He took Tamil cinema beyond hero-centric creations

K. Balachander with two of his protégés, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth  

Tamil film director K. Balachander, a Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, was the man who moved the hero-centric Tamil cinema to story-based, realistic creations with new talent.

K.B. as he is known, introduced and shaped many top stars, including Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth, and effortlessly adapted himself to the changing world of theatre, cinema and finally television, through his non-conformist ideas and complicated plots.

KB the director gained international acclaim but his journey actually started with theatre. Born in Nannilam, Kailasam Balachander first dallied with theatre when he directed the play Major Chandrakanth in 1963, when he worked in the Auditor General’s Office. The play became a runaway hit and, later, also as a movie.

Neerkumizhi, originally a drama, was his first film, and his script for Server Sundaram, was made into a film by AVM starring Nagesh, under the direction of Krishnan Panchu.

The introduction of an unkempt Rajinikanth in the film Aboorva Ragangal would come to be talked about in the changing Tamil film industry for years to come. He went on to make films starring Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, including Moondru Mudichu, Avargal and the Beatles’- inspired Ninaithale Inikkum, the songs of which continue to haunt generations of film music lovers.

An admirer of poet Bharathi and a feminist, KB cast his heroines as intelligent, independent and sometimes, even headstrong, individuals. They were cast in typical middle class binds having to fight societal constraints — Kavitha of Aval Oru Thodarkathai, Nandini of Manathil Uruthi Vendum, Kalki from the film of the same name, or Lalitha, the heroine of Arangetram.

Arangetram, portraying the life of a Brahmin girl taking to sex work to sustain a large family, shook the Tamil film world. It was in this film that child artiste Kamal Haasan made his debut as an adult, playing the role of the heroine’s brother.

Thillu Mullu, starring Rajnikanth was a romcom that was a roaring hit, and Bhama Vijayam, a tale of the ambitions of the middle class, was also a major hit. KB was inspired by social activist M.S. Udayamurthy to make his Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, a film that marked Gemini Ganesan’s return to cinema. Among his political films, industry analysts count Thanneer Thanneer, and Achamilai, Achamilai. Varumai Niram Sivappu narrates the woes of unemployment.

KB was keen on using music well in his films, and Sindhu Bhairavi starring Sivakumar and Suhasini, with Ilayaraja scoring the tunes was an example of how creatively it could be done. His Ek Duje Ke Liye with Kamal Hassan and Rati Agnihotri, showed that KB could shine outside of Tamil too, as did Mano Charitra, in Telugu. His last film was Poi.

He tasted success as a producer, as his company, Kavithalaya, emerged as the launch pad for several greats in the industry: for instance, A.R. Rahman made his debut as music director in the film Roja. His golden touch worked well even with his tele-serials, says Kavithalaya Krishnan.


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.
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>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 | Oct 21, 2021 3:03:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/he-took-tamil-cinema-beyond-herocentric-creations/article6719996.ece

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