Tribute: Gemini Ganesan

Posted on March 27, 2005


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Gemini Ganesan certainly got the best songs of his era, but he gave us some pretty good movies too. A love note to the late King of Romance.

MAR 27, 2005 – IF DEV ANAND REMAINS THE MOST POPULAR, the most beloved of the Raj-Dev-Dilip trio of Hindi cinema, Gemini Ganesan was his Tamil counterpart. Gemini didn’t have the skill of Sivaji — nobody ever gave him ten-page stretches of dialogue, probably fearing that they’d be blown away by the flapping of his voluminous pyjamas. Neither was he into pro-poor lectures like MGR – his life consisted more of formers (read exes) than farmers. But what Gemini represented on screen was you and I – that is, if your life or my life were set to some of the most astounding songs ever, another trait his films shared with Dev’s. Here are five of the many reasons he’ll be missed.

Then Nilavu: People from an older era may claim that the definitive Gemini romance was Missiamma, which reportedly was our grandmothers’ Titanic, what with the actor wooing a charmingly young Savitri to the strains of Vaarayo Vennilaave. I, however, go with Then Nilavu, if only for the too-cool image of him in swimming trunks, water-skiing alongside the charmingly young Vyjayanthimala. And, oh, the songs… Chinna Chinna Kannile, Kaalayum Neeye, Nilavum Malarum Paadudhu… I’m misting up as I write this!

Sumaithangi: Sridhar, who made this film, and K Balachander (Iru Kodugal, Punnagai, among others) were the two directors who consistently used Gemini in serious themes, and this one’s the definitive Gemini tragedy, where his character experiences everything from romance to renunciation – he becomes a priest by the end. There’s a host of Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy beauties, headlined by PB Srinivas’s immortal Manidhan Enbavan. Who knew the Marina beach could be home to such melancholy?

Vanjikottai Vaaliban: Gemini has been in several costume dramas, and – oh, let’s just go ahead and say it – no one really likes the tiresome, jaw-breaker-titled ones (Kanavane Kankanda Deivam, Manaalane Mangayin Bhagyam) he made with crybaby Anjali Devi. Vanjikottai Vaaliban, though, is great fun, especially when two beauties (Vyjayanthimala, Padmini) fight tooth and nail for his affections, ignoring even the fact that his beard during the legendary dance-duet (Kannum Kannum Kalandhu) is faker than the surrounding cardboard palace. And, needless to say, a sensational score, by C Ramchandra.

Paarthaal Pasi Theerum: Gemini was one of the few actors unafraid to share space with more famous, better-regarded colleagues, and this one, with Sivaji, was one of the popular tearjerkers of the time. By way of songs, though, Gemini got short shrift – the film’s best number (Kodi Asaindhadhum) went to Sivaji and a slim-trim Saroja Devi, while poor Gemini got Andru Oomai Pennallo, where he was reduced to prancing around (in a truly-embarrassing tribal dress) with Savitri, who, by that time, had clearly begun to relish her breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi: Gemini’s unexpected latter-day renaissance came from old friend K Balachander, who cast him as the intolerant, disciplinarian father of Kamal Haasan – the same Kamal Haasan who debuted as his cherubic son in Kalathur Kannamma (inevitable fabulous song: Arugil Vandhaal), and who later played his son-in-law in Avvai Shanmugi… The latter movie had no memorable songs, but it did showcase memorably what a good sport Gemini was. How many media-anointed Kings of Romance you know would spoof their own image by falling for another generation’s heartthrob in drag?

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil