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Gemini Ganesan at 100: Five of the legend’s best

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As we celebrate his centenary year, we take a deep dive into Gemini Ganesan’s filmography and handpick five out of the 200-odd films he has acted in

In a career spread across decades, legendary actor Gemini Ganesan has brought to life myriad characters and has worked with a range of actors. Known as the ‘Kaadhal Mannan’ of Tamil cinema, the actor was mostly associated with the soft-spoken, romantic-at-heart characters that saw him working with his best on-screen pair, Savitri. Here are some of his finest performances over the years.

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Kalathur Kannamma (1959)

Kamal Haasan and Savitri from ‘Kalathur Kannamma’

Kamal Haasan and Savitri from ‘Kalathur Kannamma’
 
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu Archives

A film, more known for being a launchpad for Kamal Haasan, was the one that brought out the best performance of the iconic duo, Gemini and Savitri. They play a couple separated by class difference and the circumstances in which their son (played by a cuddly Kamal) finds himself. It shouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was Kamal’s Selvam that stole the thunder away from Gemini and Savitri. In fact, the film is more popular for ‘Ammavum Neeye’ song, which was Kamal’s introduction in the film.

 

Directed by the legendary filmmaker A Bhimsingh, who brought out the best from both Sivaji and Gemini, you could say Kalathur Kannamma was a wholesome family drama and was hugely successful at the box office and won several National Awards.

Kalyana Parisu (1959)

A still from ‘Kalyana Parisu’

It marked the directorial debut of CV Sridhar, who went on to make several memorable classics with Chitralaya Gopu, who worked as an associate writer in this film. Kalyana Parisu explored a triangular love story of two sisters falling for the same man, played by Gemini Ganesan, and how that affects their relationship. Upon its release, the film opened to positive reviews from critics and audiences alike and was a major success at the box office, winning the National Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil. Due to its popularity, the film was remade in Telugu, Hindi and Malayalam.

Parthiban Kanavu (1960)

Vyjayanthimala and Gemini Ganesan in ‘Parthiban Kanavu’

Vyjayanthimala and Gemini Ganesan in ‘Parthiban Kanavu’
 
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu Archives

A historical drama, the film is based on Tamil author Kalki Krishnamurthy’s novel of the same name, and is a sequel to his own Sivagamiyin Sabatham. Gemini essayed the role of Vikraman, the Chola prince, who is on a quest to fulfil his father’s dream of getting independence from Pallavas. Made on a lavish budget, Parthiban Kanavu had an ensemble cast including SV Ranga Rao, TS Balaiah, Vyjanthimala, Ragini and Saroja Devi.

Directed by D Yoganand, the film was released in three languages and was a box-office flop, despite raving reviews. Some of the other popular Gemini’s films you need to check out are Karpagam, Shanthi Nilayam, Kanavane Kankanda Deivam and Then Nilavu. The title of the 2003 family drama, directed by Karu Pazhaniappan, was an ode to this film.

Naan Avan Illai (1974)

The film deals with a heartthrob (who is a womaniser) who charms women under disguise and marries them. He is taken to court, where he has to defend himself and hence, the title. Directed by K Balachander, the film was adapted from a Marathi play, according to Wikipedia. Balachander gave a different dimension to Gemini, who was mostly associated with soft, playing romantic-at-heart characters, and the film had the meat for Gemini to display his acting prowess.

Eventually, Naan Avan Ilai became a success at the box office. Interesting trivia: Kamal Haasan played a cameo role before he got his full-fledged hero role in Balachander’s Apoorva Raagangal. Naan Avan Illai was remade in Tamil in 2007 with actor Jeeva reprising the role played by Gemini.

Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (1988)

Kamal Haasan and Gemini Ganesan from ‘Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’

Kamal Haasan and Gemini Ganesan from ‘Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’  
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

When two powerhouse performers work together, you expect sparks to fly and that is what happened in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, a remake of the Telugu social drama Rudraveena, directed by K Balachander. Gemini Ganesan went on to work with his Kalathur Kannamma child Kamal Haasan in a film that explored the ideological clash between a legendary yet conservative singer Bilhari Marthandam Pillai (Gemini Ganesan) and his social activist son, Udhayamoorthy (Kamal Haasan).

The film has several confrontational scenes between the father and son. Needless to say, the duo was in top form, especially Gemini who won over the audience in the endearing climax. Despite its hard-hitting storyline and power packed performances, the film is known for its songs by Ilaiyaraaja, particularly the song ‘Punjai Undu’ sung by the late singer SP Balasubrahmanyam. Gemini’s other notable work in the later stage of his career include Avvai Shanmughi, Mettukudi and Thodarum.

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