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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 46 November 5, 2022

Life in peril / world of Gemini Ganesan | Humra Quraishi

Friday 4 November 2022, by Humra Quraishi


2 November 2022

Human life in sheer peril!

In the midst of shrill developmental promises by the politicians of the day, bridges are collapsing, structures tumbling-crumbling-falling apart, flood fury spreading havoc, poisonous gases leaking, men and women and children subjected to all possible violent attacks and tortures.

In fact, last week we were once again reminded of those dark times when two young teenaged boys were tied to a vehicle in a particular locale in Madhya Pradesh and pulled along …dragged along! Why? Because it’s alleged that they had stolen some cash from that vehicle owner’s vehicle. No verification or explanations sought but just straight away heaping torture on the young boys. Just shows how easy it gets to destroy human forms and psyches. Unsparing the young.

The very vulnerability and dismal condition of the human child in India seems much too shocking. Latest studies relay that the child is affected by poverty and climate change. And in the midst of this dismal scenario child trafficking seems ongoing. In fact, child trafficking couldn’t be possible without the police - bureaucracy - politician nexus. Direct or indirect involvement. Yet the key conspirators seem un-touched. Trafficking remains one of the most dubious crimes of the day. Unhalted and seemingly uncontrolled.

No one seems safe. If molested or raped, will there be justice awaiting? Or will be the rapists be set free under the various alibis!

It is not just women and children who are victims of targeted attacks. But even men are victims of the worst possible forms of abuse and attacks. In fact, lynch victims happen to be men and even young boys!

Once Again, Focusing On Gemini Ganesan…

In this month of his birth, November, focusing on Gemini Ganesan. He was born on 17 November 1920. And some of the finer details to him have been put together by his daughter Narayani Ganesh in her book on her father- ‘Eternal Romantic - My Father, Gemini Ganesan’ (Roli Books)

I know, I do realize I have written once before on him but come November and I can’t resist focusing on him …there’s so much to this man and his lifestyle and the people and places he was connected with. Not to be overlooked the fact that he spent his formative years in the royal principality of Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu, followed by the year he spent at the Ramakrishna Mission Home in Chennai, where he learnt yoga and attended vedanta classes and then his years at the Madras Christian College, Chennai and of course, his years in the world of cinema.

Also, what holds out is the fact that Gemini Ganesan was far ahead of his times. That explains why he was candid about his relationships with his co- stars. Film stars Pushpavalli and Savithri were not bypassed, nor pushed some hazy background but were there on the scene, as his partners. He had married them. He had children with them

And his first wife, TR Alamelu, popularly called Bobjima, seemed apparently comfortable with Pushpavalli and Savithri and also with their children. Not just that but also the children born from that wedlock - of Gemini Ganesan with Bobjima - seemed to bond rather well with their half-sisters and half - brothers. One of them is the veteran film star Rekha.

The grit of Bobjima to have taken her husband’s relationships with immense maturity seems rare. She comes across as a strong mature woman who was truly in love with her husband, Gemini Ganesan. And with that, she was with him right till the end. In fact, Bobjima comes across as the real heroine in the life and times of Gemini Ganesan.

There must have been something absolutely offbeat to Gemini Ganesan. As his daughter Narayani Ganesh ( born from his first wife Bobjima) elaborates: “When I think of Appa the words that spring to mind are charming, handsome, affectionate, witty, responsible and compassionate. He was an interesting person … because his interests went far beyond cinema …As a dashing romantic actor, Appa did have relationships outside his marriage, but his relationship with us remained the same. He was the same caring father, son and nephew but of course, I would not be able to say what went through my mother’s mind. Because children were not part of their private discussions (if they had any) and my grandmothers were so benign and full of love — for Appa and for all of us, so there was no question of ugly fights or hurling of accusations and that sort of thing. I would say that we all had a great deal of respect for him and for each other.”

Elaborating still further, she writes, “As an actor, Appa’s USP was that he had a way with women; he oozed charm and with his candy–box good looks, wide–eyed innocence and gentle ways, he won over the hearts of more than a generation of fans. For them, he was the eternal romantic hero.”

The backbone of this volume is Narayani’s candid approach in writing about her father. Webbing in several touching incidents. To quote this incident from this book: “At Presentation Convent, Madras, where I studied a girl struck up a conversation with me after school one day. ‘Why do you and your sister go home in different cars ?’ she asked. I was puzzled. My two older sisters had finished school. My younger sister was still a baby. ‘Come I will take you to her’, she said holding my hand and leading the way.

I met Rekha for the first time. She was pretty and her eyes were lined by mascara. She said her name was Bhanurekha. ‘What is your father’s name?’ I asked. ‘Gemini Ganesan’ came the pat reply. My eyes were filled with tears. How can that be? He was my father …When Chinamma came to take me home I blurted out the story. ‘Never mind’, she said. Another day I pointed out Rekha to Chinamma and she said, ‘She is like your sister. And she’s pretty.’ Then, there was Rekha’s younger sister, Radha, who was even prettier, I thought. Her resemblance to Appa was startling. When I was a little older I leant that they were born to Pushpavalli and Appa, and that they lived with their mother and other siblings too.”

The very forte of this volume are the personal narrations, webbed and inter-webbed. In fact, the very introduction introduces the reader to the bare fact that Gemini Ganesan was a very caring father … was particular about his children’s teeth and their upkeep. The opening lines in the very introduction are this:“ One of the earliest memories I have of my father is of him asking me to show him my teeth. I was growing permanent teeth and he would inspect them regularly …horrified that my two front upper teeth were parting ways, leading an A - shaped passage behind , he whisked me off to the dentist.”

What can be termed as another of those off beats is the fact that Gemini Ganesan wrote verse and prose. Writ large by his letters and the poetic verse he’d write to his children. Or as actor Kamaal Hasan, who had worked as a child star in his movies, mentions in the foreword:

“Gemini mama (uncle) was larger than life; there was so much more to him than his screen persona. That was what was so exciting - cinema was not his entire life, it was a vocation, a profession he chose over others.

‘To me, life is oxygen, not cinema!’ he would say…If he hadn’t been an actor, he might have retired as an academic, with teaching stints in, who knows, Pudukkottai, Chennai, Delhi, U.K, U.S.A …He let his laurels rest lightly on his shoulders - to him success was neither a crowning glory nor a heavy cross. And at a time when celebrities made it a point to publicize their acts of charity he did it quietly, without fuss …I touched and felt film ‘stars’ for the first time in my life when I was three and a half years old. The stars were Gemini Ganesan and Savithri and I was to play their son in the film Kalathur Kannamma. Till then, I had no idea that actors were flesh and blood humans. I cannot forget the experience as they held me close in their arms, their ‘child’. I began addressing them as ‘Amma’ and ‘Appa’ on and off the sets …I’m told I had to be ‘weaned’ away from my screen parents.”

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