Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Remembering K. Balachander

K. Balachander meant many things to many folks. First and foremost he was a wonderful storyteller and a director par excellence. He was also a social commentator who tackled such diverse and controversial topics as prostitution, political corruption, sexual infidelity and cross generational romance. He was a stickler for detail, down to the last cobweb, as he recreated real life on screen to transport the audience into his world and his stories. In the
kollywood of yesterday where dialogues were predictable, characters were stereotypical and song and dance sequences and cameo actors carried a film, he brought nuanced dialogues, de-glamorised the protagonists by infusing them with complexity and conflict and brought out the acting talent in all. He was the thinking person's filmmaker and yet through his sheer genius he became populist quite like Woody Allen, also extremely prolific and versatile as the latter. He made the transition to TV quite seamlessly and gained even wider appeal through this medium.

I felt a peculiar closeness to him for two tangential reasons. One, he bore a striking physical resemblance to my dad. There have been occasions when my dad received a celebrity's reception, when, mistaken for KB, he was escorted to a front row seat at an event. Two, my father and he wrote to each other over several years. My father who could not accept anything but the best from KB was quick to point out flaws in his work through long eloquent letters. To KB's credit he responded to each one in great detail giving as good as he got. Even though the letters smacked of egotism and his desire to be right, they spoke to his enduring passion for storytelling and film-making.

Time to go back and watch his films starting with my most favourite "Thaneer Thaneer" - where a villager famously describes the plight of people in his drought ridden village with the words "k**ndi kazhava kooda thanni illai" ( no water to even wash one's a*se"") - pretty refreshing and controversial for celluloid of his era!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Remembering my dad on Dec 4, 2014

My dad died ten years ago, today. I remember him for the wonderful man he was. He is still my guiding light and if I am well and happy it is because I believe his hand and caring continue to guide me, as do the principles he lived by.

Everyone looked up to my dad for his liberal views, scrupulous honesty and civic mindedness. He raised a poor young boy, Thiraviam, with the same love and caring as his own children. He abhorred inequality based on caste and gender. He did however struggle with his conditioned responses to maintain an image for the world. While, he may not have totally embraced us going against the grain and marrying across caste lines, he was open-minded enough to reflect on his conflicts.

When it came to honesty, he was never conflicted. He never told a lie and would not take anything that he believed he did not rightfully earn. He never twisted facts or rationalised to suit his purpose. I still remember the many gift hampers he would turn away from the door every Diwali. Among the elite set in Mumbai it is customary for wealthy patrons of the banks to ply Managers with gift hampers. I don’t ever recall seeing what one contained because they never made it through our door.

And boy was he civic minded! Every day there was a letter to this or that authority, about a pothole, an open transmission line and some such safety hazard or suggestions for more streamlined operations of some administrative branch or a damning commentary on some activity that ripped off the consumer!

During his last days, he lost interest in his favourite pass-times, reading the newspaper and balancing his cheque book! However, his values remained. I still recall the moment when he clutched my hand and said “Konthe (baby) always keep your word!”