Gemini Ganesan

  • Actor

Nov 17, 1920  in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India

Also Known as: Ganapathi Subramania Sarma

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Ganapathi Subramania Sharma, known popularly by his stage name Gemini Ganesan, was a celebrated Indian actor whose career spanned over five decades and 200 films. One among the ‘Big Three’ (the other two being MGR and Sivaji Ganesan) who ruled the roost in Tamil cinema from the 1950’s till the 1980’s, Ganesan made his feature film debut in the 1947 comedy-drama Miss Malini, and rose to prominence when he played the antagonist in the 1952 film Thai Ullam. His performance as a leading man in the 1953 film Manam Pola Mangalyam catapulted Ganesan to stardom, and he subsequently enjoyed enormous popularity as a romantic hero, which earned him the nickname ‘Kadhal Mannan’ (King of Romance). Besides Kollywood, Ganesan also appeared in a few Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi films, and was awarded the Padma Sri by the Government of India in 1971. Besides these, Ganesan also won two Filmfare Awards and a Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best actor in the course of his illustrious career. He is the father of Bollywood diva Rekha.

Early Life
Ganapathi Subramania Sharma was born in 1920 in Pudukkottai (present day Tamil Nadu), to Chandramma and Ramaswamy. His aunt, Muthulakshmi Reddi, was an eminent social reformer who was also the first woman legislator of India and a Padma Bhushan recipient. His grandfather Narayanaswami was the principal of the H. H. The Rajah's College, Pudukkottai, where Ganesan was briefly enrolled as a student. After graduating from Madras Christian College, Ganesan started out as a lecturer in his alma mater, before joining the renowned Gemini Studios as an executive. It was his work at the studio that earned him the stage name Gemini Ganesan and launched his career as an actor.

Personal Life
Gemini Ganesan married his first wife Alamelu when he was 19, with whom he had four daughters. Though he remained married to Alamelu for more than six decades, the actor was involved with a number of other women, notably actresses Pushpavalli and Savitri. Ganesan and Savitri had two children together - a daughter named Vijaya Chamundeswari and a son named Satheesh Kumar. With Pushpavalli, Ganesan had two daughters - Radha and the Bollywood actress Rekha. At the age of 78, Ganesan married Julianna, who was 42 years his junior, but the relationship ended acrimoniously following the intervention of Ganesan’s family.

Movie Career
Gemini Ganesan made his feature film debut as an actor with a minor role in the 1947 film Miss Malini, and first rose to public attention when he played the antagonist in the 1952 film Thai Ullam. Subsequently, Ganesan made his debut as a lead actor in the 1954 film Manam Pola Mangalyam, which became a critical and commercial success and established him as a star on the ascent. In the years that followed, the actor dominated the Tamil film industry along with his peers Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran; while Sivaji Ganesan won the audience over with his dramatic flair, MGR was the king of action and Gemini Ganesan found his niche as a romantic hero.

Several of Gemini Ganesan’s films have been remade in other languages, with Ganesan himself starring in the Bollywood remakes of some of his hit Tamil films. One among these was the 1955 romantic-comedy Missiamma, in which he co-starred with his future wife Savitri. The film’s resounding box office success inspired a Hindi remake titled Miss Mary in 1957, with Ganesan reprising his role and Meena Kumari stepping into the role essayed by Savitri in the original. Similarly, the 1955 fantasy film Kanavaney Kankanda Deivam, which was remade in Hindi as Devta (1956) with Ganesan and Vyjayanthimala in the lead roles, was also also a hit. However, the 1958 ruritanian romance epic Raj Tilak, which was a remake of the Kollywood cult classic Vanjikottai Valiban, failed to emulate the success of the original and was a box office disaster. In later years, the actor appeared in a few more Hindi films, with his guest role in the 1961 film Nazrana (a remake of his award-winning 1959 romantic drama Kalyana Parisu) being the last among his significant Bollywood outings.

Gemini Ganesan continued to prove himself as a versatile performer through films like Parthiban Kanavu (1960) and Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1959), the latter of which featured him in a supporting role alongside Sivaji Ganesan, who played the titular role. Interestingly, both the films went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature in Tamil (in 1959 and 1960), and have since found an indisputable place in the annals of Tamil cinema as evergreen classics. In the years that followed, the actor reaffirmed his stardom courtesy of films like Kalathur Kannamma (1960), Pava Mannippu (1961), Pasamalar (1961), Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961), Mugaraasi (1966), Kaaviya Thalaivi (1970) and Naan Avanillai (1974) - the last of which features one of the career best performances of Gemini Ganesan. While his performance in Kaaviya Thalaivi earned Ganesan his first Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor, Naan Avanillai won him his maiden Filmfare Award for Best Actor.

Ganesan also enjoyed considerable popularity in Malayalam cinema during this period, and starred alongside Prem Nazir in films like Oraal Koodi Kallanaayi (1964) and Pareeksha (1967), and alongside Madhu in the first sci-fi film in Mollywood, Karutha Rathrikal (1967). Besides these, he also played the solo lead in the mythological film Kumara Sambhavam (1969), which became a landmark in the history of Malayalam cinema and won the first ever Kerala State Film Award for Best Film. Aana Valarthiya Vanampadiyude Makan (1971), Professor (1972) and Jesus (1973)were some of the other Malayalam films he worked on subsequently. Since the end of 1970’s, Ganesan started appearing predominantly in character roles. The sole directorial venture of his career also came during this period, with the 1976 film Idaya Malar.

The actor appeared in just a handful of films throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s, and two of his finest performances in the final phase of his career came in the Kamal Haasan starrers Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (1988) and Avvai Shanmugi (1996). Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, a K. Balachander musical drama, had Ganesan playing an illustrious Carnatic musician with a conservative outlook towards society, who is ultimately reformed by the efforts of his righteous son (played by Kamal Haasan). The 1996 comedy film Avvai Shanmugi, which was a remake of the Hollywood comedy Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), saw him excelling in a comedic role alongside an ensemble cast featuring Kamal Haasan, Nagesh, Nassar and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Pivotal roles in Naam Iruvar Nammakku Iruvar (1998) and Thodarum (1999) preceded Gemini Ganesan’s penultimate and final appearances on screen - as a guest star in Gemini (2002) and Adi Thadi (2004).

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