“His world was so private and for us it was difficult even to meet him. But he came to us whenever he wanted,” film-maker John Paul remembered his long-time friend Balu Mahendra. He had scripted ‘Yatra’ along with him, nearly three decades back.
When counting the numbers Balu Mahendra may not be a big figure in Malayalam as there were only three films directed by him in the language. But the mark he made in the industry and the contribution and association with the film fraternity undoubtedly make him a stalwart.
“He was a man who cared much for his privacy. Whether it is nature or man, his approach was romantic and he was living in a sort of trance. Though not talkative, he used to describe his dear subjects, romantically,” said John Paul. Balu was part of the golden era of Malayalam and it begins with Ramu Kariat inviting him for ‘Maya’ in 1972.
However, P N Menon made him a part of ‘Panimudakku’ and it was released as his first film. Then he cranked camera for Ramu Kariat’s ‘Nellu’ and it was a remarkable one as it bagged him the state award for the best colour cinematography for the film in 1974.
He went on to receive the award next year too, though with a slight variation, for the black and white cinematography.
It was for two films, ‘Chuvanna Sandhyakal,’ directed by K S Sethumadhavan and ‘Prayanam’ which heralded the advent of the much-celebrated Bharathan-Padmarajan duo. After associating with some major works as a cameraman, he returned to Malayalam in 1982 as a director with ‘Olangal,’ his fifth feature film.
Though his next attempt in Malayalam, ‘Oomakkuyil’ was a dampener, the third one ‘Yatra’ was hailed as one of the biggest grossers with artistic value, ever made in the language. Balu, who later inspired a new breed of directors in Tamil, including Bala, turned to be an inspiration for a Malayalam film.
‘Lekhayudue Maranam Oru Flashback,’ has the shades of the tragic life of Sobha, an award-winning actress and her relation with Balu.
Though the film was controversial before it was released, Balu had no annoyance towards its director K G George, an old friend from Pune days at the Film and Television Institute of India. “He was close to Mohan, Bharathan and Padmarajan as well as George and me,” said John Paul.
“Though I started admiring him as a director, I was taken aback on seeing old films, where he worked for other directors as a cameraman, said director Lal Jose. “Later, as a director, I think his work has influenced me unconsciously,” he added.
“He was a pioneer and did quite inspiring works,” Santhosh Sivan, ace cameraman and director told Express.
Raman Abdulla,one of his last films, was the remake of a Malayalam hit, ‘Malappuram Haji Mahanaya Joji’.