Director K. Balachander, one of the influential filmmakers and trendsetters in Indian cinema, will receive the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 2010, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry announced on Friday.

“Direction has been my passion and continues to be so. Yes, this is a very happy moment,” said the veteran director. Mr. Balachander's story is as fascinating as the ones he has told on screen.

When he was a government servant, he was drawn to theatre and wrote a set of plays that were marked by realistic portrayals. He later took to penning dialogues and gradually found himself wearing the director's hat with ease.

Amid several television interviews and telephone calls, a very enthusiastic Mr. Balachander said: “It has been over a 100 films in direction. I have also produced a good number of films. But what is really fulfilling is having had the opportunity to shape and mentor several actors and technicians.”

It must be, for he was the director who spotted and groomed several talented artists, including the celebrated Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.

Film buffs and critics have often credited “KB sir,” as he is fondly known, with making films that were not hero-centric. He has presented an admirable variety of protagonists, the character of a struggling youth played by actor Nagesh in ‘Ethir Neechal' being a classic example. His films such as ‘Avargal' had female actors performing meaty roles, challenging the conventional notion of a “heroine” in films. Also, a Balachander film was always expected to have very good music.

On how he managed to ensure that the music in all his films were super hit numbers, Mr. Balachander said: “As a director, I have always felt responsible for all the departments in filmmaking. With that conviction, it was possible to bring out the best in my technicians.”

Mr. Balachander has explored very interesting themes in several of his films, including ‘Aboorva Ragangal,' ‘Bama Vijayam,' ‘Sindhubhairavi,' ‘Varumayin Niram Sivappu,' and ‘Thanneer Thanneer.' His ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye' caught the attention of cinema lovers in other parts of the country.

“Sometimes, when I see my old films now, I am really surprised. ‘How did we manage to take this scene?' I wonder. It seems like I knew some magic. Otherwise, people would not have let me take those films. It would be nearly impossible now,” he said.

His tryst with television serials also proved successful, again, setting trends in the field. His ‘Rayil Sneham' and ‘Kai Alavu Manasu' were virtually a phenomenon on television, at a time when television soaps were not too common. Even now, the director is busy working on a Tamil serial.

Kollywood responds

The announcement of the award to ‘Iyakkunar Sigaram' as he is known in Kollywood has brought tremendous happiness to the fraternity of artists and technicians. However, some felt that it could have come much earlier.

Actor Kamal Haasan said this was a “belated honour.” “Had I been in the committee, I would have recommended his name soon after ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye,' but people would have attributed motives. In a country like India, a talent like Balachander sir has to wait this long before he gets a well-deserved honour,” he said.

Director Vasanth, who was earlier his assistant, said: “It feels great to have known a genius like him for 30 years. It is a matter of great pride that he gets this award given for outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema. I think after Sivaji sir, he is the first person to get it in Tamil Nadu.”

Mr. Balachander is loved by juniors, for he never fails to send a note of appreciation to a technician who has done well.

Director Gautham Vasudeva Menon, who received a letter with nuanced feedback on ‘Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa' said: “All of us have grown up watching his films. I am truly excited and happy. He is someone who keeps in touch with everyone in the industry and his words are very reassuring to all of us.”