TRIBUTE Balakrishna was a natural, the punch that he packed into his lines was the stuff of an extraordinary actor. This is his centenary year MURALIDHARA KHAJANE

Had he lived, thespian T.N. Balakrishna — popularly known as ‘Balanna’ in Kannada film industry, would have turned 100 on November 2. But, the journey of this destiny’s child, Balanna, who acted in over 560 films in his career despite his hearing disability ended in July 1995.

It is difficult to imagine Kannada film industry without Balanna. He has the distinction of playing the largest number of roles so far on the Kannada screen, in a career extending to over four decades. He is also the only Kannada artist to play such a stunning variety of roles — hero, villain, comedian, good Samaritan, loving father and lunatic. He is the first Kannadiga to establish a film studio, Abhiman, meaning self respect, and put much of his life’s earnings at stake. Sadly, it remained an unsuccessful venture. He diverted a part of his none-too impressive earnings from his acting assignments to his studio, preferring to stay in a hut in the studio complex itself. Considering his contribution to the Kannada film industry, he was honoured with the prestigious Puttanna Kanagal award besides many other awards.

Balanna’s was a rather heart-rending story. Born into a poor family in Arasikere of the Hassan district, he was sold by his mother to a couple to meet medical expenditure of his ailing father. In an earlier conversation with this writer, Balanna had said that he ran away from his adopted parents, as they treated him badly.

Like many of his contemporaries, Balanna is a product of professional theatre. He joined the Drama Company as a painter of banners and was promoted to being the ticket collector. One day when an artiste fell ill and fail to turn up, he got an opportunity to act. Noted director B.R. Panthulu, who watched the play on that day, was impressed by Balanna’s acting skills and offered him a role. Balanna scripted the film “Kala Chakra” and donned a negative role. His performance was so powerful that, he instantly related to the character and was “hated” by audience. His performance in plays such as “Bedara Kannappa”, “Bharata Lakshmi” and “Ramayana” helped him carve a niche for himself in professional theatre. During this period he befriended Rajkumar, Narasimharaju, G.V. Iyer and others.

After success of the film “Dallali” produced by D. Shankar Singh in 1953, Balanna started getting sustentative roles, where in he donned and essayed various characters of anti-hero, negative character portrayals and comedian of course. Soon, Balanna became a household name for his versatile character performances.

In his career, Balanna acted with matinee idol Dr. Rajkumar in over 100 films. There is no actor in Kannada film industry, with whom Balanna has not acted. When no Kannada films were being produced, he along with Dr. Rajkumar and others produced Ranadheera Kanteerava .

During the 60s and 70s he was the busiest actor and it is said that directors first approached Balanna and Narasimharaju for dates, even before they checked with the hero and heroine. Balanna always attributed his success to his dear and loving producers, directors, film fraternity colleagues and to the Kannada film goers.