100 years of Gemini Ganesan: How the actor influenced modern-day Tamil cinema

Film personalities talk about how the veteran actor’s body of work is still relevant in today’s times

The ‘Kadhal Mannan’ might be no more, but his films and performances continue to be talked about. In a career that spanned five decades, Gemini Ganesan has done it all, with notable performances in films like ‘Missiamma’, ‘Then Nilavu’ and ‘Naan Avan Illai’. His movies are spoken of even today, and his performances and personality have influenced the work of even modern-day actors and directors. Here are a few film personalities telling you how:

Nag Ashwin, director:

I have had the chance to see some of Gemini sir’s work on the big screens, especially the films that were also released in Telugu. When I was researching for my film ‘Mahanati’ (2018), based on the life of actress Savitri, I had the chance to know more about Gemini Ganesan’s life too. What was unique was his personality; when he entered a room, he made heads turn. Today, you call it swagger.

When I was searching for an actor to play Gemini Ganesan on the big screen for ‘Mahanati’, I looked for someone with an aura. I looked for a person who could hold the scene and cast a spell on the audience. Dulquer Salmaan played that part. We believed that though he could not match the looks or physicality of Gemini Ganesan sir, we could re-create the aura that Gemini had. His love for life and living it to the fullest were present even in the roles he played.

Vikram Prabhu, actor:

While my own grandfather (Sivaji Ganesan) has inspired me greatly, Gemini Ganesan’s penchant for picking varied roles and the way he played them has influenced me a lot too.

Back then, actors used to be very conscious about the way they would be portrayed on the big screen. But Gemini Ganesan used to invest in films that he believed in, irrespective of the kind of character he was playing. Even in the trendsetting ‘Pasamalar’, he played a character that had a slight negative shade.

Odam Ilavarasu, director:

The one liner of my 2017 Atharvaa-starrer ‘Gemini Ganeshanum Suruli Raajanum’ stemmed from my admiration for the veteran actor. He was such a dashing, handsome actor and my memories of his films and interviews helped me develop my own script. I found his philosophy of “If someone likes me, I will like them back” fascinating. The character of Atharvaa’s father in my film (played by T Siva) was hugely inspired by my own grandfather, Periya Kannu, who was a big fan of Gemini Ganesan. During my childhood in Madurai, my thatha would take me to all his matinee idol’s films. We frequented cinema halls like Vellaikannu Theatre and Meenakshi Paradise to watch his memorable performances; I must have watched ‘Paarthal Pasi Theerum’ (1962) atleast 10 times!

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