22 March 2005, Chennai
The death of a famed actor shook the entire Tamil film industry to its core. He was no less, for Ramasamy Ganesan, whom the industry knew better as Gemini Ganesan, was an industry stalwart, having stood up to the likes of MGR and Sivaiji Ganesan on his own and thrived without any hassle.
What surprised and intrigued many was the absence of a person whom he had never allowed to thrive in his lifetime.This woman was his biological daughter, whom history knows better as Bhanurekha Ganesan, who is none other than our very own Rekha, once the heartthrob of Bollywood.
Ramasamy Ganesan, aka Gemini Ganesan, had a journey almost similar to that of NT Rama Rao, who became the heartthrob of Telugu cinema. One of the few college graduates to enter the Tamil cinema industry, he was born in quite trying circumstances.
Gemini’s father, Ramaswamy, married Bhagirthi Amma, who was a Devadasi. Those were the times when Devadasis weren’t looked down upon and were as integral a part of society as you and we are. When Ganesan was in the sixth grade, his grandfather died, and not long after that, his father too died.
However, his paternal aunt Muthulakshmi (now known as Muthulakshmi Reddi) had studied well and become a doctor; she was affluent and educated and had thoroughly abandoned the style of life followed by her mother and maternal ancestors, so much so that she became the leader of a social reform movement aimed at eradicating the Devadasi system.
Also Read: Guru Dutt : The epitome of human goodness onscreen, destroyed his wife’s career, life and everything else
Though Muthulakshmi provided shelter to her mother Chandramma and also to Bhagirathi and Ganesan, she was very dismissive and insulting towards her destitute relatives, and she felt ashamed of them because of their background as courtesans. She heaped many insults on the two widowed women and ensured that they did not show their faces to any guests who visited the house.
Unhappy with the situation, Chandramma and Bhagirathi returned to Pudukkottai. However, they left Ganesan with his aunt, so he would grow into an educated and respectable man. It was from there that Ganesan changed for the worse.
Much like Guru Dutt, Gemini Ganesan had a colourful personality too. Initially, he dreamed to be a doctor, and hence he went to Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli) to see T. R. Alamelu. Alamelu’s father proposed to his daughter in marriage and promised him a medical seat after graduation. Ganesan immediately agreed and married Alamelu in 1940.
However, within a month, his wife lost her father and her elder sister, and his own dreams crashed. Slowly and steadily, he abandoned her and pursued his career as a production executive at Gemini Studios. It was from here that he got his name, Gemini Ganesan, and never looked back.
However, his antics never really stopped. He was then cast as a hero for the first time in Manam Pola Mangalyam. The film, which featured him in a dual role, paired him with his future wife Savitri and became a “milestone in his life.” From then on, he carved out a niche for himself in Tamil cinema with films that favoured romance over action.
However, before the likes of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, it was he who forayed beyond the confines of regionalism and tried his luck in Bollywood, even succeeding with films like Miss Mary, a remake of his wife’s own Misamma, and Devta and Nazrana, among others. His relationship with Savitri was the most talked about, and also one of the most contentious, as depicted quite accurately in the celebrated Telugu classic Mahanati, released in 2018.
By his own admission, Gemini Ganesan writes,
“Somehow, I seemed to attract women who were in distress.” He was equally annoyed by the title “Kaadhal Mannan,” i.e., the King of Romance, because it apparently “used to brush him in black in his personal life.” Who knows if it actually portrayed his real face?
Besides a toxic relationship with Savitri, Gemini Ganesan also had two daughters with actress Pushpavalli: Bollywood actress Rekha and Radha. The latter acted in a few Tamil films but then opted for marriage and migration to the United States. His hostile relationship with Rekha, his daughter, was also criticized.He did not acknowledge Rekha’s paternity during her childhood. It was in the early 1970s, when Rekha was looking for a career in Bollywood, that she revealed her origins.
Later, at the peak of her career, Rekha told an interviewer that her father’s neglect still rankled and that she had ignored his efforts at reconciliation. She did not even attend her father’s funeral in 2005. As such, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that for all his talent, Gemini Ganesan had one fatal flaw: he did not know the H of humanity.
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