In the film industry in the south of the country, where all stars are given a title, Gemini Ganesan was known as the King of Love. Starting from the straitlaced profession of a teacher, Ganesan switched first to working in a film studio, and later became one of the biggest matinee idols of his time.
Gemini Ganesan was born Ramaswamy Ganesan on 17 November 1920 in Pudukottai, Tamilnadu to an inter-caste couple, Ramaswamy Iyer, a farmer, and Gangamma. For a while his father let him spend his years with his grand uncle Narayanswamy. Narayanswamy was the father of the social reformer Muthulakshmi, who also earned the rare distinction of being one of the first women medical practitioners of the time. While studying in school in Pudukottai, he developed an interest in cricket.
By the time he was ten years old, Ramaswamy experienced the death of both his father and his grand uncle. Muthulakshmi persuaded him and his family to move to Chennai, where he was enrolled in the Raja Muthaiah Chettiar High School. He was also sent to a Ramakrishna home in Mylapore where he learned about the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and yoga. After completing his intermediate course, he sought admission in Madras Christian College to do a degree course in chemistry.
In April 1940 he met Bobji in an arranged meeting by both their families. On June 30 1940, at the age of 19, Ganesan married Bobji. A year later his first child Revathi was born. His dream of becoming a doctor was crushed and he had to take responsibility of his new family. While he was trying his luck in Air Force, he received a letter from Gemini Studios who needed someone to handle administrative work for their upcoming production Kannamma En Kaadhalli (1945). At the studio he met S S Vasan and took up a job as an administrative officer. Later, he left Gemini Studios and joined Narayan and Co. The first film he acted in, produced by Narayan and Co. and directed by K Ramnoth was Thaai Ullam (1952) where he acted as a villain. Having worked for Gemini Studios for several years, starring in many of its productions, Ganesan came to be identified with “Gemini” – hence the name Gemini Ganesan.
While working in Moonru Pillaigal (1952) he met Pushpavalli, sister of his co-actor Suryaprabha. Pushpavalli and Ganesan stayed in a relationship for four years. Over the course of their relationship, Pushpavalli gave birth to two daughters, the actress Rekha and Radha.
With his double role in the film Manam Pola Mangalyam (1953), based on a comedy of errors around two lookalikes, he became a star. His heroines in the film were Surabhi Balasaraswathi and Savithri, who later became a female superstar in Tamil and Telugu cinema. Although sources differ on when Ganesan and Savithri met and fell in love, some claim that the two were secretly married after Savithri finished shooting for Devadasu (1953) with A. Nageswara Rao.
Gemini Ganesan’s performance in Kanavane Kan Kanda Deivam (1955) opposite Anjali Devi brought him great acclaim as well. He again played two roles in the film. He also starred in the Hindi remake of the film, titled Devta (1956). In the film Missiamma (1955) directed by L V Prasad, Savithri replaced Bhanumati when the latter ran into some trouble with the director. The film became a huge commercial success, with Savithri playing a coy but fiery woman and Ganesan her beau. The two soon became a much sought after star pair. Missiamma was remade in Hindi by A V Meyyappa Chettiar as Miss Mary (1957) with Meena Kumari and Kishore Kumar as Gemini Ganesan’s co-stars. The film marked Ganesan’s debut in the Hindi film industry.
(Although, Devta (1956) released before Miss Mary (1957) but according to him, in his autobiography Vaazhkai Padagu (The Boat of Life), Miss Mary (1957) was his debut into Hindi Cinema)
Throughout 1955, Savithri and Ganesan starred in many films together like Pennin Perumai (1956) where Shivaji Ganesan also acted and Maman Mangal (1955). He was also paired with actresses like Padmini in the film Mallika (1957) and Vyjayanthimala in the film Penn (1954) and in Vanjikottai Valiban (1958) – a romantic comedy where Padmini and Vyjayanthimala were playing the two leads.
In Kalyana Parisu (1959) directed by C V Sridhar, he played the dramatic romantic hero opposite B Saroja Devi and Vijayakumari. The film was a silver jubilee and Ganesan continued his partnership with Sridhar in many more films. Kalyana Parisu was later made into Hindi as Nazrana (1961), in which Gemini played a supporting role and shared the screen with the two leads, Raj Kapoor and Vyjayathimala. Kalathur Kannamma (1959) was another milestone with his wife Savithri and Kamal Haasan, who was then making his debut as a child actor.
A series of films in which he acted with Savithri which did very well at the box-office were Paada Kannikkai (1962), Paava Mannipu (1961) and Paarthaal Pasi Theerum (1962). Similarly, he had a series of hits with Saroja Devi like Panithirai (1961), Aadi Perukku (1962) and Thaamarai Nenjam (1968).
In the late 60s and 70s he started working in character roles in various drama films and mythologicals, like A.P. Nagarajan’s Kandan Karunai (1967) and several P. Subramanyam films in Malayalam such as Kumara Sambhavam (1969). He also played the lead opposite Sowcar Janaki in Panthulu’s Tamil remake of School Master (1973).
In the 2000s, Gemini Ganesan made his appearance on the small screen with the television serial Krishnadasi. In an acting career spanning more than 50 years, Ganesan’s contribution to Tamil cinema is still regarded as immensely important. In 1971, he received a Padma Shri for his contribution to the arts. He also received the Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Actor for Naan Avanillai (1974) in 1974.
After a prolonged illness caused by kidney and multiple organ failure, Gemini Ganesan died on 22 March 2005 in his residence. He was survived by seven daughters and a son.
First Film: Miss Malini (1947) – Tamil
Last Film: Thodarum (1999) – Tamil / Gemini (2002) – special appearance