22 March 2005: Gemini Ganesan, Tamil film star, died

Tamil film star Ramaswamy Ganesan, better known as Gemini Ganesan, was born on 17 November 1920 to a Brahmin family in the then Thanjavur district of Madras state.

The “King of Romance”, as he was called for his good-looking charm and on and off screen romances, died on 22 March 2005. One of his daughters is the Bollywood star Rekha.

Gemini Ganesan’s childhood name was Ganapathi Subramania Sarma. His parents were Ramaswamy and Gangamma. After his father’s death (when Ramaswamy was 10 years old), he was raised by his grandmother Bagirathi, mother Gangamma and aunt Muthulakshmi, partly in Madras city (now Chennai). He studied at the Ramakrishna Mission Home for a few years and then in a high school in Pudhukkottai, his native place. Subsequently he studied at Maharajah’s College and Madras Christian College, graduating in Chemistry.

In 1940 he married Alamelu (informally called ‘Bobji’). After his dream of becoming a doctor could not be realised, he took up the job of a teacher at his alma mater, Madras Christian College. In 1947 he joined Madras’s famous Gemini Studios as a production executive.

He made his film debut the same year with a minor role in the Gemini production ‘Miss Malini’. He starred opposite Pushpavalli, whom he later married. Rekha was a child from this union. ‘Miss Malini’ was followed by minor roles in films such as ‘Chakradhari’ (in which he played the role of Lord Krishna). However, it was after a negative role in the 1953 film ‘Thai Ullam’ that be began to be noticed. Major success came in the form of ‘Manampol Mangalyam’, a double role in which he starred opposite the actress Savitri (they later married).

As R.C. Rajamani wrote in The Tribune in April 2005, “With that film (‘Manampol Mangalyam’), Gemini Ganesan had really arrived. The prefix Gemini came to be attached to his name from this film. It was also to distinguish him from…Sivaji Ganesan, who was already making waves with fiery social films like ‘Parasakati’, scripted in vitriol by M. Karunanidhi, the DMK supremo. MGR, too, was already a star of some stature at that time. While Sivaji Ganesan and MGR played the serious, idealistic, but wronged Indian youth in films as per the mood of the 1950s, Gemini Ganesan came as a whiff of spring in simple, uncomplicated roles in films like ‘Missiamma’ that was later made in Hindi as ‘Miss Mary’.”

In the initial phase of his career Gemini Ganesan acted in films like ‘Maya Bazaar’ (1957), ‘Kalathur Kannamma’ (1959), ‘Veerapandiya Kattabomman’ (1959), ‘Pennin Perumai’ (1960), and ‘Kappalotiya Thamizhan’ (1961).

Later he acted in films like ‘Kaviya Thalaivi’, ‘Naan Avanillai’ and ‘Avvai Shanmugi’. He also acted in a few films of other south Indian languages such as the Telugu film ‘Rudraveena’. He acted in television as well.

“Well into the mid-50s, [Gemini Ganesan] was still playing the romantic hero. In fact, arguably the most memorable film of his career, ‘Naan Avanillai’ happened when he was 54,” Suveen Sinha wrote in Business Standard in January 2011. “In it he played nine roles as a philanderer who changed his identity to lure pretty women. He invariably got the women; all of them succumbed to him. And the romances did not end when the director called ‘cut’.”

About his multiple relationships, he told the journalist Shobha Warrier in an interview in 1995: “These adventures and misadventures gave me a feeling that I should take care of my family hundred times more than what I had, which I would have, had I not strayed. I took care of my wife (Bobji); I took good care of my children. All of them have come up brilliantly in life. So my conscience is now clear. I am satisfied. I have made amends. That was the only mistake I have done. Gemini Ganesan is not a Rama, he is aKrishna.”

Gemini Ganesh died on 22 March 2005 after a long illness. He was 84.

In an article on the star, the film historian and critic S. Theodore Baskaran wrote in The Hindu in March 2005: “With his signature costume of kurta and pyjama, he projected a romantic hero as he broke the hearts of women….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….A typical Gemini hero was zestful, warm and gracious and not given to violence.”

Also on this day:

1894 —Surya Sen, Indian freedom fighter, was born

1957 — Sanjay Kirloskar, chairman and managing director of Kirloskar Brothers Ltd, was born

2007 — U.G. Krishnamurti, Indian thinker and philosopher, passed away

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