Often described as a teacher more than a director, K Balachander who would have turned 86 on 9 July, had touched many lives. This was evident at his birthday celebration where celebrities, playwrights, fans, and other artists gathered to pay tribute to their mentor. The event also celebrated the first anniversary of the ‘K Balachander Foundation’.
It was only proper that the birthday celebrations of a man known to be a stickler for time, should start at the exact, appointed time. The event began with an ‘invocation’ sung by noted Carnatic singer Aruna Sairam. Hosted by director Vasanth and Balachander’s daughter Pushpa Kandaswamy, the audience included Balachander’s wife Rajam, veteran singer S P Balasubramanyam, ‘Pyramid’ V Natarajan, director S P Muthuraman, actor Y G Mahendran, veteran theatre artist ‘Nair’ Raman, director Karthik Subbaraj, choreographer Kala Master, veena-player Rajhesh Vaidhya, and director Arun Vaidhyanathan, to name a few.
A video montage of the director in his candid moments and stills from his films were played with an anthem especially made for him. The 30-minute long video had snippets of the foundation’s journey so far. When the lights came back on, you could see that the video had visibly affected many in the crowd. Stifling sniffles, the audience clapped for the director they fondly call ‘KB Sir’.
A book on K Balachander was launched by S P Balasubramanyam. The book titled K Balachander – Velai, Drama, Cinema was about Balachander’s 37 years in the film industry. “The book represents Balachander sir’s fondness for open-ended climaxes,” said Vasanth and initiated the screening of a compilation of climaxes from Balachander’s films. The compilation included the scene from Apoorva Raagangal where the singer (Sri Vidya) finds her estranged husband (Rajinikanth) dead in the auditorium; her lover (Kamal Haasan) rides a motorcycle after her while she travels in a car, leaving him forever. Balachander’s Hindi film Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Ninaithale Innikum, and Kalki were part of the compilation. The final scene was from his comedy film Thillu Mullu.
Singers Sriram and Akhila sang two songs each from the director’s films, while the audience flipped through the recently released book with pictures of the director from years ago.
Kandaswamy Bharathan, Balachander’s son-in-law and one of the trustees of the foundation, spoke of the foundation’s aims since its inception. “KB Sir educated us in two ways: through his films, and his mentoring. He has mentored 10 directors and 48 stars, who are now superstars. We think of him as an institution in himself. Bearing this in mind, our foundation aims to help the children of artists from the film industry, in their education – we are not just about filmmaking,” he said. The second aim of the foundation is to curate the director’s works. “KB Sir has saved the press clippings related to all his works, right from his first theatre show in 1964. Our next aim is to digitize his works and press clippings and make it available for everybody”.
Several people close to the director made small speeches about him. First to speak was director Karthik Subbaraj, who confessed that Moondru Mudichu (1976) was his favourite film by Balachander. “If there’s one thing I’ll remember of him, it’s the way he portrayed women. Hats off to him for handling women characters the way none could,” he said, owing his inspiration for his recent film Iraivi to Balachander. Balachander did not objectify his female actors. Instead, he portrayed them as women who refused to be overshadowed by their male counterparts. Some of his feisty, female characters are Selvi in Moondru Mudichu, Thenmozhi in Achamillai Achamillai, Lalitha in Arangetram, and Bhairavi in Apoorva Raagangal.
While many spoke of their favourite Balachander film, theatre personality ‘Nair’ Raman and veteran actor-producer ‘Pyramid’ Natarajan, chose to speak of his 60 year old camaraderie with the director.
All the speeches had one thing in common: their appreciation of his discipline and knowledge. “To me, KB stands for ‘Knowledge-Based’”, said one of the trustees of the K Balachander Foundation.
Then came what everybody was waiting for: S P Balasubramanyam’s singing. Citing weakness due to his health, the veteran singer was initially reluctant to sing. But once he began a song dedicated to Balachander, the audience rose and cheered him on with wah wahs. Ending the event, Balasubramanyam said what everybody had been trying to say the whole time – that there is no ‘was’ for Balachander; only ‘is’ and ‘will be’.