Friday, 14 February 2014

Balu Mahendra

If you read my blog post from yesterday, you'd know that I was in quite a chipper mood. Sadly, that cheerfulness wasn't to last very long. Less than an hour later I stumbled across the news that veteran filmmaker Balu Mahendra had died. It hit me surprisingly hard. I wanted to express my sadness but had not the words. So I just posted a brief message saying as much on Google+ and added a link to a playlist of his made for television short film collection, Kadhai Neram. I remember watching one or two of those back in the day but I need to watch the rest and the G+ post served a dual purpose, the second being to remind myself to watch it.

Balu Mahendra made some of the best Tamil (or actually South Indian) films I have seen - Veedu, Moondram Pirai (remade as Sadma in Hindi), Marupadiyum (remake of Arth), Rettai Vaal Kuruvi, Sathi Leelavathi. And some that I haven't but will - Sandhya Ragam, Thalaimuraigal, Kokila (Kannada), Yathra (Malayalam). He loved cinema and it showed. Both in the cinema he made and in his interviews.

He was equally good at crafting neorealistic cinema and uproarious comedy. Something not many (if any) others can achieve. Sathi Leelavathi is a perennial favourite in my family. We can (and do) quote lines from that movie to each other time and time again and laugh together. Speaking of that film, it recently occurred to me that infidelity was a theme that occurred fairly frequently in his 20-odd filmography (as director). Maybe that was due in part to his own experiences vis-à-vis the actress Shoba. When he did make a film dedicated to her after her suicide, however, the theme of the film was not infidelity. Instead it was the story of a man who falls in love with a child-woman, who is cruelly snatched away from him after a short period of bliss. The film, of course, was Moondram Pirai and quite an ode it was.

His best film, however, was Veedu - a story about ordinary people told very simply yet eloquently. A story about a single middle-class woman trying to build a home for herself and her grandfather may not sound like much, but it is immensely relatable and the treatment, performances (Archana and Chokkalinga Bhagavathar are simply superb), and music (one of Ilayaraja's best scores ever) made it a classic.

Here, then, is a scene from said film where the grandfather goes to see the construction site of the almost finished house. He takes a long bus ride alone, forgets his umbrella when getting down, trudges on in the cruel Madras heat, and then steps in (taking care to put his right foot first) and...well, see for yourself:

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