It was a sea of white – sparkling, manicured and accessorised to the T. The Duchess Club, Chennai, was dressed for romance. When director K. Balachander – the man behind Sindhu Bhairavi and Ek Duje Ke Liye – entered, the white blushed pink.

In an event titled ‘Bonding with Balachander – The Evergreen Romantic’, the city’s ladies put the octogenarian’s wits to the test, with a barrage of questions. The show was admirably hosted by actor Shylaja Chetlur and Kavithalayaa Krishnan, a close aide of the director’s.

The show began with a beautiful visual tribute in two parts, meticulously compiled by Krishnan and Shailaja. The first was a collection of scenes from Aboorva Ragangal, Achamillai Achamillai and Punnagai Mannan, among others. Crème de la crème of KB’s brand of romance. Years on, these scenes evoked the same thrill that they must have back then. There should have been a lot more of this. The other part was duchesses talking about why they love KB’s films. A common thread emerged, which Suhasini Maniratnam, in a short and enjoyable talk, put brilliantly.

When Suhasini fell in love with Mani

“He’s the only one on our side,” Suhasini said. The strength and purpose KB infused into his leading ladies is an integral part of the director’s legacy to Tamil cinema. After fawning over the director brilliantly, Suhasini illustrated this admiration with a rather colourful story. It goes thus –

Hers was an arranged marriage. Mani Ratnam was in love with her, but she was keeping her options open. The wedding happened and years passed. It was 1989-90. Mani Ratnam was refusing projects all over. One day, he gets a call, listens for a minute and goes, “Of course, sir. I’ll do it.” Suhasini asked him what it was about. He said KB had asked him to do a movie. She asked him what he would do. He said of course he’d do it. KB asked, he reiterated. Of course I’ll do it, he repeated. That, said Suhasini, was when she fell in love with her husband. After he did the movie, everyone else fell in love with him. He’d said yes to Roja.

Give and take

The question-answer session was lively. The director kept up with some interesting responses – some poignant, some naughty. Sample these –

Q: Is romance emotional or physical?

KB: In any real emotional attraction, the physical aspect comes into play. Many a time though, it takes over entirely.

Q: How did you maintain balance as a filmmaker when dealing with controversial themes?

KB: It took courage to take it up. I had it. I took it in the right spirit and took care not to infringe on the tenets of society. Those tenets are changing now.

Q: Is there a difference between the way men and women love?

KB: Yes. One is masculine and the other, feminine.

Q: Sorry if I am being personal. Have there been women in your life?

KB: My answer is yes. You are being personal!

Also on discussion were the letters KB often wrote to directors of the movies he enjoyed, or organisers of select events he attended. This sample from his note to Gautam Menon after watching Vinnaithandi Varuvaya elicited some full-chested whistling – This 80-year old man pondered on the way back home after watching your flim if he could tell his 75-year old wife he loved her and see whether she could still blush. He did and she did. Son, you have won.

The admiration was frank and KB’s acceptance, graceful. A tribute to a legend, paid with rich words and warm applause. Not a bad way to spend a morning.

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Anand VenkateswaranJune 19, 2012