I had to write this.
Long ago when I was still in school, when I knew nothing about K.Balachander, when I had no great preference in cinema, a black and white movie “Nizhal Nijam Aagiradhu” was playing on Raj TV. I thought I’d watch a few scenes and then go to sleep. The first few scenes drew me in. I didn’t move from my seat. I watched the entire movie. This was no thriller. This was the story of wonderfully real characters beautifully played out in a genius screenplay – Thilakam (Shobha), the simple day dreaming servant girl who falls for Challam, the very proper Challam (Sarath Babu) who nobody’ll doubt, the brash talking Sanjeevi (Kamal Hassan) who is easy to doubt, the stubborn men-hating Indu (Sumithra) who loves Sanjeevi but will not admit to even herself, deaf Kasi (Hanumanthu) who loves Thilakam in his own simple way and the local nosy mama (Mouli) who rues that nobody suspects him as the father of Thilakam’s child. Classic!! I can watch the movie any number of times and still smile at Shobha’s innocence or be wooed by Kamal.
K.Balachander was way ahead of his time, always. “Nizhal Nijam Aagiradhu” was in 1978. The woman chooses the man who takes care of her over her child’s father. “Aboorva Raagangal” in 1975 broke all norms of love and relationship where the girl falls in love with the guy’s father and the guy falls in love with the girl’s mother. As Jayasudha famously says in a riddle in the film “The girl would become her mother’s mother-in-law and the guy his father’s father-in-law”.
|From Punnagai Mannan|
There is nobody like K.Balachander to portray women. Heroines were never just pretty, helpless daughters, sisters and lovers. They had a character of their own, they stood their own – stubborn Indu in “Nizhal Nijam Aagiradhu”, movie crazy Sowkar Janaki in “Ethir Neechal”, iron-willed Nandini sister (Suhasini) in “Manadhil Urudhi Vendum”, possessive and jealous Gowri (Geetha) in “Puthu Puthu Arthangal”, witty Malini (Revathi) in “Punnagai Mannan”, impulsive Priya Ranjan (Bhanupriya), mischievous, compulsive-lying O.Swapna (Madhubala) in Azhagan. Often times women were the centre of his films. And because women were usually the crux of his films, story, screenplay and dialogues were usually brilliant too. Not that the former begets the latter but there was no room for heroism, commercial formulas and playing to hero’s fan bases.
I have come to love his style – strong, spunky women, their very own mannerisms (Kushboo’s pouting in Jaathi Malli, Jayapradha’s nodding in “Ninaithale Innikum”), every little character etched beautifully (liar Gajapathi, drunk Gurumoorthi and pension saving thatha in Sindhu Bhairavi), the little sub-plots (Sowkar Janaki and poornam viswanathan couple in “Puthu Puthu Arthangal”) that all tie in to the main plot and his endearing invisble/imaginary characters (Irumal thatha in “Ethir Neechal”, Nagesh’s brother in “Aboorva Raagangal”, SPB’s imaginary wife in Manadhil urudhi vendum).