By Jyothi Venkatesh
(This rare and heart-felt intimate interview of the late super star GEMINI GANESAN, alias Ramasamy Iyer and better known in the North as the father of REKHA by JYOTHI VENKATESH first appeared 41 years ago, in the now defunct popular film fortnightly Star & Style Dt. June 11, 1982).
If only he was alive today, he would have turned 103. Known as one of the “big three” of South Indian Cinema of yesteryear (the other two being M.G. Ramchandran, and Sivaji Ganesan), Ramaswamy Ganesan had acted in several box-office hits between 1950 and 1978 as the lead hero. Born on November 16, 1919, he was a graduate from an orthodox Brahmin family, and had begun his career as a lecturer in the Madras Christian College, but subsequently began to work with Gemini Studios as an Executive from 1947, hence he was referred to as “Gemini” Ganesan. He became a film hero by the age of 30 in a movie made by AVM Productions, and would soon attain star status.
Gemini was paired with a number of top-rated heroines of his times, including Vyjantimala, Saroja Devi, Sowkar Janaki, and Devika. He ended up getting married to Savithri, another top heroine. He was the proud father of one son and seven daughters. One of his daughters is our own Bollywood mega-star Rekha, and a second daughter named Ji Ji also a movie actress in Tamil films. One of his daughters is a well-known Chennai-based gynecologist, Kamala Selvaraj.
Unlike the other big two, Ganesan never tried his hand in politics, and continued doing films in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Malyalam, and Kannada languages, even after his prime, after which he did father roles up until the late 1990s. The total number of movies he acted in come to around 200 in all different languages.
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A Padmasree recipient in 1971, Ganesan also won the Kalaimamani, MGR Gold Medal, and Screen Life Time Achievement awards. After several months of bad health, he passed away on Tuesday 22 March 2005 at his home at the ripe age of 84 years of age.
Gemini Ganesh was once a phenomenon and known as Kathal Mannan (King of Love), but faded into oblivion. Unlike Sivaji Ganesan his colleague in the 50’s, Gemini couldn’t survive the rat race and a decade ago was eased out by the very same industry that had built him up. Today a new generation has arrived which can only refer to Gemini as “Rekha’s old father who didn’t dare to claim her as his flesh and blood not long ago.”
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.
The day I met him in Chennai, Gemini comes straight from his bath at his dilapidated old bungalow in Chennai chewing a paan and clad in a spotless white dhoti. “I am a simpleton who strayed into films as a hobby after being a lecturer earlier. Though people think I am stinking rich, let me tell you I’m the most unbusinesslike and undiplomatic guy as far as money and business are concerned. I did make a lot of money, but then I lost most of it.”
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Gemini has turned philosophical. The man with the roving eyes who had ended up marrying not one or two but four wives advises. “Go ahead and sleep with a thousand and one women but never make the mistake of marrying a second one. Your wife will tolerate it if you keep a mistress. She wouldn’t mind if you openly flirt with another beautiful girl because her security will not be threatened. But if you make the mistake of marrying another girl, you have had it.”
Gemini continued. “Even though I’d married Savitri and Pushpavalli (Rekha’s mother), the world did not recognize them as my wives. People continued to snigger at them and call them my mistresses. I do not want to rake up the past. Let us discuss the past in a way that can provide a lesson for the future generation.”
“I realize the trials and tribulations my wife Babjee must have undergone because of me. I was young then and living it up. Yet she stood by me through all those years when every one else left me half way through. For me, Babjee is a living goddess. When I went to the hospital to bring Savitri’s dead body back for the funeral, Babjee offered to place Savitri’s head on her lap. She sat beside me in the backseat and helped me bring the body to the house before the funeral procession started. Tell me which other woman would volunteer to bring the dead body of her own sautan to her own house?”
Rekha expressed her displeasure to him at his daughter Gigi having ventured into films. “Appa, I am already suffering in this line. Why should my sister too go through the same hell?.” However, Gemini said he held the view that once your children grow up, you should let them handle their personal affairs without interference. “People tell me that Rekha has messed up her personal life by getting involved with Amitabh. But I never discuss Rekha’s personal affair with her. Why should I? I admire her guts for having declared to the world that she is in love with Amitabh. When I married Savitri and Pushpavalli several years ago, eyebrows were raised, and it became the biggest scandal in the industry. And yet today no one is aghast when they hear about Dilip Kumar marrying Asma or Dharmendra marrying Hema. So, in one way I think I have been the trend setter for extra marital involvements in the industry.”
Gemini was upset that he was castigated as the villain, who abandoned Savitri when she needed him the most by severing his ties with her. “Many in and out of the industry couldn’t stand the thought of us being happily married. They tried everything they could to cause some rift between the two of us. For a long time they didn’t succeed, because we loved each other too much to succumb to the wiles of those who tried to destroy our married life. And at the fag end of her career, when she had earned enough for herself, they poisoned her mind against me and succeeded too”.
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“They milked her dry and like leeches drained her of her resources and in the end left her without a penny. She had earned in lakhs and yet when she died she did not have even a few hundreds. She burnt her fingers by taking up production. She lost nearly one and a half crores. She refused to listen to me when I advised her against taking such a rash step. She defied me and ruined her life. She believed those people who poisoned her against me and walked out of my life”.
“I’m not a stone- hearted father, the way people make me out to be. I have left property worth 40 lakhs for my daughter through Savitri. She is happily married and settled today. I’m also looking after Satish born to Savitri and me. He is staying with me. I’ve big plans to educate him and make him stand on his own feet. It was only other people who did not know the inside story and believed the version dished out by Savitri who are branding me the villain of the piece.”
In conclusion, Gemini said that the reason he does not have even a single film on the floors is that he cannot go around producers’ offices begging for a role. “If I’m offered a meaty character role, I’m game because I’ve always believed that characterization is the most important asset an actor can possibly have!”