Ramasamy Ganesan, better known as Gemini Ganesan, nicknamed Kadhal Mannan (King of Romance) for the romantic roles he played in Tamil cinema, was one its three biggest names.
Sivaji Ganesan excelled in drama, MGR dominated in fight sequences, but Gemini Ganesan held his own with sensitive portrayals of the yearning lover. He never got any National award, not even as a supporting actor. No politics or fan club too. He remained apolitical in his career, even declining a Rajya Sabha berth.
With no stage background, his screen presence was refreshingly fresh and credible, his acting unstylised, without the customary excess baggage of stage conventions, frontal positioning, gesticulations and body language. His lines seemed delivered straight from the heart.
After a stint as Chemistry lecturer, he later became production executive at Gemini Studios. Fresh-faced and heart-breakingly handsome, he debuted in a minor role with Miss Malini in 1947, followed by Chakradhari. People however took notice of him only in 1953, when he played a villainous role in the film Thai Ullam. Since he worked with Gemini Studios, he earned the sobriquet, Gemini Ganesan.
As lead in Manam Pola Mangalyam (1954), he finally acquired star status. The dual role, paired him with his future wife Savitri, and became a milestone in his life. But it was Missiamma (1955) that established him as an actor.
Melodrama then ruled the Indian screen, and as a romantic hero, he broke the hearts of women with his signature kurta and pyjama, zestful, and throwing longing looks. He beautifully understated the eroticism depicted in the love scenes. Often, the plots of his films were sentimental, like in national award winning Kalathur Kannamma (1960) where he had introduced Kamal Haasan, as a child artiste.
His portrayal as the forlorn lover in the film Kalyanaparisu (1959), is the enduring image his admirers and fans have of him. Later he switched to slightly different character roles… and towards the end of his acting career, kept busy with elegant roles in television serials, notable being Krishnadasi. He also directed the film Idhaya Malar (1976).
Ganesan acted in more than 200 films over five decades, mainly in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada. His Hindi films were mainly remakes of his Tamil hits.
Ganesan, a shrewd businessman, invested heavily in real estate and property development. He excelled in cricket, tennis, golf and badminton. He also took part in a World Tamil Conference in Kuala Lumpur. A commemorative postage stamp of the actor, was released on February 2006, describing him as a multi-dimensional personality, who evinced keen interest in Carnatic music, reading, yoga and poetry.
Ganesan’s personal life, particularly his marriages to multiple women was often a subject of criticism. At 19, he married his first wife Alamelu. Soon he was head over heels in love with his Miss Malini (1947) costar, the stunningly beautiful Pushpavalli. He secretly married her while still married to Alamelu. He later married South India’s great actress Savitri. His fourth marriage to 30-year-old Julianna of Bangalore created media furore, but didn’t last long.
In his autobiography Vaazhkai Padagu, Ganesan confesses ‘Somehow, I seemed to attract women who were in distress.’ A on and seven daughters survived him including Bollywood actress Rekha, born, through Pushapavalli.
He won the T.Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor for Kaaviya Thalaivi (1970); the T.Nadu State Honorary Award – MGR Award; the Padma Shri in 1971, two Filmfare awards, also the Kalaimamani, the MGR Gold Medal and the Screen Lifetime Achievement Award.
Though versatile, he got fossilised in one type of portrayal – that of boy meets girl romantic films. He never reached his artistic peak or had his potential harnessed.
Gemini Ganesan died, after a prolonged illness, on 22 March 2005.