Revisiting a romantic
Humra Quraishi

Narayani Ganesh is a Delhi-based senior journalist, who has recently authored a book on her father, Gemini Ganesan, titled Eternal Romantic: My Father, Gemini Ganesan (Roli Books).

Needless to say, that Gemini Ganesan was the reigning superstar of Tamil cinema. And, perhaps, keeping that in mind, this book was first released in Chennai by actor Kamal Haasan.

Narayani Ganesh brings out lesser-known facets of her father in the book, Eternal Romantic:
Narayani Ganesh brings out lesser-known facets of her father in the book, Eternal Romantic: 
My Father, Gemini Ganesan

Extremely well-done, Narayani has written it with that emotional flow, which is so very crucial. Coupled with that she has been candid and forthright. Getting the reader to know her late father, she brings out those traits and talent in him which had made him not just a superstar but also an interesting personality.

Excerpts from an interview with Narayani Ganesh:

As a daughter, how comfortable were you doing this biography and baring lesser-known details about your father?

I wouldn't call the book a biography in that sense. It is part of Roli's Family Pride series, wherein a close family member or associate of a celebrity recollects their growing up with that person. The writing is personal, anecdotal as well as from the writer's perspective – and, in the process, it also serves as a kind of emotional biography, if you would like to call it that; but certainly not a detailed historical biography as we understand the term to mean in the conventional sense. It's like reliving the experience, really`85

‘As for baring lesser-known details, well, I think his life has been an open book, so there's nothing to bare, really, at this stage, if you're referring to his relationships outside marriage. However, you'll find some interesting stories of his early childhood days, life at college, his marriage and his later years close to his death -- these anecdotes and details might not be in the popular domain. He grew up in the royal principality of Pudukottai, in Tamil Nadu, and he spent a year or so at the Ramakrishna Mission Home in Chennai, where he learnt yoga and attended vedanta classes. You'll read of his giddy days at the Madras Christian College, Chennai, and his marriage to my mother, Bobjima (T R Alamelu).

Your father was a legendary star. He led a colourful life. How would you describe him?

When I think of Appa (father in Tamil), 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. You'll find some engaging stories in the book on his love of sports, food and books as well as his close and loving relationship with his children. Growing up in a household full of women — his mother, grandaunt, wife and four girl children — with Appa in and out of the house, members of the family were close and fairly disciplined, in the context of a conservative background. 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.

As a child did it ever bother you or make you feel awkward that he had married more than once and had children as well, including filmstar Rekha?

When we were children, the information flow was very limited. We had neither television nor the Internet, and gossip columns were rare in the print medium. Therefore whatever we knew had to be from family or friends. The family said nothing and friends were discreet, so we came to know of all this much later, when we were all grown-up. By then there was no anger, only acceptance.

Coming from a background such as yours, with a popular film actor as father, it does seem unusual that you and your sisters chose professions that are far removed from the glamorous world of cinema. Was it a deliberate choice — made by the children or parents?

My sisters have always been focussed on doing medicine. They love their profession and are doing pretty well in their chosen disciplines. Revathi, the oldest, is a radiation oncologist in the US. Kamala the second, is an infertility expert in Chennai. My younger sister Jaya is a medical consultant with an international media agency. No one influenced their choice of professions; they did it because they loved it and my parents encouraged them in whatever way they could. As for me, I must have been the least focused of the lot — all I knew was that I definitely did not wish to do medicine, and so ended up doing a Masters in Economics and eventually took to journalism.

What were those special traits to him that had made him so popular, a legend?

He was good at playing romantic roles and he could easily evoke that chemistry on screen. His popularity as an actor was largely on account of his good looks and acting style — he was more understated and subtle in his portrayals, unlike others who were more dramatic or even flamboyant.

Did you ever want to follow in his footsteps — like your half-sister Rekha become a filmstar and not a writer-journalist?

Never. Actually, I hadn't thought of it, ever. Somehow we seemed to live on another planet — we didn't have much exposure to the world of cinema; that is, we were not frequent visitors on the studio sets nor did we attend parties, where you would meet people from cinema. But the family had special relationships with few like B. Saroja Devi, Vyjayantimala, K. Balachander, Kamal Haasan and Muthuraman, who were more like friends you would have made even otherwise, not necessarily as those associated with cinema. My younger sister, Jaya, did act in one Tamil film, and then she changed her mind and joined medical college.