Gemini Ganesan was Tamil Cinema’s biggest romantic hero, fondly known as Kadhal Mannan (The King of Romance). He acted in over 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi.
Born Ramaswamy Ganesan in an orthodox Brahmin family in Pudukottai near Thanjavur on November 17, 1920, he graduated in Chemistry and did a teaching stint at Madras Christian College (MCC). He then joined Gemini Studio in 1946 following a meeting with cameraman Ramnoth as casting assistant. Gemini Studio was the best-known Madras Studio in the 1940s, responsible for redefining the concept of mass entertainment. Thanks to his working with the studio, he was known as ‘Gemini’ once he decided to take the plunge into acting.
As an actor, Gemini’s first film was Miss Malini (1947) but it was with his double role in Manampola Mangalyam (1953) opposite the ‘Meena Kumari of the South’, Savithri, that he became a star. In fact, along with MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini formed the triumvirate of actors who dominated Tamil Cinema throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As against the macho, swashbuckling antics of MGR and the dramatic theatrical roles with political overtones of Sivaji, Gemini was known primarily for his soft romantic portrayals of the yearning lover. Several of his films in the 1950s and 60s were huge hits at the box office as he wooed top heroines like Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, B Saroja Devi, Devika and especially Savithri, whom he later married. He also did several films in combination with Sivaji Ganesan.
Kalyana Parisu (1959) was one of Gemini’s biggest ever hits. Playright CV Sridhar’s directorial debut, the film looks at the eternal triangle and unrequited love, a motif common in Sridhar’s films. The film presents Gemini as a victimised, tragic hero caught between two sisters in a melodramatic story supporting the observance of social convention. The film’s songs composed by playback singer AM Raja played a big part in the success of the film. Sridhar remade the film as Nazrana (1961) in Hindi with Raj Kapoor, Usha Kiron and Vyjayantimala in the roles played by Gemini, Vijayakumari and B Saroja Devi. Incidentally, Gemini played a small cameo in the Hindi version – that of Vyjayanthimala’s former boss who marries her. This was played by A Nageshwara Rao in the original.
Another well-known film of Gemini’s was Parthiban Kanavu (1960), a verbose Tamil historical co-starring Vyjayanthimala. The film was based on a novel by Kalki known for his historical fiction on the lines of Sir Walter Scott. Parthiban Kanavu was set against the background of the conflict between the Pallavas, Chalukyas and the Cholas in the 7th century.
Some of Gemini’s other popular films include Missiamma (1955) which established Gemini and Savithri as a hit lead pair, (remade as Miss Mary (1957) in Hindi and starring Meena Kumari, Jamuna and Kishore Kumar with Gemini, and again remade as the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit starrer Pratikaar) Kalam Maripochu (1955), Karpurakarasi (1957), Raj Tilak (1958), School Master (1958), Veerapandiya Kattaboman (1959), Kalathur Kannamma (1960), Pasamalar (1961), Kappalotiya Thamzikam (1961), Manithan Maravillai (1962) and Kandan Karunai (1967). Kalathur Kannamma, one of his many films with Savithri, saw a 5 year old Kamal Haasan make his acting debut. The film was re-made in Hindi as Main Chup Rahungi (1962) with Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari taking over Gemini and Savithri’s roles.
Gemini continued acting as a hero into the 1970s before switching over to father roles and other character roles doing television as well. Among his last films was the Kamal Haasan starrer Awai Shanmukhi (1996) where he played the elderly patriarch fawning over the lady help played by Haasan. Haasan remade the film as Chachi 420 (1997) with Amrish Puri playing the Gemini role.
Gemini was awarded the Padmasree in 1971 and bagged several other prestigious honours including the Kalaimamani Award, the MGR Gold Medal and the Screen Life Time Achievement awards for his contribution to Tamil Cinema.
Gemini passed away after prolonged illness leading to renal failure in Chennai on March 22nd, 2005. He was 84. The Tamil Nadu Government accorded him a full State Funeral with the 21 gun salute and all. Married 4 times, he is survived by 7 daughters, one of whom is the well-known Hindi film star – Rekha and one son.