Missing Balu Mahendra

Balu Mahendra with Bharatiraaja

A few years ago, I accompanied my grandfather to a literary meeting. That’s where I laid my eyes upon the late Balu Mahendra for the first time. It was funny as a character in my grandpa’s novels was named Balu. There was no connection. Mahendra was familiar with the novel. He read voraciously. Much before he was a Pune film school student, he was the editor of a magazine.

Going through the Wikipedia entry on the director, I realised that he was a great director, but not a particularly gifted screenplay writer. Also, he remade films that were hits.

But during the 70s and 80s, Mahendra was unvanquished. His influence on a host of new age directors and cinematographers is beyond doubt.

I have seen Veedu, Moondram Pirai, Marupadiyum and a host of other films. When he dabbled with comedy, he was inimitable as was evident in the Kamal Hassan starrer- Sathileelavathi.

He was a sensitive director. He had strong opinions on how women should be portrayed in cinema.

Mahendra developed naturalism as his style of filmmaking. Also, he kept it real. He knew that he need not sacrifice drama for realism. He could be both real and dramatic at the same time. I think he desisted melodrama.

One day, I ran into him at the now defunct Cinema Paradiso, a video store. I told him about my grandfather. He then instantly remembered me. I told him I was a journalist. He joked that he had to stay away from my tribe. That was the last time I met him. I am sad to see him go.

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