Celebrating S. Balachander

S. Balachander in Bommai  

‘Naan dhaan S. Balachander – indha padathoda director and producer’ says the bespectacled and partially-bald man, dressed in trendy shorts and a smart half-sleeved kurta, brimming with confidence and a ‘coolness’ that you don’t associate with those days. That was part of the credits of Bommai – a blockbuster film made in 1964, where S. Balachander (or SB, as he was known) introduced the entire cast and crew of the film in a first-of-its-kind manner. That was SB for you – unique, flamboyant, compelling, who carried his larger-than-life persona as if he was born with it.

SB was a towering man – literally and figuratively. When I first saw him in Thiruvaiyaru, carrying his veena and walking towards the pandal erected for the Thyagaraja Utsavam, my grandmother gushed ‘Veenai Balachander paaru’. I can still recall that moment vividly. Such was the impact he had on people who came into contact with him.

Years later, after I became his daughter-in-law, I experienced that every time I went along with him to a gathering. Eyes turned to look at him, people rose to greet him and tones hushed to utter his name. When he was around, the world seemed to spin around him.

SB did not lay down rules for us at home — they were unspoken. He had a chair ‘reserved’ for him in the drawing room and dining room. He spent a good part of the day in his office room that was near the entrance of our home then. In days when the cell phone and social media were unheard of, he wrote colourful letters to almost everyone he knew and did not — right from the President of India to the shopkeeper in Luz Corner, in his unique, flamboyant style.

SB ensured everything was in its place — labelled, numbered and spelt out clearly. At home, switches had ‘fan’, ‘light’, ‘motor pump’ stuck on them; every room had a bell that could be pressed a few times to call someone without engaging in a shouting match.

SB always answered the phone with an almost stern ‘ Balachander here’, thwarting any hope the caller may have had of indulging in frivolous conversation. We had a handset in every room of the house, including the kitchen and bathrooms.

His most endearing quality was his magnanimity and honesty in applauding anything good when he saw it. Unfortunately, the converse was also true — when he disliked or disapproved of something, he did not spare anyone or mince words!

Always dressed in immaculate white at home, SB also loved colours. For concerts, he wore raw silk kurtas, which he owned in every imaginable colour and some unimaginable too – bright yellow, fluorescent green, blood red, even flashy pink! He had a huge wardrobe with clothes that were never off the rack of any store — they were specially ordered, designed by him to look unique and tailored, just the way he wanted.

He was also a filmmaker par excellence. His foray into Tamil filmdom was short-lived, as he chose to give it up to pursue his passion for classical music and the veena, which has become one with his name. Yet, he blazed a trail that left an indelible impact on a generation of film-goers, who remember his classics such as Andha Naal, Nadu Iravi l and Bommai for their unconventional storyline and making. The few films he produced, directed, acted, sang and composed music for, stand the test of time and are worth celebrating.

Indeed, the veena’s gain was Tamil cinema’s loss.

Celebrating Veena S Balachander – The Filmmaker, a programme with movie clippings, music and theatre, will be held this evening at 6.30 pm at Woodlands Theatre, Royapettah.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 1:03:00 AM |

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