R495 pp 144
In a gigantic constellation of children, grandchildren, wives and significant others, Gemini Ganesan was the sun they revolved around. Such was his personality that his faults and foibles seem to have been burned up by the sheer force of his luminosity. In Eternal Romantic, My Father, Gemini Ganesan, his daughter Narayani Ganesh pays a tribute to her larger-than-life father, who was the ‘Kadhal Mannan’ (king of romance) of Tamil cinema, in a remarkably objective and understated manner.
If Ganesan was known for his love for women and the good life, he was equally passionate about his craft. In a career spanning decades, he essayed a kaleidoscopic range of roles rarely seen in Indian cinema with adept ease. His marriage to co-star Savitri from who he had two children, his dalliance with another co-star Pushpavalli from who he had two children, among them the cine diva Rekha, is the stuff of legends. What lifts him above the ordinary is that he genuinely cared for all his children and the women he loved and they loved him back with equal fervour.
A highly educated man, Ganesan did not restrict himself to the screen, pursuing other passions like reading, cooking and travelling. His presence seems to have impacted on all his children and they benefited from his individual attention, unlike the stars of today who leave parenting to paid help. Narayani speaks of how he would inspect her teeth and once marched her off to the dentist to straighten them. His letters to his daughters show a deep understanding of the psyche of each of them and they seemed to have drawn from his endless reserves of love and intellect to sustain themselves all the years he was around.
The movies he acted in are too numerous to recount but his passion for acting lasted all the days of his life. In an emotional foreword, actor Kamal Haasan writes of how much he owes Gemini mama and what an inspiration the veteran actor was to him. The book is readable and eloquently written. There are no unnecessary flourishes, as one might have expected in writing about such a colourful personality, rather a recollection and fond remembrance of a loving father. Narayani recounts how well after his death, his memories continue to bring tears to the eyes of those who worked with him and were touched by his large heart and largesse. The book ends with a poem written by the great actor for Narayani in his inimitable earthy style.
You get the feeling that through her book, Narayani has only touched upon the surface of this intriguing personality. Perhaps, at a later date, there is another book waiting to come out on this colossus of a man who continues long after his death to be an object of both fascination and reverence.