Very few know him as Ramaswamy Ganesan. His near and dear ones called him ‘Appu’, while he was known to the world of cinema as ‘Gemini’ Ganesan or Kaadhal Mannan, the King of Romance.
Gemini was candid about his relationships with co-stars Pushpavalli and Savitri and never denied their presence in his life. While he married TR Alamelu, whom he affectionately called Bobji, and then Savitri, he was never married to Pushpavalli, mother of Radha and actress Rekha. It is said that while Bobji was deeply hurt by his other marriages, she put on a brave face. Years later, the children from his various relationships bonded well, and claim the credit goes to the mothers who never allowed any acrimony to build up in their hearts.
Ganesan’s affair with Pushpavalli recently grabbed the headlines, after the actress signed on to play the role in Savitri’s biopic Mahanati said her role had been axed at the editing table. The name Pushpavalli got barely a couple of audio mentions in the film, and not a single visual. Telugu character artiste Bindu Chandramouli posted on Facebook saying she felt “heartbroken”, because despite being part of such an epic film, people did not get to see her in it.
“It’s very disappointing to have known that the makers have decided to cut out the character of Pushpavalli (after dubbing) and also the appearance of the character of her young daughter Rekha. (sic),” she wrote. Was it axed to sanitise the love story between 32-year-old Gemini Ganesan and 16-year-old Savitri?
Reviewing the film for Silverscreen, Karthik Narasimhan wrote: “Nag Ashwin portrays the initial parts of the relationship like a quaint love story between a stubborn young woman and a young man claiming to be in a loveless marriage. The portrayal glosses over the predatory nature of the relationship, a much older man preying on a girl half his age; a man in a position of authority preying on someone wanting to break in; a man who was taking advantage of a girl looking for a shoulder to lean on in an unfamiliar city.”
Pentapadu Pushpavalli, better known as Pushpavalli, was a Tamil and Telugu film actress. She starred in some films with Ganesan, mostly as his heroine. Her filmography includes title roles in Miss Malini, an adaptation of R.K. Narayan’s novel Mr. Sampath, and the Telugu film Satyabhama.
The already-married Ganesan met the married but estranged Pushpavalli on the sets of Miss Malini in 1947. After a few cordial meetings, he fell head-over-heels in love with her; it is said they got married secretly in Tirupati.
In 1954, the couple was blessed with a daughter, Bhanurekha, now known as Rekha. Soon, the rumour mills got churning and Rekha was called Gemini’s illegitimate child, simply because news of the marriage was not out. Soon after the birth of their second daughter, the news of the couple parting ways created a stir in the industry. The children grew up without a father’s love, and Pushpavalli tried hard to play mother and father to her kids. Rekha was very attached to her mother, as she was the only parent she knew.
The media played a big role in celebrities’ lives even those days, and that eventually led to Rekha leading an isolated childhood. It was when she was in school that news about her father’s relationship with actress Savitri broke. “Whatever you wish to call it – love or affection – the feeling my mother had towards him was strong and positive that lasted throughout her life,” Rekha says in Narayani Ganesh’s book ‘The Eternal Romantic: Gemini Ganesan’.
Narayani, daughter of Gemini Ganesan and Alamelu, recalls how she met Rekha for the first time: “She was pretty and her eyes were lined with mascara. She was named Banurekha. ‘What’s your father’s name?’ I asked. ‘Gemini Ganesan’, pat came the reply. My eyes were filled with tears. How can that be? He was my father.”
After being estranged from Ganesan, Pushpavalli did a few more films to support her daughters. Later, Rekha took on the mantle of supporting the family. Her success in films was a source of great satisfaction to Pushpavalli, who died in 1991 of ailments associated with old age.
Reportedly, Gemini Ganesan did not share a close bond with Rekha. When Gemini Ganesan passed away in 2005, Rekha had said, “Why should I grieve for him when he’s so much part of me? Why should I grieve when I’m so grateful for his genes, his teachings, rich life and his sheer existence? Grieve for what??!! I’m happy I didn’t have to share unpleasant moments with him. He existed for me in my imagination. And, that’s so much more beautiful than reality. Everything I love is unqualified by worldly time constraints. I’m just a small link in the larger scheme of things. I’m not the first one to go through death, nor am I the first one to receive an award. I’m enjoying everything that comes my way…good bad or ugly. I try to make good use of what life’s experiences offer. I think I’ve done a good job of my life, whatever others may think.”
“Rekha is a very private person and we respect her for that. As children we did not have much interaction with her as she grew up with her mother and left Madras for Mumbai. However, in the later years, when our parents grew old and the siblings were all grown up, we did touch base with her,” Narayani Ganesh told IANS.
Eventually, in the film as in reality, Pushpavalli remained but a footnote.