A powerful portrayer of middle-class predicament in plays

While the world of cinema continues to celebrate many of his historic movies, K. Balachander, who passed away on Tuesday, was no less a pioneer when he directed dramas in the 1960s.

Theatre was his first love. It wouldn’t be an understatement to state that nobody else brought out the nuances of the middleclass life like Mr. Balachander did in his dramas.

Often, the predicament in middle class values and their constant clash with modernity were so beautifully essayed by powerful characters of his plays. The dramas were also ideal platforms for actors who later became stalwarts in their own right and left indelible footmarks in the world of Tamil cinema.

Actor and dramatist S.V. Sekar remembers the days in 1963 when he used to accompany actor Srikanth, a paying guest in his house who was a constant in Mr. Balachander’s Ragini Recreations troupe, to the plays.

“It was a time when grand sets were ruling the stages, like those of R.S. Manohar who recreated mythologies. Mr. Balachander’s sets brought drama down to reality. You felt as though the play was a chapter of your family life,” he recalls. The ace director put in extraordinary effort in every show.

“Most of the times, he would rehearse alone on the stage to check if the settings were properly made,” Mr. Sekar says. Mr. Balachander was perhaps the catalyst who ushered in an era of amateur drama troupes in the 1960s and 1970s.

So popular were his plays that halls used to overflow for days together. Sampath Kumar, professor at the Asian College of Journalism, says women characters and their travails defined Mr. Balachander’s creations. He later handled such delicate subjects effortlessly in his movies, earning critical acclaim.

“In the drama ‘ Major Chandrakanth,’ a phenomenal hit that gave actor Sundarrajan the title ‘Major’, the character of the woman who gets pregnant and is later left in the lurch, was never shown. But anyone who watched the drama was left with a lingering presence of the character,” he says. When it was made into a movie, the former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa played the role of the woman.

Mr. Sampath says despite the serious tone of his stories, Mr. Balachander had an amazing wit, which was translated into special characters that lent humour to his script. “The dramas also had a dose of English and English phrases translated to Tamil. This hugely attracted the educated crowd of Chennai.”

Another aspect of his plays was the attention given to the music to complement the human drama. The composer was usually the music director V. Kumar.

Other creations such as Neer Kumuzhi and Edhir Neechal, which brought out the fine acting skills of comedian Nagesh, elevated Mr. Balachander to the status of a legend. They too were massive hits when they were adapted into films.

In later years, Mr. Balachander translated his drama skills to another medium: television.

The TV serials he produced at the beginning of the cable TV boom in the 1990s, like ‘Rail Sneham’ and ‘Kadhal Pagadai,’ often carried strong resemblances to his plays and topped the ratings for years.

“He saw serials as a way to take his dramas to a wider audience, especially women, as the traditional dramas had waned in popularity after television took centre stage in urban households,” Mr. Sampath says.


The journey

  • Also known as Iyakunar Sigaram, he entered the film industry as a scriptwriter.
  • He was also a producer, actor and play-writer.
  • He has directed over 100 films in various languages in his 45-year career span.
  • KB established himself as a director with Neer Kumizhi. The film won a National Award.
  • The director has introduced over 100 actors to the industry.
  • Superstar Rajinikanth was introduced by the Iyakunar Sigaram in his film Apoorva Ragangal.
  • KB also gave a break to Kamal Haasan and starred him as supporting actor in Arangetram, Aval Oru Thodarkathai and Naan Avan Illai.
>Read more » >Read more » >Read more » >Read more »

>He took Tamil cinema beyond hero-centric creations

The intro of an unkempt Rajini in Aboorva Ragangal would come to be talked about for years to come.

>A powerful portrayer of middle-class predicament in plays

The predicament in middle class values and their constant clash with modernity were so beautifully essayed in his plays

>Micro serials, macro achiever

His storytelling has always been with a definite purpose, with a difference.

>End of an era: K. Balachander (1930-2014)

KB established himself as a director with Neer Kumizhi.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 8:08:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/a-powerful-portrayer-of-middleclass-predicament-in-plays/article6719995.ece

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