Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
Kamban gave the world lot of remarkable and rich literature in the 12th century AD. After that though, there existed a vacuum in Tamil literature until the 20th century. Not that there was nothing written in those few centuries. There were lots of good tamil literature that came up during that period. Only that none was upto the standard of The Kamba Ramayana. The exotic nature of Kamban’s works made others look bland in comparison. This void only came to an end with Bharathi’s works and his unique poetry.
Tamil cinema has always produced wonderful directors. But none before or after has matched the greatness and exceptional nature of KB. He is that huge over in a T20 match. All other overs look small before him. There seems to exist a huge void in Tamil cinema before and after KB. I am very confident that someone will fill it up in future. But that is yet to come. For now, there is only one Iyakunar Sigaram for this world and that is K Balachander. Let us dwell on his films for a while.
Statistics don’t make a person great. But great people always have great statistics. In fact, KB’s statistics are staggering. I wonder if any other director in any part of the world has as much credits as he does.
Number of movies directed – 101 (of which 28 were other language movies), Number of Blockbusters – 70, Number of hits – 14, Number of average runs – 12
Number of actors introduced in movies – 29 (male and female) out of which 13 are fresh faces.
Number of stage/ serial artists introduced – More than 70. With his last stage play, he became the only director to have introduced more than 100 actors to the Tamil entertainment industry.
Number of directors from his school – 11
Number of serials directed – 17, Number of hits – 14
Number of stage plays directed – 10, Number of hits – 10
Number of movies produced – 23, Number of hits – 14 (All bumper hits, the remaining have an average run. The only major flop was Kuselan.)
A successful story teller can tell even a bad story in an interesting manner. KB is one of them. We must keep in mind that most of KB’s movies came in the 70s and 80s. That was a time when Tamil society did not accept things outside the ordinary. In such a time, he always told revolutionary stories. Now many have told revolutionary stories. But only KB has been successful every time he told it. All his stories contained outside marital affairs – pre, post and extra – in both men and women, single woman who was tormented by a past lover, a man who tortured his current wife for her past love, child switching, youngsters who want to marry old people and such like. The society that didn’t accept these thoughts accepted all KB movies completely. This was mainly because he gave an interesting screenplay. All his movies contained intelligent screenplay and dialogues. Humour was also intelligent, there were intelligent discussions that contained very fluent English, razor sharp dialogues and provoking acting. He always walked on the wall on a knife edge and he never slipped. All those pundits who say that Tamil audience don’t watch intelligent movies should remember this fact.
He was a trend setter in the true sense of the word. He made decisively heroine centric films. He recreated reality for the cinema goers of his age. He presented the truth and gave a strong message in most of his movies. All this he did without the grotesqueness that current film makers associate reality with. His films were never boring.
IMHO, karuthu solradha irundha, makkalukku poi serara madhiri sollanum, illana karuthe solla koodadhu and solra karuthu makkalukku poi seranum, adha paakara makkal poi sendhura koodadhu. KB, I feel, also believes in these. Whenever he wants convey a message, he has done it such that it reaches the people. Else he hasn’t done it. Thillu Mullu is an out and out comedy and doesn’t have any major message in it. Always, he gave the message in such a way that people accepted it, not in such a way that people feel so bored that they start thinking it would be livelier to die. Again, IMHO, I believe that movies should be made for entertainment – and KB’s movies have always had the entertainment factor.
I see directors as people who convey their thoughts to people. I see good directors as those who do this successfully more often than not and those who do this with ease and individualism. I see KB as the best among directors because he also does it with flair and flamboyance. Abstraction and drawing silent parallels were a trademark Balachander touch. There is a scene in Avargal in which Nagesh spreads a rumour and others build it up into something that never existed. The scene is silent with just background music. Nagesh’s son sits under a table and draws a face and then attaches eyes, ears, nose, and mouth to it. Awesome scene! In Duet there is a scene in which Prabhu is creating the word Anjali with marbles and Ramesh Aravind without his knowledge throws a book on it. It gets destroyed symbolizing the shambles that Ramesh Aravind is going to cause to Prabhu’s dreams. He always – in his serials, stage and movies – has a shot which shows a person in reverse on a mirror and pans back or sideways to show the real person.
Dialogues were always sharp in KB films. They were mostly full of double entendre. Vivek once said, “Avar (KB) padathula dialogue ellam 90 cutting a raw vaa ulla vutta maadhiri irukkum.” KB’s film dialogues always gave the audience a matchless kick. Thanks mainly to Ananthu.
Introducing fresh faces in Tamil cinema is a rarely attempted thing. He has introduced the maximum number of newbies in Indian cinema till date. He also had the expertise to mould a different actor out of an already established one. Nagesh was looked at differently by people as well as by cinema personnel after he acted in KB movies. Nagesh himself said that he was reborn under KB. Sowcar Janaki who was known for her acting capabilities came to be established in many KB movies as an expert comedian. Balachander also successfully transitioned many child artists to full fledged actors. This list includes Kamalahasan and Sridevi. All the actors that he has moulded are doing immensely well till date.
Many can speak well, some can act well, only the rare few can be moulded to be charismatic. Balachander was a specialist when it came to identifying those with a magnetic personality. In the entire history of world cinema, he alone seems to have had this trait. I thank him personally for giving the world a Rajnikanth. KB has mentioned in many of his interviews that he gave Sivaji Rao Gaekwad his favourite name Rajnikanth because he could see in this actor a passion and an allure that wasn’t there in any other actor. He knew and has written long before Rajni became a superstar that this man would be a force to reckon with in the future. In fact, he introduced Rajnikanth as opening doors – how very symbolic!
For a full list of actors introduced by KB, see here.
He is a pioneer of serials in television. Each serial had a fresh thought to convey. They also had typical KB traits and punches. They were quick and had an end. 🙂 His serials were very popular and nice to watch. Some of his more famous serials are Premi, Shanthi nilayam, Jannal, Kai alavu manasu, Kaasu alavu nesam and Sahana. In serials too he introduced plenty of actors who rule the roost in tamil television today. His production Marmadesam was the first tamil serial to have a huge and captive audience.
There is no director who has started work after KB and doesn’t have the KB influence. This list includes Mani Ratnam and Shankar. The directors from the KB school have distinctive characteristics. Needless to say they have produced fantastic movies and continue to do so. He is perhaps the only director in the world to have experimented with so many sub genres within family drama. I wonder if any other director has spoken about as many relationship tangles as KB has.
Also, KB’s development of characters is exceptional and I don’t know if anyone has done as much character development in films as he has. In my humble experience as a movie goer, I haven’t seen anything quite as dramatic as Rajnikanth’s entry as “Abhaswaram” in Aboorva Raagangal, as superb as Nagesh’s portrayal of alter ego in Aboorva Raagangal, as intense as Sujatha in Avargal going through life in reverse from divorce to marriage and then love, as fanatic and intellectual as Suhasini in Sindhu Bhairavi, as complex as Saritha in many of his movies, as villainous as Rajnikanth in Moondru Mudichu, as lewd as Kamalahasan in Manmadha Leelai, as possessive as Geetha in Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal, as adolescent as Madhubala in Azhagan, as pathetic as Jayapradha in 47 Natkal…. I can go on and on. Sollathaan Nineikiren, Arangetram, Naan Avanillai, Edhir Neechal, Poova Thalaya, Neer Kumizhi, Navagraham, Major Chandrakanth, Bama Vijayam, Iru Kodugal, Punnagai Mannan, Thamarai Nenjam, Rudra Veenai, the list is very, very long and fulfilling in terms of character development and film as a whole.
KB’s films also give very high importance to music and songs, matched perhaps only by the unparalleled MGR. It is often an unstated and usually forgotten fact that KB introduced A R Rahman in his production – Roja. ARR’s going global was also with Muthu which is a Kavithalaya Production. However, most of his films have music by Ilayaraja. The pinnacle of this association is Sindhu Bhairavi – a very intricate story of a famous Carnatic singer, the cerebral association and consequent romance with a female fan, his wife’s infertility, his wife’s accepting the child born of the fan, the illegitimacy of the fan herself and her developing a relationship with her mother who now has another family. I consider this his best to date. It is a peerless classic told very simply and is one of my favourites.
KB is also a successful producer and was a doyen when it came to acting. Only he didn’t try to become an actor. All actors who worked with him say that they have learnt more about acting from KB than from anywhere else. Veteran artist Manorama said that if only KB had taken acting as a career, he would have surpassed Marlon Brando.
It is unfair to use the same yardstick across generations. It is not correct to compare KB with Mani Ratnam. I will not attempt that here. But, there does exist a striking point of difference between KB and Mani. Mani seems to have run out of ideas after just 30 films. KB made 101 and is still fresh on stage with Pournami. It looks like KB was born for the stage of which cinema is a beautiful extension and that Mani was made for it. It is the difference between the moon and the satellites of ISRO. The Moon gives the world its beaches, tides and waves. GSLVs can only give us pictures of the same.
It is only fitting that KB be awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke award. Congratulations!! I think that he deserves the Oscar for Lifetime achievement. I feel it is only a matter of time before he gets it.