Daniel Balaji, an acting powerhouse whose unrestrained talents deserved a broader canvas

With Daniel Balaji’s sudden demise coming as a shocker to those within the film industry and outside of it, here’s a look at the journey of the actor in front of the camera and the man behind it

March 30, 2024 06:31 pm | Updated 07:22 pm IST

Daniel Balaji

Daniel Balaji

Tamil actor Daniel Balaji, also known for starring in other South Indian language films, passed away in Chennai on March 29 due to a heart attack at the age of 49. Having turned actor in the world of feature films 22 years ago, Balaji’s limited yet illustrious filmography included titles starring him alongside some of the legends of Indian cinema.

Born as Balaji T.C., choosing cinema as a profession was not new for his family. His uncle S. Siddalingaiah was a veteran Kannada filmmaker whose son Murali paved a name for himself in Tamil cinema during the late 80s till the early 2000s until his demise in 2010. But before his acting career, Balaji had previously worked behind the scenes on quite a few films. Thanks to that experience, he would do his own make-up as well as for his peers. The actor even constructed the Sri Ragdhool Angala Parameshwari Amman Temple in Avadi which features many idols hand-painted by Balaji himself. As a film institute graduate, Balaji even shot a couple of short films and was also interested in helming a film before his untimely death.

The actor’s ‘first name’ was an earned moniker after his first on-screen appearance as a character named ‘Daniel’ in Radhika Sarathkumar’s cult classic soap opera Chithi. He also starred in another serial titled Alaigal for the same channel network while working in various departments within the film industry. He even assisted director PC Anbazhagan in the Murali starrer Kamarasu in which he helped the film’s female lead Laila, a newcomer to the language and Tamil cinema, with her Tamil lines.

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Kaakha Kaakha’

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Kaakha Kaakha’

Balaji turned actor for the big screen with 2002’s April Maadhathil in which he played a minor yet effective role of a young man dealing with unrequited love. The next year, he played a cop in both Kadhal Kondein and Kaakha Kaakhawith the latter being his first of many collaborations with director Gautham Menon. In the second film from the filmmaker’s cop trilogy, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Balaji found his most iconic role as Amudhan Sukumaran, one-half of a serial killer duo moonlighting as doctors. His monologue on the “path-breaking theory” to Raghavan (Kamal Haasan) and explanation of how “it’s all about blood, bones and muscles,” before casually stating that he has buried Raghavan’s fiancée alive still feature on several highlight reels. Balaji would go on to play a cameo in the trilogy’s final film Yennai Arindhaal and a minor role in GVM’s Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada as well.

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu’

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu’

Another director with whom Balaji collaborated for two of his most famous roles is Vetri Maaran. In the filmmaker’s directorial debut Polladhavan, Balaji played Ravi, an egoistical wannabe gangster. Incidentally, in the director’s Vada Chennai, Balaji gave a contrastingly restrained performance as Thambi, the peacemaker and the mentor figure to the film’s lead played by his Polladhavan colleague Dhanush. An otherwise serious line uttered by Balaji’s character in Vada Chennai, “laip eh tholachtiye da” (you have lost your life), ended up becoming meme fodder.

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Muthirai’

Daniel Balaji in a still from ‘Muthirai’

After starring in a few forgettable films as a supporting actor, Balaji played one of the leads in Muthirai which was helmed by costume designer Aneez Tanveer, wife of late director and cinematographer Jeeva. He has also done a fair share of films in Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Apart from starring alongside actors like Kamal Haasan, Vijay and Dhanush in Tamil, he shared screen space with stars like Mammootty (Black, Daddy Cool), Mohanlal (Photographer, Bhagavan), Ram Charan (Chirutha), Venkatesh (Gharshana), Nani (Tuck Jagadish) and Yash (Kirataka).

Balaji was known for his intense acting, unique voice and impeccable dialogue delivery, and his body of work showcases how his talent made characters stand apart even while starring alongside several stalwarts of the Indian film industry. His sudden demise is undoubtedly a shock to those who have worked with him and those whom he had wowed with his performances. According to his wishes, Balaji’s eyes have been donated, giving his line on ‘sagavaram’ (the gift of immortality), from the climax of Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, a whole new meaning.

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