Stagecraft Theatre

He finds inspiration in epics

D. Balasundaram. Photo: R. Ragu

D. Balasundaram. Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

Shaped by R.S. Manohar, Balasundaram continues the legacy of the doyen

The early 1980s is considered the golden period for Tamil stage plays, because of the patronage extended to theatre groups by several sabhas in the city and the State as well. Despite the advent of other forms of entertainment, there are troupes and actors, who have been steadfast in their commitment to the Stage.

D. Balasundaram belongs to this club. When this writer met him, he was in a rehearsal session at Vani Mahal, for his play ‘Deiva Sekkizhar’, to be staged at the Kovur temple. Balasundaram dons the roles of an actor, producer and director with élan.

Balasundaram seems to have inherited his passion for theatre from his father Duraikkanu, a well-known Koothu (folk) artiste. He grew up watching his plays that were staged during temple festivals. “His father cast him in roles, which he thought suited the young aspirant. “I liked Tenali Raman best,” says Balasundaram.

His love for theatre brought him to Chennai. “I joined R.S. Manohar’s National Theatres. And started acting in the plays that were staged by TKS, ‘Heron’ Ramaswamy and K.S. Narayanan’s Sitalakshmi Theatres. One of the most cherished moments in my life was when I acted in a play in the presence of M. Karunanidhi during the 50th Independence Day Celebrations, at the Seerani Arangam, (on the Marina Beach).”

Acting in films

His acting skills earned him an entry into the tinsel world. He acted in about 15 films, besides in a couple of television soaps. As theatre was his passion, he focussed more on plays than on films. Any regrets?

“I don’t regret it. It was during my 11-year stint with National Theatres that I learnt all about staging historical plays — body language, trick shots, stage décor and more,” says Balasundaram.

“My role as King Varagunapandian in R.S. Manohar’s ‘Tirunavukkarasar’ was much-talked about. To me, playing such a strong negative character, especially with approval from Manohar sir, a veteran, was like winning an Oscar. Same was the case with ‘Chanakya Sabadham,’ another play of Manohar sir,” informs Balasundaram.

The demise of Manohar spawned several groups and Balasundaram started ‘Tamilarasan Theatres,’ his first play being on the life of Tiruvalluvar.

After the success of this play, suggestions came from many quarters to take up a Vaishnavite subject for his next play. And Balasundaram chose ‘Narasimha Avatharam.’

“I did a lot of research and consulted various scholars before taking the plunge,” says the dramatist, who sets aside money from his salary to run the show.

‘Narasimha’ not only won him plaudits and awards but opportunities to perform in Singapore and Malaysia.

Balasundaram’s ‘Om Shiva Sakthi,’ was a big hit. ‘Rahu-Kethu,’ which was staged after an extensive research, and ‘Soora Padman’ were loved by the audience. I depicted Sooran and Padman as two different characters who were great devotees of Lord Siva. .

From stage to book

Balasundaram’s plays such as ‘Sri Krishna Darisanam’ and ‘Sri Narasimhar’ have been published as books by Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Manram. Other plays include ‘Tirumoolar’ and ‘Deiva Sekkizhar.’ It is not easy to sustain theatre, more so staging historicals. “The sets I acquired over the years were washed away during the 2015 flood. The loss ran into several lakhs, but I managed to almost rebuild my stock,” reveals Balasundaram.

Receiving the ‘Excellence on Stage’ award from Kartik Fine Arts, Balasundaram expressed his gratitude to all his supporters and the sabhas, for encouraging him. He refers to Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti and Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram, under the leadership of Chitra Visweswaran, as pillars of support.

“As joint secretary of Tamil Nadu Stage Drama Producers Association, I have been associated with stalwarts such as Y.Gee. Mahendra, T.V. Varadharajen and M.B. Moorthy, all of whom chip in with useful advice, concludes Balasundaram.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 6:07:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/an-interview-with-d-balasundaram/article19173657.ece

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