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Common good as fulcrum of journalism

One of the difficulties of being a journalist is to produce a journalistic output even in the time of grief. Deadlines are sacrosanct in this profession and they hardly give space and time to reflect on a personal loss. One becomes too inarticulate to write an obituary about a friend who enriched the profession. An untimely death robs you of your ability to express.

To me, and to many in the media, Independence Day celebrations 2014 gave way to mourning when we heard that Bala Kailasam died after being in the hospital for three weeks.

Early days

My association with Kailasam goes back to the early 1980s when both of us started out as student journalists in a youth magazine called Thisaigal edited by Maalan. An engineering student then, he had a keen eye for detail. He was the photo editor of the magazine. He realised that his calling was in the visual media and went to the United States to get formal training. He returned to an India that was on the cusp of reinventing its broadcast medium. The state’s monopoly and the propagandist narrative of the broadcast were incrementally giving way to interesting programmes and the sector itself was opening up.

He started a production unit with state-of-the-art machines. His concern for technical perfection matched his flair for absorbing narrative. He talked endlessly about our television channels not getting their product mix right. He realised the democratic potential of the medium but was concerned about a downward spiral in quality in the search for quick profits. In a sector that had no agreed standards and quality control systems, Kailasam established these yardsticks through his productions. He made television products across genres and each set a bar for that particular genre — television serials, stand-up comedies, thrillers, sitcoms and current affairs programmes.

An award

He was a talented film-maker. His documentary “Vaastu marabu: the living tradition” was an exploration of the architectural and artistic heritage in India through the works of Ganapati Sthapati. It documented the practical aspects of idol making and temple building. The film probed the scientific and mathematical principles that governed the aesthetic and the metaphysical quest of the traditional architects. Kailasam preferred the term “vishwakarmas” to architects as it had an expansive sense beyond architecture. It won the National Film Award for Best Arts/Cultural Film. But the national award and the opening up of the Indian economy happened around the same time. And, as a part of liberalisation, Indian skies too opened up for cable and satellite television. Kailasam sacrificed his own film-making to create an atmosphere for quality television programmes.

He was an expert in sound engineering and was a generous friend in advising sound design for films. We liked to call him our own Amar Bose. In the early 1990s, I directed a film, “Making Trouble Where There Is None.” This documentary, produced by Frontline magazine of The Hindu group, was about communal mobilisation under the cover of Vinayakar Chathurthi in Chennai. I used Kailasam’s facilities for the post-production. He spent hours to retain the flavour of the ambient sound. The multi-track audio married the voice-overs and the ambient sound in such a manner that one did not subsume the other. The credit for that feat goes to Kailasam alone.

Small screen dynamics

He continued to be a source of strength all through my television days. I was part of a team that launched Business India TV, and that firm gained immensely from Kailasam. He had a magnetic personality and attracted talent from both the Film and Television Institute of India and the Madras Film Institute. He understood the dynamics of the small screen and never crowded it with too many elements. His visual sense helped to bring in the right colour temperature to each frame. He was a directors’ producer. He went out of his way to provide for each of his productions.

But what made Kailasam special was his unwavering commitment to common good. He was concerned about the way we look at our nature. He was deeply worried about the exploitation of resources. Despite his workload as a producer, he managed to find time to make films on water. He believed that any broadcasting company should imbibe the best principles of public broadcasting stations. The state broadcaster, from the beginning, and private broadcasters after 1993, he maintained, tended to become propagandist.

He yearned for a television channel that respected that inviolable Lakshman rekha.

It was this desire that prompted him to accept a leadership role in the new Tamil television channel, Puthiyathalaimurai. He helped that channel get a voice to speak truth to power. As the head of programmes, some of the investigative reports done by his team were path-breaking. He rejected prime time mock fights. His team members travelled across the country not only to expose the grime and dirt but also to bring out inspiring examples. They were not trapped by political or commercial interests and kept common good as the fulcrum of their journalism. His journalism never descended into a shrill charade. It will be remembered for being poignant without being a dirge.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 9:47:44 PM |

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