By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
(This short article written as a tribute was published in “The Sunday Leader” of Colombo after the death of ♥ Gemini Ganesan ♥. It is being reproduced here without any changes due to requests by many readers who are fans of the Romance king of Tamil cinema who was born on November 17th 1920)
Gemini Ganesan one time heart throb of Tamil cinema passed away peacefully in his sleep at 1.30 am on March 22nd at his residence in Nungambakkam, Chennai. In a career spanning five decades the octogenarian made his mark in Tamil films as the romantic hero par excellence and was known as “kaadhal Mannan” (King of Romance).
His on screen and off screen persona were intertwined and the evergreen Gemini with four wives had several liaisons with attractive women. As Tamil Nadu chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram remarked his death is truly “an end of an era in Tamil cinema”.
His real name was Ramasamy Ganesan. The prefix “Gemini” stuck to him because prior to acting Ganesan had worked as casting director at the prestigious “Gemini” studios in Tamil Nadu. By a coincidence his contemporary and namesake Sivaji Ganesan too got the prefix “Sivaji” due to his acting as the Mahratta King in a drama written by former DMK chief Minister CN Annadurai. Sivaji, Gemini and MGR (Ramachandran) comprised the triumvirate that dominated Tamil movies from the fifties to the seventies. Another Thespian SS Rajendran strove valiantly to make this a quartet but failed.
Vanam enum veedhiyele
Mathurailyil Parantha Meen kodiyai
Kaatru Veliyidai Kannamma
Inbam pongum vennila
Valarnda Kalai Maranduvittal
Iyatkai ennum Illaya Kanni
Radha Kadhal Varatha
Gemini however was the odd man out among the three musketeers.Unlike MGR and Sivaji he had no professional experience as a stage actor. Both MGR and Sivaji had learnt the ropes as part of the Madurai Boys Company drama group. Unlike them Gemini had tertiary qualifications. He was a B Sc graduate from Madras University whereas the others having taken to the stage in childhood were schooled by life.
MGR and Sivaji encouraged fans associations and participated in politics Gemini remained aloof from politics. He even declined a Rajya Sabha MP nomination proposal by Rajiv Gandhi. While he was always cordial towards fans and friends he never promoted “Rasikar Mandrangal”. This phenomenon continues to this day in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states with proliferating fans associations dedicated to various film stars.
While MGR’s on screen hallmark was swashbuckling action sequences and Sivaji that of powerful dialogue delivery Gemini cooed and wooed his way into many a heart. All the world loves a lover! Gemini was the greatest lover on Tamil silver screen making hearts flutter. His handsome features, dashing personality, cavalier attitude, soft speech, twinkling eyes and impish humour proved an irresisistible combination.
Though he proved his mettle in many movies with fight scenes and heavy duty dialogue Gemini was not classed as a fighter or actor in the MGR – Sivaji mould. This softie image led to a nickname “Sambar” or vegetable broth. Gemini was also called Ganesh, Gemini Mama and RG. His real name was Ramaswamy Ganesan.
He was born into a well – educated middle class Brahmin family in Puthukottai on November 17th 1920. After rceiving secondary education at Rajahs College he moved to Chennai for higher studies. GGGanesan studied at Madras Christian College and graduated in Science. He worked as a demonstrator in cHemistry for a while at his Alma Mater. Utterly bored with academia he obtained employment at Gemini Studios run by the mercurial SS Vasan. Vasans father in law Ramachandran was Geminis grand uncle.
He worked as casting director at Gemini. One of his duties was to interview prospective actors and actresses. Among his finds was Chandrababu, Ranga Rao, Savithri and Balaji. It was this stint at Gemini that bestowed Ganesan his name Gemini. His first film role was in “Miss Malini” a film based on a short story by RK Narayan. His name in the credits was RG. Later he played Lord Krishna in “Chakradhari”. He came to be noticed as an actor by playing the villain opposite RS Manohar in “Thai Ullam”. His turning point was as the hero playing dual roles in “Manampol Mankalyam” in 1952.
From then onwards there was no looking back. He has acted in more than 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi. Most films however were in Tamil his mother tongue. Among successful movies that Gemini acted as hero were Kanavane Kan Kanda Theivam, Vanjikottai Valiban, Kalyanap Parisu, Missiyamma , Then Nilavu, Meenda Sorgam, Sumai Thangi, Patha Kanikkai, Parthiban Kanavu, Kairasi, Kalathoor KannammaKonchum Salangai Katpaham, Ramu, Valkai Padagu, Shanthi Nilaiyam, Thamarai Nenjam, Vellivila , Punnagai and Naan Avanillai.
He also acted in several blockbusters with Sivaji Ganesan playing second lead. Notable among these were Pennin Perumai, Veera Pandiya Kattabhomman, Kappalottiya Thamilan, Pathi bhakthi, Pavamannippu, Parthal Pasi theerum, Kandan Karunai, Saraswathie Sabatham and Unakkaha Naan. His only film with MGR was Muharasi where he played elder brother. Gemini also starred with SS Rajendran in “Vairakkiyam.In Kalathoor Kannamma Kamalahasan as a child artiste acted as Geminis son. Decades later in Avvai Sanmugi the aged Gemini played father in law to Kamal.
Gemini has acted opposite several leading actresses like Anjali Devi, Pushpavalli, Padmini, Vaijayanthimala, Savithri, Devika, Vijayakumari, Saroja Devi, Vanishree, Rajashree, Kanchana, Bharathi, Jeyanthi, KR Vijaya and Jayalalitha. His screen chemistry with almost all his heroines was superb. Some of the love songs Gemini crooned on screen are evergreen numbers. Several playback singers have sung for Gemini but it was AM Rajah, PB Sreenivas and SP Balasubramaniam whose voices blended most harmoniously on screen. The directors who brought out his acting abilities out best were Ragavaiah, Bhimsingh. Bhanthulu, Sridhar, Shankar, Gopalakrishnan, Balachandar, Nagarajan etc
Some of his roles are unforgettable. The ugly dwarf in Kanavane Kankanda theivam; the valiant military commander Velliathevan in Veera Pandiya Kattabhomman; the freedom fighter Madasamypillai in Kappalottiya Thamilan; the burdened family man seeking solace as a Catholic priest in Sumai Thangi.
The widower with child caught up in a triangular relationship in films like Katpaham, Ramu etc. The Nathaswaram playerlip synching to perfection on screen the music of maestro Karukurichi Arunasalam in Konchum Salangai, Vikkarama Cholan in Parthiban Kanavu, the warrior Verramallan in Saraswathy Sabatham. Lakshmana in Lava kusa; Lord Siva in Kandan Karunai; Lord Krishna in Veera Abhimanyu; the devotee to truth in Punnagai are someperformances lingering in memory.
His magnum opus however was in his own production “Naan Avanillai” (I am not he) directed by S. Balachandar. Gemini played nine roles. The story was about a bigamist posing off as different men in different disguises to different women. It was a case of art imitating life and Gemini was in his element playing all roles. It was a sign of Gemini’s remarkable sense of humour that he chose to film such a story as the only film he has ever produced. Unfortunately it did not click at the box office.
Geminis first and only legal wife was Alamelu called fondly as “Bopji”. Gemini married at 19 and had his first child when 22. This did not prevent further marriages done according to religious rites. One such wife was Pushpavalli with whom he acted in his first film Another was the illustrious actress Savithri with whom he has acted in many films. She was known as Savithri Ganesh. Gemini made headlines a few years ago by his marriage to a woman more than fifty years his junior Julianna. He also had a live in relationship with the actress Rajashree.
Saraswathi Sabatham – Gemini Ganesan argues with K.R. Vijaya
Ganesans other extra- marital liaisons were numerous and added grist to the gossip mills of Kodambakam. Gemini was no gigolo but a casanova. He was not a hypocrite and candidly admitted to these saying his life was an open book. Some writers have compared him to Gary Cooper in this respect. His wife Bopji stood by her philandering husband throughout like the typical Indian loyal wife.
She and Gemini have four daughters. Three of them Revathy, Kamala and Jeya are medical doctors. A fourth Narayani is a journalist on Times of India. Gemini has two daughters by Pushpavalli. The elder is Rekha the well – known Hindi actress. The younger Radha also acted in a few Tamil films but then opted for marriage and migration to the USA. Savithri and Gemini have two children. The daughter Vijayasamundeeswari is a Physiotherapist. She acted in films as a child artiste “Baby Savithri”. Gemini’s only son Satheesh Kumar is also living abroad.
Despite the fickle love life Gemini was a shrewd businessman and invested heavily in real estate and property development. He was a good sportsman having captained the College Cricket team. He also played Tennis, Golf, Badminton . His other interests were swimming, riding horses, ball room dancing and reading. He has visited Sri Lanka several times and had many good friends.
The MGR – Sivaji – Gemini Period at its best was the golden age of Tamil cinema. The last of that trio has breathed his last. Many actors have romanced their heroines in the past and no doubt will do so in the future. The “romantic king” crown however belonged to Gemini Ganesan and all other aspirants only pretenders to the throne.He was and will be forever the “Kaadhal Mannan” of Tamil cinema just as MGR was the “Puratchi Nadigar” (revolutionary Actor) and Sivaji its “Nadigar Thilakam”.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com