Of realities on reel

Down south

Of realities on reel

A pall of gloom descended over Kollywood recently when one of the industry’s most celebrated filmmakers, K Balachander, passed away.

The director, with over a 100 films to his credit, began life as an accounts assistant and his first love was theatre.

In the early 1960s, Balachander staged his plays and soon got an offer to write a screenplay from none other than MGR. The star actor’s Deiva Thai was his first brush with cinema, a launch pad that would take him to dizzy heights of fame and glory. Balachander directed just one film with the other top hero Sivaji Ganesan titled Ethiroli. However, Gemini Ganesan played hero in many of Balachander’s directorial ventures, notable among them being Thamarai Nenjam, Iru Kodugal, Punnagai, Kaviya Thalaivi, down to the more recent Unnal Mudiyum Thambi.

Eye for talent
The ace director who always had a keen eye for spotting talent re-introduced child actor Kamal Haasan as an adolescent in his film Arangetram, and the duo later worked in over 30-odd films. Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, a strapping lad from Karnataka, was rechristened Rajinikanth after a character in Balachander’s hit film Major Chandrakanth, and featured as a dark, brooding presence in Apoorva Ragangal. The rest, as they say, is history.

At a time when heroes ruled the industry, Balachander revealed a penchant for heroine-oriented subjects. He also made a number of black and white films on shoestring budgets, which were huge hits. The filmmaker stunned conservative viewers with Arangetram, the story of a young woman from a Brahmin household who takes to prostitution to provide succour to her parents and siblings. In films including Aval Oru Thodarkathai, Avargal, Iru Kodugal, Achamillai Achamillai, Sindhu Bhairavi and Kalki, Balachander’s female protagonists revealed that they were made of steel and could stand up for their rights in a patriarchal society. Stereotypes too hardly bothered him. Sridevi as a callow teenager was cast as Rajinikanth’s stepmother in Moondru Mudichu, a dancer in Halam, and a demure housewife in Manmatha Leelai, where Kamal essayed the role of a Casanova.

Balachander was also in the fore for directing and producing films espousing social causes. Films like Thanneer Thanneer on water scarcity in a village, Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu (unemployment), Achamillai Achamillai (corruption in politics), Rudra Veena (national integration) and Oru Veedu Iru Vaasal (social values) revealed his concern for society at large. Balachander traversed various genres in cinema with consummate ease. He could direct comedies too with aplomb. Bama Vijayam was a laugh riot and so was the Rajinikanth starrer Thillu Mullu. The ace filmmaker turned Kamal into Charlie Chaplin in Punnagai Mannan and the versatile actor brought the house down with his antics.

Region no bar
The director was not averse to picking up talent from other industries as well. Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi (47 Natkal and Rudra Veena), Malayalam actors Ravikumar (Avargal), Mammootty (Azhagan), Rahman (Puthu Puthu Arthangal), Kannada actors Sundarraj (Thappu Thalangal), Ramesh Aravind and Prakash Raj (Duet), and Shruthi (Kalki) had the privilege of working with him.  Balachander also acted in a few films like Rettai Chuzhi and the yet-to-be-released Uthama Villain featuring Kamal and directed by Ramesh Aravind, where he was cast as a director appropriately named Margadarshi.
Balachander also had a successful stint on the small screen with Tamil soaps like Kaiyalavu Manasu and Rail Sneham. The failure of his ventures like Parthale Paravasam and his last directorial effort Poi made him realise that his era had passed on. His films won a number of National Awards, though the award for Best Director always eluded him. However, the government bestowed on him the much-deserved Dadasaheb Phalke Award. KB sir, as he was always referred to, might have shed his mortal coils, but his rich body of work will live on and the stars he created will continue to shine brightly in the industry.

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