The first time Balachandra Menon looked through the lens of a camera while making his debut movie, all that he saw was a square. Thirty-six years later, he searches his memory and finds time moving before him in frames.
He has recorded the scenes in a book he has compiled, which, in many ways, summarises Menon’s life so far. Considering the dexterity with which he has handled varied roles, 36 years was a short time to evolve as a filmmaker of repute in Malayalam filmdom. Menon may have considered this while naming his book Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam after one of his famous hits.
Menon experimented with flamboyancy in an age when filmgoers were more used to subtlety in narration. His films mirrored his personality, which won him friends with ease. His passion for cinema was evident even as a 22-year-old when he applied for the post of a reporter with a leading cinema magazine of the times only because it would take him to Madras [Chennai], the then hub of Malayalam cinema.
His house in Kodambakam in Madras [Chennai] was the hangout of friends he made in the field. The comments of some of them as well as others, well versed with Menon and his works, share space with the filmmaker’s own views about the movies he made.
Every movie Menon made is devoted separate space in the book, with him giving the details of the way it was made, the salient features of some prominent scenes, the cast, and the difficulties while filming. In every page of the book, one finds Menon as a man head over heels in love with films.
It was this passion for cinema that drove him to never-say-die in the face of odds and change strategy when his first movie Uthradarathri did not do well at the box office. He was even asked by the manager of a theatre where it was being screened to take the print and leave. That incident marked the birth of the “Menon style” which made him a name to reckon with in the industry.
To a large extent, more than the content and plot of the movies made, it was the fun he had at work that endeared him to masses as the earthy yet flamboyant filmmaker with a bandana to boot. Reading the book is like watching a Menon film. Rich with anecdotes from a life cut away from the buzz of speed, plain pages with an evident matte shade, and pictures that bear a distinct restraint of the times and a touch of amateurish showiness that marked the showbiz of the 80s, give the book a unique quaintness.
The book probably starts off with chapters on films stacked up in an apparent disorderliness, but as one gets into it, its sequence falls in place. The style and presentation is thus off the norm of the day. As with his films so with his book, Menon has begged to differ.
Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam