Tribute to K.Balachander

Yuvi and I were watching “Kalaivaniye” from “Sindhu Bhairavi” on youtube yesterday. I then alt-tabbed to my Facebook page and scrolled down through profile picture updates and Christmas sugar cookies and stopped dead. K.Balachander has passed away! To me and to millions of his fans he is the finest, greatest Indian director ever.

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.

I was a K.Balachander fan from that day on. I love his films. I adore them. if I were to chance on the Kavithalaya (earlier Kala Kendra) Thiruvalluvar statue (that marks the beginning of his films) anytime anywhere, I’d stop, sit and gape at the TV unmindful of exams next day, of meal time or filter coffee time at home, that we’re in a hotel room on vacation and we’re supposed to be sightseeing, that I’d just pulled out all the clothes from my bero to sort them out and the kids have fashioned it into a garment swimming pool and are jumping around in it. I am oblivious to everything around me.
His movies are my metaphors in life. I am so much like the Sowar Janaki in his “Ethir Neechal”. I am also a little like the idealistic Kamal in “Varumai Niram Sigappu”. Balachander’s movies have shaped the way I think, they’ve been my frame of reference. Movies are such a huge part of Tamil culture and K.Balachander’s films are among the finest Tamil films ever. It is hard not to be touched by this genius’s work.

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.

Sindhu Bhairavi

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).

Even his flops were good movies. Such was the quality of the man’s work. Always true to style, honest film-making. I will choose to watch “Kalyana Agathigal” any day over the “vetri-nadai podigire” hits of today.
I’ve not watched all of his films. I suddenly feel like I have to, right now. It is funny and quite sad that many of the obituaries describe him as the mentor of Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan rather than as “The greatest Tamil director”. He must be remembered as the “Iyakunar Sigaram” that he’ll always be.
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  1. nsangheetha says:

    Well written and well said 🙂
    He is Iyakunar Sigaram as always.
    Just like you, I wondered why his movies make us sit and watch fully though it is no thriller, no detective. It is his screenplay and scene setting( or whatever). Every scene makes us watch the movie.
    I still love all his mirror scenes in his movie and Serials.

    As you rightly said, his world of women is full of strength, courage and their own principles.
    In real life, we might have ignored them but love to watch in his movies.

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