Now it is nothing but a cluster of multi-storeyed buildings and a five-star hotel, but till the late 1960s this was the place that embodied cinema. Gemini Studios or, to give the place its propername, Movieland-Gemini Studios, was the best known among the several film studios of Madras.
The story of the property, at the intersection of Mount Road and Nungambakkam High Road, goes back many years. A heavily wooded piece of land, it had in its centre a classical mansion which, according to legend, was once the house of Edward, the second Lord Clive, c.1800. It was in the possession of a J. Sherman in the 1820s. In the 1830s it became the residence of the Rev. F. Spring, Chaplain of St George’s Cathedral, Madras, a man who, it would appear, spent more time at the Agri Horticultural Society close by than in the church. In his time, the property came to be known as Spring’s Garden and the name continued to be used for a century and more, even as the property changed hands – the Rajah of Pithapuram and Sir C Sankaran Nair owning it at various times. In 1903, the property hosted a session of the Congress party, a pandal to house 6000 people being put up in the gardens.
In 1937, the property was purchased by film director K. Subrahmanyam who established a studio there for his Motion Picture Producers Combine (MPPC). It was here that some of his famous films, Thyaga Bhoomi (1938) included, were shot. On December 21, 1940, the studio was burned to the ground necessitating a distress sale of the land. It was bid for and bought by S.S. Vasan of Ananda Vikatan.
Renamed Gemini Studios in 1941, the property embarked on the most exciting phase of its existence. Several hits, including Chandralekha (1948), were made here, making Vasan a movie moghul. The studio was a cosmopolitan place with people from all over the country and even some foreigners working for The Boss as Vasan was always referred to. It was also a ‘must visit’ spot in the city for any VIP who happened to be passing.
The golden era of Gemini was undoubtedly the 1940s and the early 1950s. Thereafter, it did produce some hits but the purple patch of the earlier decade was never matched. Decline set in in the 1960s. The unionised staff, a new political regime and the star as opposed to the studio system meant the good times were coming to an end though Vasan’s grit and determination ensured success to a large degree. When the bugles blow, there will be a show was the motto embossed under the logo of the famed Gemini twins at the entrance and so the show had to be kept going. The Boss died in 1969 after a painful bout with cancer and with him much of the Gemini magic too went. His family decided to focus on his publishing activities and preferred to sell Gemini to developers. The bugles had blown, and the show was over. But old memories die hard – the flyover nearby is still Gemini to most people.
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