Startrek November 2001

Gemini Ganesan walks down the memory lane

Gemini Ganesan is bored speaking about his life. ‘‘I am tired of repeating the same life history to journalists,’’ says Gemini Ganesan.

But after much persuasion, he gives in. Born on November 17, 1920 into a Brahmin family in Pudukottai, Ganesan (the Gemini was a later addition) had his early education there. When he was in the third form, Ganesan, along with his mother, shifted to Randall’s Street (now known as the EVK Sampath Salai). After completing his schooling and graduation from the Madras Christian College, he joined his alma mater as a tutor. While on a visit to his village in Pudukottai district, his mother showed him a letter from the prestigious Gemini Studio.

‘‘I was very surprised because I had never applied for any post at Gemini Studio, and getting a job there was tough,’’ says Ganesan, who got his famous first name from Gemini Studio. The actor was told that S S Vasan (owner of Gemini Studio) was on the lookout for more educated people to join him. ‘‘I was interviewed by S S Vasan and was appointed as an assistant to Production Manager Ramnath.’’ Ganesan was offered a salary of Rs 150 per month. Ramnath quit his job after two years and Ganesan took charge of the production unit.

But he was unable to find good roles for himself in any of Vasan’s productions. Ganesan was offered small roles in Miss Malini, Chakradari, Moonru Pillaigal, Nava Jeevanam, and Avvayar. Frustrated with Vasan, a hard taskmaster, Ganesan quit the studio and joined Narayanan and Company for a monthly salary of Rs 1,000. ‘‘My friend Nageshwara Reddy suggested we go into film production, as many companies had begun production, inspired by the success of Gemini Studios,’’ he tells us. While he was there, Gemini was offered his first hero role in the movie Manam Pole Mangalyam. He portrayed dual roles of an ordinary man and a mad man, and the movie was an instant success.

There was no looking back for Ganesan and he acted in three or four productions of Narayanan and Company. His next hit was Kanvane En Kankanda Daivyam in which he again played a double role, one of an adventurous young man and the other an ugly hunchback. He won the best actor award for the movie, which was remade in Hindi as Devata starring Vyjanthimala.

Vasan meanwhile had not forgotten the young man who had struggled to be an actor at his studio and offered Ganesan the lead role in his next production Vanjikottai Valiban. The movie was a hit in the South and Vasan decided to remake it in Hindi. Dilip Kumar was the actor Vasan chose for the role. ‘‘But after seeing the stills of the movie Dilip Kumar requested Vasan to retain me in the role,’’ he recalls. The movie, Raj Tilak, became the talk of the Bombay film world and Gemini was offered more roles in Hindi films. ‘‘But I was reluctant to shift,’’ says the actor. ‘‘In those days Hindi cinedom preferred Southern actresses to actors. Men tended to lose their hero roles after a few years and could not make a comeback even in the Tamil cinema.’’

The A V M Company entered into film production during this period and Gemini Ganesan, along with Savithri and Sivaji Ganesan, starred in their maiden production Pennin Perumai. His memorable films with A V Meyyappa Chettair are Missiamma, Meenda Sorgam, Panama Paasama, Kalayana Parisu, Pasamalar, Bandha Paasam, Konjam Solungal, Sumai Thangi, Karpagam and with K Balchander he did Kaviyathalaivi, Iru Kodugal, Poova Thalaiya and Punnagai. In 1972, K Balachander directed him in the movie Naan Avan Illai, which was produced by Ganesan himself. ‘‘I produced the movie in nine different languages portraying nine different roles,’’ he says of the movie which won him the Filmfare Award for best actor.

Of the numerous awards and accolades he’s won, the thespian can recall only one. ‘‘I was honoured with the Padmashree in 1971,’’ he says. He is unable to keep count of the numerous other honours bestowed on him, including the Kalaimamani, MGR Gold Medal and Screen Life Time Achievement awards.

Ganesan has lived a colourful life. Married at the age of nineteen to Bapuji and a father at the age of 22, Ganesan has since married four times. ‘‘Of all my children, only Rekha followed in my footsteps,’’ he says. All his other daughters are professionals. ‘‘Kamala Selvaraj is a very famous gynaecologist and owns the G G Hospital. Revathi is a doctor in Chicago. Narayani is with the Times of India. Jayalakshmi is a doctor here, and also writes in medical journals, while my son’s an engineer,’’ he says proudly.

Having lived a full life, he has no regrets. As for the future, ‘‘I continue acting. I have no plans. When I have a shoot, I go. If not, I do nothing but read books and watch films,’’ he says.