Have you paid your income tax?’ was the query as the camera zoomed into a government billboard as the roadside pimp counted his commission underneath, in the black and white film, Thappu Thalangal (Discord). It was a vignette that drew instant laughter but also made the viewer think. In fact, all through his career spanning half a century, Kailasam Balachander made his audience think via the three popular media – theatre, cinema and television.
Though the Tamil Nadu born (Nannilam in Tiruvarur district) was most revered in his home State, his films in Telugu (like Maro Charithra and Rudhraveena), Hindi (Ek Duju Ke Leye), Kannada (Mugila Mallige) and Malayalam (Bala Brikshanam) too created a big buzz. For, he was a director – though his debut in cinema was as a scriptwriter — who was well ahead of his times. Be it the bold themes he chose or the innovative methods he adopted to send across various social messages, he made his mark.
His entry into Kollywood was at a time when the industry was under the grip of two titans, M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan, who kept the audience under thrall by reeling out entertainment-based or politically-oriented movies. It was then through Neerkumizhli (1965) that Balachander entered as a breath of fresh air, bold and daring to shake the status quo. He did that with elan and picked themes like adultery and prostitution with aplomb. Though there had been criticism that he filched story lines (which is not at all uncommon for Tamil cinema) from many language films, there can be no denying the fact that he never lifted anything scene by scene. By chiseling the raw story line to give it a distinct Tamil character, he gave creativity a new meaning and definition.
Of course, he had openly given credit to others for the films he had adapted in Tamil like Nizhal Nijamagiradhu (Illusion Becomes Reality - 1978), in which he gave top roles to Kamal Haasan and Sarath Babu. Besides his talents and a director, scriptwriter and also an actor, what made Balachander stand out is his uncanny knack of identifying talent from the teeming wannabes of Kollywood. Though Rajinikanth remains his most well-known pick – the actor that the director saw in him was not the one that the modern generation gets to watch – several generation of actors got their first break from him, like Major Sundararajan, Radha Ravi, S Ve Shekher, Y G Mahendran, Shobha, Sujatha, Mouli and Prakash Raj, to name a few.
In his first film he featured Nagesh, who subsequently became a popular comedian playing second fiddle to bigwigs, which is an indication of the way he looked at films and actors. He was more for realism at a time when good looks and hyperbole were adorned and marketed effectively. Though it was MGR who gave Balachander the breakthrough the film Deiva Thai (1964) in which he was asked to write the script, he always went for fresh faces as heroes and heroines. But his villains had been more sophisticated and handsome than the protagonists, too. Like in Pattina Privesam (1977), the villain does not even beat the man who assaults him, but mouths words like ‘beating is the weapon of the coward’.
His protagonists had been hated too. Or rather not admired in the conventional way like in Manmadha Leelai (1975), where the playboy hero goes around flooring one woman after another but feels guilty about it and confesses to his employee, whose reaction keeps the audience in splits right through the film.
That he chose to stay off the beaten path at a time when the industry was specialising in films written with the ‘hero’ in mind, was an inspiration for the entry for a new wave directors in the 1970s into the field. Each of those directors left their distinctive stamp, before the industry went back to its old ways, leaving most of them irrelevant and in relative penury. But Balachander soldiered on; the man who came to cinema from theatre easily went into television to shoot several serials.
The Making of a Legend
In a star-spangled career spanning over 4 decades, veteran director-writer K Balachander had churned out noted films that have won over movie-lovers
1964: Dheiva Thaai - writer
Server Sundaram - writer
1965: Neerkumizhi - writer and director
1966: Major Chandrakanth - Tamil remake of Oonche Log - writer and director
1968: Ethir Neechal - writer and director
1973: Arangetram - writer and director
1974: Aval Oru Thodar Kathai - writer and director
1975: Apoorva Raagangal - writer and director
1978: Maro Charithra - Telugu - writer and director Ek Duuje Ke Liye - Hindi - writer and director
1980: Varumayin Niram Sivappu - writer and director
1981: Thaneer Thaneer
1985: Sindhu Bhairavi - writer and director
1986: Punnagai Mannan - writer and director
1988: Unnal Mudiyum Thambi - writer and director
1996: Kalki - writer and director
2006: Poi - writer and director
NO ONE CAN FILL THE VOID: JAYALALITHAA
AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa on Tuesday said that no one can fill up the void created by the demise of Balachander. “It is an irreparable loss to the film industry,” she said in a statement in Chennai. Recalling the accolades from various quarters and the awards from Central and State governments to Balachander, the AIADMK supremo said “the late director has redrawn the contours of Tamil film industry by depicting human relations and their feelings. Women and the problems faced by used to be central focus of his films.” He has left his impressions in Telugu, Kannada and Hindi film industries too, she said, recalling his humility and simplicity. He began his career by enacting his plays and the first film by him was Neerkumizhi.
KB was like God to Me, says Rajini
“KB sir was like a God living like a human in front of me,” said a teary-eyed Rajnikanth, who went to Warren Road to pay homage to the mortal remains of director K Balachander. Dressed in his signature-white apparel, the actor came to K Balachander’s apartment with lyricist Vairamuthu and director SP Muthuraman, as soon as he heard of his sudden demise. He quietly entered his house, half an hour before the late director’s body was brought in from a hospital. After sitting alone in a corner for an hour, Rajnikanth finally made his way to speak to the gathering downstairs. “People saw me only as a boy, but he saw the actor in me. He treated me like his son,” said the actor, “I owe him everything. I am what I am today because of KB sir.”