Veteran Tamil film director K Balachnder passes away at the age of 84

CHENNAI(PTI): Filmmaker K Balachander, a Dadasaheb Phalke-winning filmmaker, 84, who was in hospital for sometime, passed away on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack.

Fondly called ‘KB sir’ by fans, Balachander scripted unparalleled impact both in celluloid and on the small screen by championing stories about women empowerment and social issues besides introducing future stars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. He would remain as one of the rare personalities in the Indian film industry, who not only mastered the art of filmmaking but also nurtured hundreds of youngsters in the profession.

The multi-lingual filmmaker drew his story lines predominantly from social themes and family issues thus demystifying the anatomy of lives of socially dense Indian joint families.

A pioneer in making women-centric films, which were rare in the 1960s, Balachander focused on issues encircling the lives of ordinary women facing social and economic odds in films like ‘Aval Oru Thodarkadhai’, Haasan starrer ‘Apoorva Raagangal’ and Rajinikanth and Sujatha starrer ‘Avargal’. His scripts were also the first which captured heroism in the lives of ordinary women in south Indian cinema.

Born in Thanjavur in 1930, Balachander developed an interest for films when he was just nine years old. He nurtured his interest during his college days in Annamalai University at Chidambaram, where he did a bachelor’s in Zoology. Balachander had a brief stint as a teacher and a clerk but these could not keep him away from his real passion – cinema. Though he took up a government job at Accountant General’s Office, he continued his experiments in theatre and wrote dialogues for ‘Deivathai’ in 1965.

It was a mere coincidence that he ended up writing the script for ‘Major Chandrakanth’ which turned out to be a huge success. It was such a hit among the audience that the hero of the film Sundarajan came to be known as ‘Major’ Sundarajan ever since.

Shaping up into a bold director, Balachander often courted controversy by making socially unthinkable films starting with ‘Apoorva Raagangal’ (Rare melodies) in which he examined inter-generational romance. ‘Arangetram’ released in 1973 was another such film, which speaks of a Brahmin girl, who was forced into prostitution to take care of her siblings. Though these films did stir controversies, they are counted among his best works. His ‘Bama Vijayam’, ‘Sindhubhairavi’, ‘Varumayin Niram Sivappu’ and ‘Thanneer Thanneer’ are some of the other notable films in the history of Tamil cinema.

Balachander continued to make hundreds of films in Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu, with his trend-setting scripts and went on to create a niche for himself in the industry, winning nine National film awards. He also ruled the small screen, besides creating box office hits in the celluloid world. His serials ‘Rayil Sneham’ and ‘Kai Alavu Manasu’ rightfully capitalised on the space television was offering at the time when visual media at home was gaining momentum among the people of Tamil Nadu and was making considerable social impact.

The government conferred on him the prestigious ‘Padma Sri’ in 1987 and the coveted ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Award’ in 2010.

Hailed as ‘Iyakkunar Sigaram’ (Director who scaled the peak), Balachander introduced two of the most influential actors in south Indian cinema. It was in his film ‘Apoorva Ragangal’, Balachander shaped superstar Rajinikanth out of a Bangalore bus conductor Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. ‘Apoorva Raagangal’ was also a breakthrough for Haasan, who was known as a child artiste till then.

Calling him a ‘maverick and path breaking’ director, several film personalities like R Madhavan and Ram Gopal Varma condoled the death of acclaimed filmmaker K Balachander.

The 84-year-old director, who directed memorable films like ‘Arangetram’, ‘Aval Oru Thodarkadhai’, Rajini and Haasan-starrer ‘Apoorva Raagangal’, ‘Avargal’, ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ and ‘Aaina’, died of heart attack following a brief illness.

Actor R Madhavan remembered Balachander, fondly known as KB, as a warm person. “RIP K Balachander sir. You will be so missed. I can never forget you sparkling smile and warm hand shakes,” he posted on twitter.

Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma said, “Want to express my heartfelt grief for the passing away of K Balachander, the only true maverick and path breaking director of all time.”

“Adieu K Balachander sir.. fondly remember our lovely moments. Never realised the 2010 National Film Awards meet would be our last.. Respects,” director Ananth Mahadevan tweeted.

Actor Rana Daggubati posted, “It is very saddening to hear that legendary director K Balachander Garu is no more. May his soul rest in peace.”

Bollywood director Madhur Bhandarkar said, “Sad to know of the demise of K Balachander. A genius storyteller, his gems ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ & ‘Zara Si Zindagi’ will keep his legacy alive. RIP.”

Tamil actress Priyamani posted, “Had the opportunity to see the man a lot of times…RIP K Balachander sir! You will definitely be missed.”