Tollywood Legend Savitri's Troubled Marriage with Rekha's Father Gemini Ganesan Didn't Bother Her Children

Tollywood Legend Savitri's Troubled Marriage with Rekha's Father Gemini Ganesan Didn't Bother Her Children

How 'Mahanati', the movie on cinematic legend Savitri's life, got made with her children's permission
Tollywood Legend Savitri's Troubled Marriage with Rekha's Father Gemini Ganesan Didn't Bother Her Children
A still from Mahanati featuring Keerthy Suresh

The  newly-released  Telugu-Tamil bio-pic Mahanati bringing to life the turbulent troubled tumultuous life of  the legendary actress Savitri has gone into several highly-controversial aspects of her life including her (losing) battle with the  bottle and her troubled marriage with matinee idol Gemini Ganesan, actress Rekha’s father (from his other wife). 

In fact, when the principal actors read the script their first question was, “Would this film be allowed to be made?” Says the film’s young extremely focused producer Priya Dutt whose husband Ashwin  Nag has directed Mahanati, “We were aware of what we had set out to do. The actors  were all  keen to be part of the project in  big or small roles. It didn’t matter. They just wanted the story of Savitri Amma to be  known to coming  generations. The problem was, how do we  get around  the darker aspects  of her life? The answer was simple. We didn’t get around the problematic aspects of her life. We tackled them headlong.”

The first move to avoid future libellous action was to take  Savitri’s family into confidence. Says  Priyanka Dutt, “We hid nothing. We didn’t try to make the film secretly or try to keep secrets from the family. We took Savitriji and Gemini Sir’s two children  Vijaya Chamundi and  Satheesh into confidence. They were told  everything. I  think the mistake that  bio-pics make  is to withhold information. This makes the  people involved feel betrayed when the truth comes  out. We  hid nothing from  Vijaya and Satheesh.” In fact Savitri and Gemini Ganesan’s children were on the sets on  several occasions.

Recalls Priyanka, “Vijaya M’aam was specially supportive. She knew we were going to show her mother’s battle with alcoholism.  She knew we  would show her parents’ marriage to be far from perfect. And she was fine with  it. I think she felt  it was time her amazing mother’s story was told in  the  right  perspective. There have  been  several books on Savitri Amma’s life. But none has done full justice to her. Vijaya M’aam hoped  Mahanati would show her mother  to be the formidable  figure of Telugu and Tamil cinema who re-wrote the rules of the patriarchal film industry by becoming the first female superstar.”

Subsequently Savitri lost her stardom and thus began her raging battle with  alcoholism and  anonymity. Says  Priyanka, “There are many parallels between Savitri Amma’s and Meena  Kumariji’s life. In  fact the two were very good friends in real life. They both died around the age of 40.The difference  was in  the career span. Meenaji kept working  till the end.  Savitri Amma  stopped  working for  many years before her death. The  period between her death  and this  film is very long. That stretch had to be covered  so that current generations would know what Savitri Amma  had achieved.”

Luckily  for  the team  the biggest of actors came forward  to  play cameo  parts  in Mahanati.

Says  Priyanka Dutta,  “I think the project had Savitri Amma’s blessings. Some divine force was definitely watching over us. There were uncanny incidents and coincidences  during the shooting that  made us feel we were being guided into doing the right thing. I remember Vijaya M’aam was on the sets the day we  shot  Savitri Amma’s home accidently catching fire. Vijaya M’aam looked at  the chandelier  on the sets and exclaimed, ‘How did you all know my  parents had  a chandelier  exactly  like that in her home?’  We  didn’t know. We just did what came  into our hearts.  We wanted  the  world to know the woman behind the Savitri image. I think we achieved that.”