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Master of genres

P.K. Ajith Kumar
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Interview Veteran actor-director-scriptwriter Balachandra Menon is actively back to doing what he does best, after a hiatus. P.K. Ajith Kumar

He wrote. He directed. He acted. He composed. He sang. He edited. He produced. And he entertained. Over the past three decades, few people have contributed to Malayalam cinema as much as Balachandra Menon. Then the veteran actor-director-scriptwriter fell ill. He heard about his own ‘death’ and even that his wife, Varada, had deserted him because he was chronically ill! Few people, it seems, have lived life the way Balachandran Menon has. And fewer are as determined, as passionate, about life, work and art.

The man whose name alone was once reason enough for the audience to flock to theatres, is now actively back in cinema, after a four-year break. Up for release in the coming month or so is Buddy , which marks the directorial debut of Raaj Prabhavathy Menon, and Salim Ahamed’s Kunhananthante Kada . Menon is currently shooting for Kadal Kadannoru Mathukkutty , the Ranjith-film starring Mammootty in the lead.

“I play the role of a priest in this film and it is an interesting role. Ranjith is one director and scriptwriter I like in today’s Malayalam cinema,” says Menon, who is in Kozhikode for the shoot of the film.

But it’s the film he is planning to direct, a little later in the year, that he is more excited about. “I enjoy acting yes, but nothing gives me as much gratification as writing a script and then turning that into a film. Right now I am in the process of writing the script for the yet untitled film,” says Menon.

The man of many talents is a bit disappointed that he never got his due as a scriptwriter. Menon, who won the National Award for best actor for Samantharangal , muses: “Right from my first film, Uthrada Rathri , which is a tale of a hypochondriac, I have handled a variety of subjects in my scripts. I wrote about a girl’s fantasy in Ishtamanu Pakshe , about a mentally-challenged young man in Maniyan Pilla Athava Maniyan Pilla , about marital discord in April 18 and about a widow’s plight in Achuvettante Veedu . Prema Geethangal was a love story, while I dabbled with gender issues in Ammayane Sathyam …”

He spends a few minutes talking further about Ammayane Sathyam (1993). “It happened only because of Annie, who had come to interview me for Doordarshan. I noticed there was something decidedly boyish about this schoolgirl’s appearance and that thought led me to the premise of Ammayane Sathyam .”

The film was a hit. As were most of the films he made in the 1980s and ‘90s, when family audiences filled theatres across Kerala. “I have always believed family is the most important institution in society. And through my films, I have tried to show how goodness can change lives. So I was surprised to find no mention of my films in a recent article in a magazine about Malayalam movies that celebrate goodness.

“I don’t know why there has always been this tendency to overlook my contribution to Malayalam cinema. But I have survived and I am glad that I could find a place in the heart of the Malayali film viewer on my own. Nowadays, I also like engaging with viewers directly through social networking sites,” says Menon.

However, some of his best performances as an actor have been in films directed by others, such as Kudumba Puranam , Sasneham , Saphalam and Isabella , to name a few. “I’ve always had several offers to act, but I never wanted to be just an actor. Ever since the age of 12, when I found out, while rehearsing for a school play, that only a director can call the shots, I have wanted to be one,” says Menon.

Indeed, his director’s eye has spotted many a talent and has introduced Malayalam cinema to some of its favourite heroines such as Shobana ( April 18 ), Parvathy ( Vivahithare Ithile Ithile ) and Karthika ( Manicheppu Thurannappol ).

Apart from acting-scripting, Menon is currently busy with his new book Ithiri Neram, Othiri Karyam . “It’s about my films. Besides my memoirs, the book will also have write-ups by Mammootty, P.T. Usha and Resul Pookutty that speak about my films,” he says.

Another creative endeavour to look forward to from the man who knows how to tell a tale.

I am glad that I could find a place in the heart of the Malayali film viewer on my own


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