I’m back to K. Balachander! He is just so great. And available on Rajshri Tamil on youtube. And I have also now seen a Gemini Ganesan movie! Which was super distracting, because it was kind of a little bit about his real life and I have no idea if that was on purpose or not. Was his real life situation with multiple wives so well known that it would make sense to bring that into one of his movies?
This is a familiar story told in a slightly different way. Well, of course it was different, it’s K. Balachander! He’s not like anyone else. Either in the details of how the story plays out, or in the manner of the filming.
This makes a nice pair with yesterday’s Malayalam movie about how love and marriage don’t need to be separated. In this film, marriage is all and love is forgotten. At least, fun happy romantic love. Instead it is replaced by proper marital devotion on the part of the wife, and confused attempts to live up to that devotion by the husband. Breaking the bonds of society is allowed, so long as the essential elements of wifely devotion and husbandly willingness-to-be-devoted-at are still in place.
(If I understand this correctly, he may, or may not, have been married to three of these women. He was definitely married to one of them. I leave it to you in the comments to tell me who is who and who is Rekha’s mother)
It’s not that I think the film is super regressive, ultimately it is about the characters making their own choices and doing what they want to make their lives happy, despite what society thinks. Well, not exactly despite, more with an awareness that society does have an effect on their personal happiness and the question is how and how much.
Gemini, I have to admit, did not blow me away in this film. He didn’t have that much to do, purposefully. The man was merely a helpless ping-pong between two women. But he accepted that un-heroic status with grace, playing the beffuddled husband to the hilt.
The two women were better, Sowcar Janaki and Jayanthi. Of course, they had more to do, since it was their desires that drove the film. Their desire to be subservient to their husband, but it was still their desire.
As always, Nagesh stole the show. But V S Raghavan wasn’t far behind him. Once again, Balachander finds everyone more interesting than the hero. The perfect heroic central character, the powerful upperclass male, he is just there to set things in motion, the important thing is what happens around him. The women and lowerclass men and older men and children even, they are the ones doing the stuff that matters.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with a happy household that rotates around Gemini. He lives with his wife, his 3 children (a boy and two girls), and his father-in-law. The household works like clockwork, the kids do homework, Jayanthi (the wife) bustles around in the kitchen, Jayanthi’s father stays home and jokes with the kids, and Gemini sweeps in and out on his way to the office. The initial question of the film is posed by Gemini’s son, his teacher asks him how to make a long line small without erasing it. The whole family is stumped, until Jayanthi comes up with the answer. Just put a longer line next to it. It was like when her mother died, she did poorly on a test that day, but learning of her mother’s illness made her test-sadness appear small suddenly.
This is the theme of the film. That thing which appear big can become small in comparison. There are a series of problems in the film, culminating in the biggest disaster of all which makes the rest of them appear small suddenly. There are also a series of characters whose needs go back and forth, one appearing more important and then the other.
But before we get there, we have the surprise of how it all comes out. Gemini and his wife talk about the new “collector” coming to his office the next day, he has to make a good impression since he is chief clerk. The new collector arrives, in a fancy car and a fancy dignified sari, and sunglasses, it’s Sowcar Janaki. And then she meets Gemini and they are both suddenly thrown back into a flashback. She is his WIFE!!!!! Not the one he was just happily chatting with in the midst of their happy household, but another secret one. They married when he was studying with her father for his civil service exams. They eloped, her father reluctantly accepted it, but his mother refused. Gemini left her with his family while he went to Delhi for…..something. His mother threw her out, she went back to her family who was furious and planned to marry her off to someone else who would appreciate her, only to discover she was already pregnant and therefore could not marry anyone else. And so, instead, her father decided to make her a Collector, help his daughter achieve more than her deadbeat husband ever could, make her powerful enough that she would never need a husband.
The rest of the story slowly unfolds, while the office begins to spread rumors that Gemini and Sowcar Janaki are having an affair thanks to the pulpable tension between them and their occasional secret chats, Gemini and Sowcar Janaki try to work through the difficult situation they are in, and back home Jayanthi gets more and more worried over the state of her marriage and angry with her husband’s demanding boss.
While the situation in the present comes to a boil, the situation in the past is revealed in a series of conversations between Sowcar Janaki and Gemini. She had his son, who is now raised wealthy and spoiled in a powerful Collector’s household. Her father has hardened into a fierce hatred for Gemini. Meanwhile, Gemini was told by his mother that Sowcar Janaki was dead. And when he went to investigate, he spoke to the new tenants of her house and was told that someone had died, but didn’t understand their Hindi enough to realize they meant Sowcar Janaki’s aunt, not her. And yes, there is a little joke about how this whole thing came about because of language problems. Tamilians=Never Pass Up a Chance to Bring Up Language!
(There’s also a whole song sequence about classic Tamil poetry)
Sowcar Janaki also reveals that she knew Gemini would be working beneath her when she took this position, and that is why she took it. All she wanted was to have a chance to see her husband every day, like any other wife. This completely flumoxes Gemini and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
Poor Gemini! He is in the odd position of having no power because he has all the power. His wife back home is jealous and worried and ready to do anything she can to win him back. His wife at the office just wants to see him every day and worship him. But the end result is that Gemini can’t just go home and relax because his wife is so crazed, and he can’t get a leave off from work or a transfer because his wife at work refuses to let him go away from her. Both women keep saying that they live to serve him, just want him to be happy, etc. etc. But the reality is, Gemini is the one with no power in this situation. He can’t refuse them anything, because they aren’t actually asking anything from him, they are offering it.
As the film moves forward, multiple possible solutions are presented to both Gemini and the audience. The two women fight, and it appears that he will have to choose between them, he tries to get leave from his job to resolve the situation so he can stay with only Jayanthi as his wife. But then the two women make peace, including sharing the winning spot at the office sports day whether than competing. Perhaps Gemini can find a way to have two wives. The problem is, it isn’t just the wives, it is also the children and the fathers-in-law who are involved Jayanthi and Sowcar Janaki may be able to make peace, and the two sons may be best friends, but that still isn’t everything. The daughters have no relationship with Sowcar Janaki. And Sowcar Janaki’s father still hates both Gemini and his son with Jayanthi, while Jayanthi’s father is concerned only with his daughter’s happiness, not with what is best for Gemini.
A surprisingly realistic view of plural marriage! It doesn’t just mean two wives, it means two wives, two sets of children, two sets of in-laws. Even if the 3 people who consented to the situation (the wives and the husband) are fine with it, there are all the others to consider as well who may not be quite as okay.
Everything comes to a head in the end when a series of disasters leave the audience guessing as to which will be the big line that makes all the others seem small. Jayanthi decides as a good wife her only choice is to kill herself, thereby leaving her husband free to marry his boss who he clearly is having an affair with. But her father chases after her and surprises her by jumping off the bridge first, saying that he has no reason to live if she doesn’t live. She rushes down and finds him perfectly healthy below, he was just teaching her a lesson about how sad she was when she thought her father was dead, think of how sad her family would be if she died. At the same time, Sowcar Janaki has decided to dedicate herself to her job since her marriage is falling apart now that Gemini is angry with her, and so agrees to head a risky anti-smuggling task force, and while pursuing the investigation is caught up in a shoot out and shot! And finally, Sowcar Janaki and Jayanthi’s sons are playing together in the swimming pool, but Sowcar Janaki’s nutty bitter father is reluctant to save Jayanthi’s son when he starts to drown.
Oh, I forgot the weird Annadurai part! Sowcar Janaki has been dealing with petty office politics all along. Nagesh is mad at her because she is trying to stop him from bringing his small son to work with him. And he is also a gossip anyway, so he and the other clerks start spreading the rumors that Sowcar Janaki and Gemini are having an affair, first calling Jayanthi to tell her, and then finally reporting Sowcar Janaki to her superiors. Which leads to Sowcar Janaki being called in to see the Chief Minister! Also known as “Anna”, beloved old man of Tamil politics. Someone much too big to actually show onscreen. And so instead we have his point of view, Sowcar Janaki entering and sitting on the other side of his big desk, the camera catching his iconic glasses sitting in front of him and the voice over in his iconic (I am assuming) speech cadences. He tells her he is sorry to hear these things about her, because she has a great responsibility, as a promising young female officer of the government, he has great faith in her and wants to trust her with an important task, assigning her the smuggling investigation. It takes Sowcar Janaki’s career from a petty revenge orchestrated by her father, or a way for her to see her husband without anyone knowing he is her husband, and makes it suddenly honorable, noble. And explains why she is willing to risk her life to follow his orders.
This last section does something fascinating, changing the question from Gemini being torn between two women, to the two women being torn between their position as wife and other considerations. Sowcar Janaki has to balance her responsibility to the state versus her need to be a faithful wife. And Jayanthi has to balance her emotions as a broken-hearted wife with her responsibility to her father and her children. Gemini, once again, is just wandering around going “what’s happening?????” He rushes home to discover Jayanthi is gone, and suspects she has done something drastic. But before he can search for her, Sowcar Janaki, with a gunshot, shows up at his door. She risked her life because of her duty to the state, but now that she might be dying, she wants to die at his feet as a wife.
Jayanthi and Sowcar Janaki have faced death and worked out their internal conflicts. And now, finally, they are able to be honest with each other. While Gemini wrings his hands and looks on, the two women tell each other the truth. Jayanthi offers that Sowcar Janaki can share her husband, if it is what will make him happy. And then Sowcar Janaki reveals the truth that they are already sharing a husband. At which point Jayanthi immediately realizes that she is the one who owes Sowcar Janaki a debt, that Sowcar Janaki could have destroyed their lives but instead has respected the bond that Jayanthi built with Gemini. The two women declare they will be sister wives, while Gemini looks confused and vaguely doubtful in the background.
This is the resolution of the situation in some versions of this story (someday I really have to watch Daag). The two wives realize it is neither of their fault and find a way to share the husband. Either by actually sharing him in a joint household, or just accepting that they will both carry him in their hearts forever (Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, that one I have seen. Oh, and also the fanfic I wrote last week!). But this film takes it a step farther.
(Also, of course, Design for Living)
As the two women are bonding, a call comes from the hospital, Gemini’s son is dead. Sowcar Janaki immediately comforts Jayanthi and shares her grief, since Jayanthi’s son has been playing with Sowcar Janaki’s so much, she has come to love the boy. Only they reach the hospital to learn that “Gemini’s son” was not his son with Jayanthi, but his other son with Sowcar Janaki. !!!!! Not just that, the boy died saving his brother, after his grandfather refused to help the boy as he sank in the swimming pool. There is devastation all around. This is the final long line that makes everything else seem small.
And finally, Jayanthi finds a solution. To this final disaster which has solved all the previous disasters. The two women are not angry with each other, and Jayanthi knows that she has a responsibility to her family not just to her husband, and Sowcar Janaki knows she has a responsibility to her job. Jayanthi cannot break up her family by sending Gemini away with Sowcar Janaki, and Sowcar Janaki cannot quit her job and become Gemini’s wife alone. They cannot be together, but they are also always tied together.
And so Jayanthi finds a way to make that tie real. By sending her son with Sowcar Janaki, acknowledging her as the boy’s second mother and Gemini’s first wife, Jayanthi has found a way to resolve Sowcar Janaki’s misery over her uncertain status. And Jayanthi is happy as well, confident that Sowcar Janaki will love her son as her own, and that Jayanthi’s family is still intact, the entire family, her father and her two daughters and her husband are all still together. Sowcar Janaki has just been welcomed into it, and sending Jayanthi’s son with her signifies that.
This is such an odd film. I love that the two women are such strong personalities but they both want Gemini? Really? Him of all people? I just can’t get past that enough to appreciate anything else. Gemini isn’t a bad actor but he’s not really a ‘personality’ on screen. That’s fine for most roles but for something like this, I feel like having a super charismatic actor who really sells the intense, first love romance (with Sowcar) and the comfortable, playful love (with Jayanthi) might have made this work better for me. I do like that it’s really all about the ladies though.
Re Gemini’s wives…I believe he was only legally married to his first wife. I’d guess the rest were maybe religious ceremonies but not registered. The picture on the left is Savitiri, one of my favorite actresses. I think they’re filming a biopic of her in Telugu now with Dulquer as Gemini.
The top right picture is with his first wife, I believe. He technically never really left her; just started families with other women in parallel to their life. First, it was Rekha’s mom, Pushpavalli, who left her husband to be with Gemini. They broke up and then he ‘married’ Savithri maybe with some overlap. I don’t get his appeal personally but what do I know? Oddly, maybe shrewdly, he did a few films where he played the man two women fight over/accidental bigamist.
If you’re up for suggestions, could I recommend Mullum Malarum for your next Tamil film? Its not K Balachander but still in that 70s new wave era. Plus young Rajini to boot!
Oh good, it’s not just me that looks at Gemini and goes “him?” Maybe that was on purpose? Balachander wanted it to be clear that it was all about the woman, and that they desired him purely because he filled the “husband” role in their lives, not for himself.
I first ran across Gemini in a Rekha bio, which mentioned her meeting her half-sisters for the first time in school, because Gemini sent all his kids to the same school I guess. So strange!
And thanks for the recommendation!
This film remade into Telugu (Collector Janaki) and Hindi( Sanjog-Ambithab 1972) .
OK, Margaret, I really, really have to school you on South Indian naming conventions once again, because this time you got it so spectacularly wrong that it was nails-on-chalkboard horrifying with each sentence. (Of course you could have avoided it all by using character names rather than actors’ names, with which you are unfamiliar).
1. Please,please,please, remember that South Indian names do not follow the Given Name Family Name order of American names, or some North Indian names. Instead, it is Family Name (if it exists) Given Name. Sometimes it is Village Name Father’s Name Given Name. When in doubt, use the last of the list of the names, as that will be the person’s actual name (except when the last of the list is a caste name, but you can easily identify those by now, I think; e.g., Reddy, Nair, Iyengar, etc.).
2. In this case you have been further tripped up because the “first” names of both the leads in fact are not names, but a kind of title. “Gemini” Ganesan was called that because his big breakout film was produced by Gemini Studios, one of the really big players back in the day. Similarly “Sowcar” Janaki (it is really “Shavukaru”, which was her debut film in Telugu, which was either dubbed or remade into Tamil, so the title got corrupted into “Sowcar”, meaning storekeeper/businessman) refers to the film in which she made her debut. She wasn’t even the heroine in that movie, but a second lead. But till the end of her career, and even after retirement, she was always referred to as “Shavukaru” Janaki. So, if you wanted to refer to the actors by name, you really should have been referring to “Ganesan” and “Janaki.” However, the twist here is that, after a few films, Janaki made a big enough name for herself to be called just Janaki without the Shavukaru/Sowcar appellation, but poor Ganesan was referred to the end of his days as “Gemini Ganesan” only. So you have to use the full title and name. (Aside: Sivaji Ganesan was also named just Ganesan, and the Sivaji added to his name because that was a very famous role of his. Because there were two Ganesans at the same time in the Tamil industry, they were distinguished from each other by the titles of “Sivaji” and “Gemini.”)
Now, as to your questions with wives, Gemini Ganesan was married to his first wife. He never bothered to divorce her as he had his various affairs. Savitri was his second “wife”. I remember reading articles by her when they got married, where she keeps referring to her “akka” (elder sister), i.e., Gemini Ganesan’s first wife. They may all have been living together in the same house at some point. Pushpavalli (Rekha’s mother) was not legally or officially married to the guy she was with before she took up with Gemini Ganesan. Anyway, she was his third “wife”, and then they broke up after some years and he took up with his fourth “wife.” But all this time he had only one legal wife, his first one. In his last days, when he was ill, he stayed with the first wife in her house, and she, I believe, prevented his fourth “wife” from visiting him (if they still had any kind of relationship at that point), and of course none of the children from any of his subsequent “marriages” or the fourth wife had any legal claim on his estate. It actually became quite an ugly wrangle for a while. (Both Savitri and Pushpavalli had predeceased Gemini Ganesan).
OK, now coming to the actual movie, as I read along, I realized that I have actually seen this movie, many decades ago when it first came out. I remember that shot of Janaki’s image being superimposed in the frames of the eyeglasses (Balachander really liked those kind of gimmicky shots). I thought the language confusion scene was funny (when he goes to her house and tries to find out what happened to her), but I thought it was also very clever of Balachander to use that seemingly comic scene to such devastating effect in the story, giving a much greater weight to the issue of linguistic differences. BTW, there was a huge anti-Hindi movement going on in Tamil Nadu at that time, protesting against the imposition of Hindi on the state by the federal government, so this might have been Balachander’s comment on where such short sighted political grandstanding might lead in the lives of ordinary people.)
A “collector” is a district revenue official, and is a very powerful position in the civil service, being just a step below the Chief Minister in terms of their influence. So for Janaki to achieve that position, as a woman at that time, was a major, major accomplishment.
Thank you, as always, for correcting me. Since this is a new language and a new film industry for me, I am learning as I write. I have added “Janaki” after “Sowcar”, but left it as “Sowcar Janaki” to make it easier to tell apart from the other actress Jayanthi when you are reading through. I was able to find a few sources that use “Gemini” later after establishing “Gemini Ganesan” at the beginning, so I stayed with that for ease of reading.
Based on my reading, I think Rekha’s mother might have been the first-second wife, if that makes sense? She was an older more established actress at the time he was starting out, at least that’s part of the story as I saw it. And then the other wives came after he was established.
There was an interesting way that Janaki’s responsibility to the state was framed as a little extra because she is a woman in that position. I can’t remember if I mentioned it in the review, but part of the speech she was given while meeting the Chief Minister was that he was proud of her as a woman to have reached this point and she was an example to others. Putting even more pressure on her to remain dedicated to her job.
On Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 2:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote: