When I came out after watching “Thalaimuraigal”, hardly did I know that it was going to be his last movie. From a kid who was inspired by the making of The Bridge on the River Kwai, to a gold medalist in cinematography at FTII, Pune, all that could have pushed this man was sheer passion for cinema. Starting his film career with Ramu Kariat’s Nellu, this man went on to make a sort of revolution in cinematography (save “Aval Appadithan”), in South Indian cinema.
When I hear people talking about “Mullum Malarum”, all that flashes through me are the images so naturally cinematographed, the brilliant usage of natural light to provide the ambience for every shot and of course, how can I forget the picturisation of “Adi penne ponnunjal aadum ilamai”. The same is true abut “Shankarabharanam” where the relationship between Shankara Sastry and Sharadha is portrayed only through images. His transition to wielding the megaphone triggered a mini-parallel cinema movement back in the 80s. He made “Kokila”, which I regret to this day for not having watched fully – stunning usage of images and silence to convey emotions (BM was a master at this! Trust me!) . I wonder why Kamal was not given the National Award for this movie.
He moved to Tamil Cinema with “Azhiyaadha Kolangal” and became one of the first directors giving importance to background music. When he joined hands later with Ilayaraja, all we could hear was just some scintillating music. Now that some history is done, let me try talk about his movies which I found interesting.
Moondram Pirai which showed us the acting prowess of Kamal, also gave Sridevi a wonderful platform to perform and made us remember even the dog’s name (Thanks to Vivek!) . I saw a hero losing for the first time and I was warned about it right during “Kanne Kalaimane”(RIP Kannadasan). Olangal had very strong characters and the eternal “Thumbi Vaa” which has been used five six times now. His “commercial” bonanza “Neengal Kettavai” was a testimony to the fact that he was never made for masala movies. He showed us his sense of humor through “Rettai Vaal Kuruvi” – a mindblowing adult romantic comedy comparable to its Hollywood counterparts. Then came “Veedu” and “Sandhya Raagam” – his absolute best in portraying middle class issues. These movies centered on old age homes, the increasing urbanization and its ill effects, poverty, exploitation of middle class (remember the scene in “Veedu” where Archana is harassed by her boss and she is helpless) and some very interesting characters(Chokkalinga Bhagavathar!). “Marupadiyum” was his last best attempt at serious cinema and he made sure he didn’t give us a single trace that we got after watching “Arth”.
I feel he is one of the rarest legends to come a complete cycle, ending with teaching and acting. Even though he is no more, we can see him in beautiful locations through Ram, feel his aggression through Bala and Ameer, understand his concern for society through Seenu Ramasamy and feel astonished at his passion for world cinema through Vetrimaran. People who have gone to Ooty recently would badly want Mahendra’s Ooty back and if you want to call something as an achievement it is this – leaving wonderful memories for the future generations. Hats off Balu Mahendra Sir! May your soul rest in peace.
– Sai Vikneshwar