Mangalyam. The film paired him with Savitri, who became the mother of two of his children — a daughter and a son. From then on, he carved out a niche for himself in Tamil cinema with films that required a lot of `romance' but little `action'. Although Sivaji excelled in films with drama, and MGR dominated movies with thrilling fight-scenes, Mr. Ganesh held his own with sensitive portrayals of the yearning lover.

Kanavane Kankanda Deivam, Missiamma (both 1955), Yaar Paiyan (1957), Vanjikottai Valiban (1958), Kalyana Parisu (1959), Parthiban Kanavu (1960), Paava Mannippu, Then Nilavu (both 1961), Konjum Salangai (1962), and Iru Kodugal, Poova Thalaiya (both 1969) were among his most memorable films. In 1974, he starred in his own production, Naan Avanillai, the story of a man playing many roles. The success of the love story-based films earned him the title of `Kadhal Mannan' or King of Romance.

Later in his career, he switched to character roles. Notable among these was Avvai Shanmughi (1996), in which, quite characteristically, he entered into the skin of an old man longing for an old maid. Towards the end of his acting career he kept himself busy with elegant roles in television serials.

Varied interests

Mr. Ganesh was a man of varied interests. In school, he was captain of the cricket team. A lover of dogs, he had a special liking for Golden Retrievers.

All his life, Mr. Ganesh made it a point not to involve himself in any public controversy. Unlike Sivaji and MGR, he kept his distance from politics. However, he had a close circle of friends, and always remembered those who helped him in his career. A few years before R.K. Narayan died, Gemini Ganesh, quite frail, visited him on a sudden impulse to pay his respects and thank him for "launching him on a film career." Gemini Ganesh won several awards, including the Padma Shri.

He is survived by his wife Alamelu Ganesh (`Bobji Amma'), aged 80, seven daughters, and a son. They are: Dr. Revathi Swaminathan, Dr. Kamala Selvaraj, Ms. Narayani Ganesh, Dr. Jaya Shreedhar; film actress Rekha Ganesh, Radha Osman Syed; Vijaya Chamundeswari, and Satish Kumar.

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


Gemini Ganesh: His daughter speaks

Pages from the past

There was more to Gemini Ganesh than just being a star of the silver screen, finds his daughter JAYA SHREEDHAR.

Last of the Triumvirate: Gemini Ganesh with Vyjayantimala in a still from one of his films.

HAVING lived with my father all my life, I presumed I was privy to everything about him. Yet, there were several things I could never figure out. How had he managed to live with a breezy unorthodoxy bordering on the bohemian, yet have his feet planted firmly on the ground? Where had he learnt the Houdiniesque skill to wriggle in and out of emotionally knotty relationships, largely unscathed? Why did it seem like he was always one step ahead of retribution? How come society winked indulgently at his "excesses" while reserving stern castigation for the rest? All I can say is that he led a charmed life.


Home was a jumble of seeming contradictions. My grandmother's shaven head, brown madisar-kattu and strict ritualism flowed seamlessly with her loving acceptance of the many inter-community marriages in the family. Appa would switch effortlessly between impeccable English, Sanskrit and the pungent vocabulary of Tamil filmdom. He dashed off syrupy English poems with a gusto that made me giggle with embarrassment; yet he had a refined sense of humour that, regretfully, was never exploited by his directors. He loved my mother and quite a few "others" and yet expected us all to love each other too! He loved chatting up the glitterati; equally, he derived pleasure from teasing vegetable vendors each morning into quoting competitive rates — not movie-star prices. He was a rash driver, yet he taught me to drive for hours each day with patience, stopping the day I learned to apply the brakes. He would often watch me at the NCC rifle practice. When I told him I was going to become a journalist, he asked, perplexed: "But what will you do for a living?" Yet, he burst into tears of pride, giving me a bear hug when I showed him my article in Frontline.


Keen Interest In The World: Gemini Ganesh's diary entry and the clipping from The Hindu, August 1942 .

Once, I stumbled upon Appa's Madras Christian College calendar of 1942 and diary of 1943 with two newspaper clippings from The Hindu. From the pages spoke a young chemistry instructor of 22, who played cricket tennis, badminton and bridge, frequented the city's cinema houses and cafes and who followed politics on and off the campus. Some random excerpts from his MCC almanac:

July 22, 1942: ... in the evening C. Rajagopalachari inaugurated the College Union Society. "On how to speak." People were disappointed because he never talked `Pakistan.' Books recommended (1) John Stuart Mill `Liberty' and (2)Thirukkural.

August 12, 1942: Strike again. Most of the students didn't attend college. Played tennis in the college court. Presidencians indefinite strike. Lathi charge... police open fire everywhere. Mohan Kumaramangalam shouted down. C.R. differs from Gandhi. Cricket practice...

August 14, 1942: Went to city in the afternoon with D. Saw "A Chump at Oxford" Laurel and Hardy at Elphinstone. Had lunch at Udipi...

August 18, 1942: College as usual. Students again plan a strike. Very fickle minded fellows. No organisation. In the evening met one Mr. Mackenzie, a Scotch soldier, was talking with him along with Anantharamiah, Ali... and Samuel Raj. Very interesting communistic views.

August 23, 1942: ... Good report of the match in Sunday `Hindu'. (see clipping)

January 2, 1943: ... Went to city with Murthy and one Mr. Subramaniam of Bishop Heber. Saw "Pardon my sarong" at New Globe... Bud Abbot and Louis Costello. Nice picture. Went to Café Casino... Swell day.

February 19, 1943: Prayer day for Gandhiji's fast. Students' agitation. Mahalaxmi Bhavathi gets arrested. So is Bhopal Easo John, D.. and others. Very anxious situation...

February 21, 1943: News about Gandhiji's worse condition. Trying situation. Prayer for Gandhiji's health

March 7, 1943: Attempted some painting. Went to city in the evening... to Roxy with Gurunandan Mulki, saw the "Great Dictator". Very good picture. Liked it awfully. Went to Hotel Brindavan...

November 28 1943: Went to Golden Rock by train and played a cricket match for Ormsby Institute against R.A.F. I bowled and took three for 17. Batting ...made 26. We made it for 3...

November 29, 1943: In the evening went to Plaza to see "Dive Bomber" technicolour featuring Eroll Flynn, Quite good. Most of the test cricketers were there.


In his MCC days.

Appa was at the time a married man of two years while my mother was in Trichinopoly, a fact unbeknown to his MCC compatriots. ... until that fateful day when my mother's cousin visited him. That day's entry reads:

February 31, 1943: ... Mr. Krishnamurthy Ayyar from Trichy came unexpectedly. What a drama! I was in a dilemma...

Appa always kept some record of the day's events in the Hoe and Co. diary of the year, an annual compliment from his friend Mr. Chandrasekar of Higginbothams. The MCC diaries, however, are testimony to the memories of a carefree youth that he cherished. And the boy in him never died.

Dr. Jaya Shreedhar, the youngest daughter of Gemini Ganesh, is Health Advisor, Internews Network. Contact her at

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


Gemini Ganesan - his biography

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.

A freshness

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.

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


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