Kalyana Parisu was the first film I saw starring Gemini Ganesan in the lead role. The film was preserved in the form of a video cassette and an audio cassette in our “film loving” family, mainly for the comedy track featuring Thangavelu and the melodies set to tune by the “playback voice of Gemini Ganesan”, AM Raja. It is heartening to note that the film’s soundtrack and music album is available on iTunes today.
Missiamma was a film I saw much later for the same two reasons — the comedy and the music (‘Vaaraayo Vennilaavey’ was a song I thought Gemini Ganesan had sung himself until I came to understand the role of playback singing). And with time, these two elements became “associated trends” I would attach to any film starring this educated, handsome actor of the 60s along with another constant — romance. His soft-spoken dialogue delivery added to his enduring appeal as a hero — a hero who was not intimidating or unnerving to watch on screen and a hero who chose to star in social dramas and period films with equal ease (Sumaithaangi or Parthiban Kanavu for instance).
Later, I learnt that he was given the title of ‘Kadhal Mannan’ by way of a dialogue delivered by Sivaji Ganesan in the movie Paarthaal Pasi Theerum. In the film, Gemini Ganesan enacted the role of a long-lost father to twins (Kamal Haasan, the child actor) who are born out of wedlock with a woman from the hills, played by his real life lover and third wife Savitri.
Gemini Ganesan’s personal life was also one of multiple romances, another reason why the Kadhal Mannan title stuck to his name. Not that it deterred the stride of his illustrious film career. In fact, it only added more glamour and shine to it.
What Rajendra Kumar was to Hindi cinema, Gemini Ganesan was to Tamil films. Gemini perhaps went a step further because he brought in a certain nonchalant-but-believable acting talent in an era that was dominated by the swashbuckling MGR and the colossal Sivaji Ganesan.
This triumvirate of MGR-Sivaji-Gemini ruled the Tamil Nadu movie box office for over two decades. Gemini Ganesan was perhaps the first of the “cool stars” of his time, who spoke in English and took on urban roles.
The current generation of film lovers may have seen a one-sided narrative of Gemini Ganesan’s character in the recent blockbuster Mahanati, but in reality, he was a superstar who had garnered much fame on his own merit which was an embellishment to Savitri’s life.
Another factor which stood out in a Gemini Ganesan movie was the awesome soundtrack. A compilation of songs from the 50s and 60s is incomplete without his songs. Even the best female solos belonged to Gemini Ganesan’s films (for instance, ‘Maalaipozhuthin Mayakkathiley’ sung by P Suseela tuned by MS Vishwanathan written by Kannadasan from Bhagyalakshmi). Or take the dance number ‘Kannum Kannum Kalandhu’, picturised between Vyjayanthimala and Padmini in Vanjikkottai Vaaliban. The film, by SS Vasan (whose Gemini Studios gave its name to the actor as he worked there in the administrative department), is much remembered for this one song. Such female-centric stories were made possible because Gemini Ganesan, a bankable hero, agreed to star in them.
If AM Raja was the singing voice of the actor in his initial years, it was PB Srinivas who dominated his songs in his later films. SP Balasubramiam’s playback debut too was for Gemini Ganesan in the film Shanthi Nilayam (the song is ‘Iyarkai Yennum Ilaya Kanni’). It is to Gemini Ganesan’s credit that his good looks and smiling countenance matched the soothing voice of the relatively young SPB.
Born as Ramasamy Ganesan on November 17, 1925, he took on the name of Gemini Ganesan to ensure he would not be confused with the other Ganesan who had earlier debuted in Parasakthi (Sivaji Ganesan). Gemini gave many a super hit film with urban directors of those times — namely, Sridhar and K Balachander. While Gemini did multi starrers with Sivaji and Savitri (the most famous film being Paasamalar) he didn’t miss out on solo lead roles in social dramas and romantic comedies either.
His solo hero films went onto become successful (like Thean Nilavu) and gave him the tag of a Silver Jubilee Hero. His acting was devoid of heavy mannerisms or undue gesticulations. He delivered his lines in impeccable, chaste Tamil sans furore, even in period dramas like Veerapandiya Kattabomman or Kappalottiya Thamizhan. In short, Gemini Ganesan cannot ever be faulted for over-acting and perhaps was the fore runner for actors like Muthuraman for nuanced and subtle performances.
The current generation of film lovers may have seen a one-sided narrative of Gemini Ganesan’s character in the recent blockbuster Mahanati, but in reality, he was a superstar who had garnered much fame on his own merit which was an embellishment to Savitri’s life. Their break-up was one of the saddest off-screen events and Savitri’s death in 1981 was a major blow to both Gemini’s image and life. His career as a leading man took a beating by then as age too had caught up with him.
In his later years — Gemini Ganesan’s most noteworthy role was playing father to Kamal Haasan in K Balachander’s Unaal Mudiyum Thambi. One of the secrets of Gemini’s success was how secure he was in real life and as an actor. He is said to have had a friendly demenour and a certain maturity to accepting roles that required him to play second lead with either Sivaji Ganesan or Savitri (or many times both of them) as protagonists. This, to his credit, made it easier for great stories to be told in the cinema of yore.
A heroine who paired well with Gemini Ganesan, apart from Savitri, was Saroja Devi. Kanchana and Devika thereafter too made a great pair with the star. A Gemini Ganesan playlist would be like picking out melodies set to tune by MS Vishwanathan (well, mostly), sung by PB Srinivas or A M Raja whose voices suited Gemini’s own mellifluous soft-spoken tone.
However, there is one song which became a hit and it was sung for Gemini by the “macho-sounding” TM Sounderrajan (who otherwise sang for both MGR and Sivaji Ganesan) in the film Sadhaaram – the song ‘Ninaindhu Ninaindhu Nenjam Uruguthey’, an all time classic.
Often criticised for not being dogged about his pursuit of stronger roles, Gemini Ganesan was a major hit with the female fans who went to watch his films for the overall package of romance, music, comedy and drama. In Gemini, they saw a chivalrous man who would never ill-treat them, someone they’d look for in their life partner. It was so believable when Gemini Ganesan lip synced the lyrics of love onscreen that women felt drawn towards his likeable persona. That was Gemini’s USP which made him stand shoulder to shoulder with MGR and Sivaji Ganesan in terms of box-office success.
In Gemini Ganesan, the women of the 60s felt they had found their perfect King of Romance.