Doing an interview of Balaji Patturaj, better known as RJ Balaji, is a task in itself as its hard for him to keep a straight face and even harder for the person at the other end to keep a straight face. Having you in splits most of the time is, of course, his USP. Balaji is known for his one-liners, which though said in a lighter vein, packs a carefully hidden punch.
Associated with Big FM 92.7 and hosting the prime time show ’Take it Easy with Balaji’, he completed his BSc Computer Science from Kumararani Meena Muthiah College of Arts and Science, Chennai, in 2006, and subsequently enroled for a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism from Amrita University, Coimbatore. “I got to know very early on that I was a misfit in journalism. I was asked to do a report on Amrita’s canteen and the professor, to his dismay, found 47 grammatical errors in the 56-word report,” Balaji jokes in his classic style.
Walking past a salon one day, Balaji saw an advertisement calling for applications for an RJ. He decided to go for it, though at the time he didn’t know what the word RJ meant or what the job entailed. “While I was trying to impress the judges with my “awesomatic” English skills, it was my Gaana (light-hearted singing) skills that got me the job,” gushes the 29-year-old. And with that, there was no turning back for the RJ, not even to the journalism course, which he had set out to do, impressed by a cousin working for NDTV.
If Balaji swears by careful planning to be the secret of the success of his shows, it was no different in his UG and PG days. “Right from day one, I was a bad student. I absolutely had no interest in academics. But my spirits would soar if I were asked to go up on stage. My group of friends and I would engage in deep ‘strategies’ on how to bunk classes, fake attendance, or attend classes in the morning and disappear at noon, catch up with all the movie releases — first day first show, how to woo the girls, and so on.”
Moving from a college to a university set-up instilled some maturity in him, he confesses. “The professors at Amrita were very friendly; we used to hang out with them in the canteen or even go to the movies at times,” he says. But knowing Balaji, it wasn’t hunky dory throughout. “C’mon, wherever you go, you have your good, bad and ugly times. With me also, it wasn’t any different. I used to ask a lot of questions. Some professors didn’t like the rebel in me, he says, philosophising, “In the end, we all sail through.”
While Balaji might be drawing a handsome salary now, back then he and his friends had to scrounge for every penny. He reminisces of his undergrad days, “Someone with a bike in the gang would be placed on a high pedestal. Mostly, we used to spend our evenings at the Besant Nagar Beach with no money to even buy sundal (an inexpensive snack made with chickpeas, sold on the beach). If we could manage some money and bikes, we used to head to Devi Cinemas,” he says of his hangout spots.
Of late, Balaji has ventured into films, doing cameos in Ethir Neechal, Theeya Velai Seiyyanum Kumaru, Vallinam, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum and Vadacurry. Saying his goodbye after wrapping up the chat, he reminds me that I have to publicise his institute, RJ Balaji Skool of Radio Studies, through which he conducts workshops on RJing, before he gears up for another episode of “Take it Easy”.