K. Balachander, recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2010, talks aboutwhat the honour means to him
Surprisingly, this 41st Dadasaheb Phalke Awardee is only the second Tamil chosen for the honour, after Sivaji Ganesan!
“And it's the first for a film director from here,” smiles K. Balachander.
Worthy recognition for a maker who handled a variety of subjects with tremendous insight, a pioneer, who preferred to treat socially relevant issues in a hard-hitting manner, a creator whose protagonists, male or female, strode the screen like a colossus … I can go on.
KB's home is a beehive of activity on the morning after the news was flashed. “It's virtually mayhem here. Shall we talk at a calmer hour,” he asks jubilantly when I dial him up for a few bytes.
The joy in his voice is the same when we eventually get to converse in the evening. “You're right. I'm very happy,” he laughs. “And I don't buy the contention that I should have got it earlier. I've been in the committee that decides the awards, and also a juror. The parameters are chalked out and the members go by them,” he says.
Could his rejuvenation result in a winning re-entry of the director? “If I find a script that inspires me, why not,” he asks.
Being feted at Delhi isn't new to KB. He received the Padma Shri more than two decades ago. And beginning with “Iru Kodugal”, his work has won notice at the National level several times in the regional best film category. But were they enough reward for the innovative concepts and unique treatment he brought into cinema?
“I was contented, but when a film like ‘Thanneer Thanneer', got the Best Screenplay, I felt it should have been slotted higher. Just a small disappointment,” he shrugs it off. Taking up water scarcity as the theme and making a film that's both realistic and commercially viable isn't easy. But KB pulled it off with élan. “The experimental effort paid off,” he says.
Did he ever choose stories with awards in mind? “I didn't consciously aim at being different. Every work was spontaneous,” he recalls. “And I never gave a thought to awards.”
Unforgettable tragedies such as “Neerkumizhi” and “Thamarai Nenjam”, emotional drama of the “Major Chandrakanth” kind, suspense thrillers — “Naanal” to name one — comic mysteries viz., “Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi” that had you in splits, rip-roaring takes such as “Navagraham” … the genres this architect of meaningful Tamil cinema handled in his heyday are incredible!
Groomed by KB
Yet, every time KB is mentioned, the names of Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan are automatically included! The two age-defying heroes, found and groomed by KB, are achievers with awesome sustainability, all right, but the auteur's strengths extend much beyond spotting their talent. The star maker is a luminary himself with an extremely rich repertoire!
“Ha! Ha! It's intriguing to me too. I'd been making films much before I introduced Kamal and Rajni, and after …”
Besides a whole lot of new faces, including the inimitable Saritha and Prakash Raj, there were several well-known actors who made a mark in his films. Gemini Ganesan, Nagesh, ‘Major' Sundarrajan, Sivakumar, Rajesh, Jai Ganesh, Sowcar Janaki, Saroja Devi, Vanisri, Jayanthi, Kanchana, Sujatha … the list of those whose skills were honed at KB's school is endless.
But how did he manage to usher in such a wealth of talent in the industry? “It was 25 per cent observation … I would watch a potential actor keenly. And my intuition helped. The rest, of course, was perspiration,” he chortles aloud.
So does he see the Phalke honour as a crowning glory? “Yes, you can term it so,” he says.
And the response from the industry? “Phenomenal! After nearly five decades here, it's quite natural that I have made several friends and a few whom I haven't quite got along with. But the genuine joy with which everyone, without exception, has been calling on me, and calling me up, to congratulate me, is heart-warming. I've never been greeted so unanimously. It's overwhelming,” concludes KB on a sentimental note.