Gemini Ganesan

Lothario of Tamil cinema known as the 'King of Romance'
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Known as the "King of Romance" for his liaisons both on- and off-screen, Gemini Ganesan was the first real Lothario of Tamil cinema, who charmed southern audiences, mostly female, with his tangled hair, dreamy eyes and moon-struck demeanour for nearly four decades. In over 200 films, Ganesan captured the imagination of a generation of cinema-goers as the irresistible philanderer whose on-screen affairs did not always end with the film.

Ramaswamy Ganesh (Gemini Ganesan), actor: born Madras, India 17 November 1920; four times married (one son, seven daughters); died Madras 22 March 2005.

Known as the "King of Romance" for his liaisons both on- and off-screen, Gemini Ganesan was the first real Lothario of Tamil cinema, who charmed southern audiences, mostly female, with his tangled hair, dreamy eyes and moon-struck demeanour for nearly four decades. In over 200 films, Ganesan captured the imagination of a generation of cinema-goers as the irresistible philanderer whose on-screen affairs did not always end with the film.

Like all top film personalities in southern India, Ganesan was accorded near godlike status. The influence of film stars in Tamil Nadu is best illustrated by the cult of Ganesan's contemporary M.G. Ramachandran, who in the 1970s became state chief minister entirely on the strength of his acting career. Scores of Tamilians committed suicide by setting themselves alight or by jumping out of trains when "MGR" died in the late 1980s.

But Ganesan had no inclination to join politics, concentrating instead on what he believed he was destined for, good at and liked doing best - wooing beautiful ladies. This real-life disposition was best epitomised by his role in Naan Avanillai ("I Am Not He", 1996) as the philanderer who changes his identity nine times in pursuit of women.

He was born Ramaswamy Ganesh into a middle-class family in Madras, capital of Tamil Nadu state, in 1920, his first job as a junior chemistry teacher at the Madras Christian College. When he tired of teaching, he joined the city's Gemini Studios in 1947 as production executive, adopting its name as his own.

Ganesan's film début came the same year with a minor role in Miss Malini, a Gemini studio production, in which he starred opposite Pushpavalli, whom he married soon afterwards. Rekha, his stunning daughter from this union, became one of Bollywood's leading stars but, reportedly disapproving of her father's philandering ways, she declined to attend his funeral.

It was not until 1953 when he starred as the villain in Thai Ullam ("Mother's Heart") that audiences begin to take notice of his talent and dreamy good looks. Featuring as the hero the following year in Manampol Mangalyam ("Ideally Matched Husband and Wife") alongside Savitri - whom he later married - established Ganesan as "Kadhal Mannan" or "King of Romance".

Ganesan carved a niche for himself in Tamil cinema, featuring in garishly outlandish and raucous films that demanded little acting talent. Later in his career, he switched to character roles in television serials, acting even in several films in other southern Indian languages like Telegu, Kannada and Malyalam as well as a few in Hindi.

But his last noteworthy film, in 1996, Avvai Shanmukhi (a remake of Mrs Doubtfire), had Ganesan once again reverting to type by playing a love-struck widow who falls in love with his granddaughter's governess.

A keen cricketer, Ganesan was passionately fond of dogs and, despite his cult status and innumerable dalliances, assiduously avoided entanglement in any scandal or controversy.

Kuldip Singh

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