Both directors made entertaining, thought-provoking films that proved they were head and shoulders above their contemporaries.

Balachander and Bharathirajaa two filmmakers who took Tamil cinema to new heightsFacebook/ K.Balachander (Iyakunar Sigaram), Facebook/ P.Bharathirajaa
Features Cinema Monday, November 07, 2016 - 11:18
‘Iyyakunar Sigaram’ Balachander and ‘Iyyakunar Imayam’ Bharathirajaa held sway over the hearts and minds of a whole generation of film goers, entertaining them, making them sit up and take notice and proving with every single film that they were head and shoulders above their contemporaries. 
 
Audiences waited with bated breath for their films and even when marquee stars were in the cast, the films were always considered as Balachander or Bharathirajaa films. While Balachander who also carved a niche for himself on the small screen is no longer with us, septuagenarian Bharathirajaa has planned one last hurrah and is all set to direct a film.
 
Both directors have won a number of state and national awards, presided over juries to select films for the same, and Balachander was conferred with the highest honour in Indian cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke. Each had his unique style of filmmaking but a common thread that often linked their oeuvres was their penchant for making movies with strong female protagonists who often overshadowed the male artistes in the films and this strategy enabled them to strike a firm chord with the female audience who patronized their films in large numbers. A scan of the films made by these masters reveals that even with the limited technological expertise available during those early days, they could still churn out money-spinners thanks to their innate ability to select good scripts and also cast the right actors in the right roles.
 
Balachander, who was employed with the Accountant General’s office in Chennai (then Madras), made the transition to cinema from theatre, and first made his mark by adapting his popular stage plays. He often repeated the stars who had roles in the plays. During the B/W era most films were made on shoestring budgets and the focus was more on storyline, screenplay and dialogues apart from directorial touches. 
 
Incidentally the first person to introduce Balachander or KB as he later came to be known, was the legendary hero M G Ramachandran (MGR) who gave him an opportunity to pen the dialogues for his home production "Deiva Thai". Ironically the director never worked with MGR again and in the five decades that he remained active in cinema, he directed ‘Nadigar Thilagam’ Sivaji Ganesan in just one film "Edhiroli" which bombed at the box office. 
 
KB had his favourite set of actors like Muthuraman, Nagesh, V Goplakrishnan, ‘Major’ Sundarrajan, Srikanth and Manorama whom he repeated in most of his films and the versatility of the aforesaid stars ensured that there was hardly a feeling of ennui when they appeared on the screen in film after film. A star maker sans pareil, KB is said to have introduced more than sixty actors - men and women - and many of them continue to rock in Kollywood. 
 
Kamal Haasan, the child actor, was languishing as a choreographer’s assistant as an adult and it was Balachander who brought him back as an actor in a cameo in "Arangetram" and  continued to offer him roles till he could consolidate his position in the industry. 
 
Again, it was KB, who after being impressed with a student in the local Film Institute, cast him in the role of an aging, dying husband of the main character played by Srividya. He rechristened the actor named Sivaji Rao Gaekwad as Rajinikant after one of the principal characters in his film "Major Chandrakanth" and as in Kamal’s case, cast him in a number of films thereafter. Today, Rajini and Kamal continue to be the biggest stars in the industry and  occupy the top two positions even after more than three decades. 
 
KB believed in creating strong female characters and right from his early films like "Iru Kodugal", "Arangetram" "Aval Oru Thodarkathai", "Aboorva Ragangal", "Avargal", and "Moondru Mudichu" down to his latter day films like "Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal", "Kalki" and "Sindhu Bhairavi", women played, strong, stellar roles.
 
 A film like "Arangetram" released in 1973 raised several conservative eyebrows with its bold and unconventional theme of a young Brahmin woman (Prameela) from an orthodox background taking to the world’s oldest profession to fend for her family. The characters portrayed by Sridevi in films like "Avargal" and "Moondru Mudichu", Srividya in "Aboorva Ragangal", Saritha in "Agni Sakshi", Kannada actor Shruthi in "Kalki" and Suhasini in "Sindhu Bhairavi" among several others were all very powerful and revealed the director’s efforts to present women not as weaklings but as tough as nails fighters not willing to compromise on their rights. 
 
KB was equally adept at creating strong male characters and Major Sundarrarajan and Nagesh in "Major Chandrakanth", Sivakumar in "Agni Sakshi" and "Sindhu Bhairavi", Kamal Haasan in "Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu" and "Unnal Mudiyum Thambi" were examples of how he could write scripts that portrayed males in tough avatars.
 
KB, like director Sridhar, could tickle the funny bone and films like "Edhir Neechal", "Bama Vijayam" and "Thillu Mullu" belonged to the comedy genre, though "Edhir Neechal" had pathos woven into the script as well. In contrast, films like "Arangetram" and  "Neerkumizhi’ were heart-wrenching. 
 
While he tackled urban subjects in most of his films, the director was also at home making films on rural issues. In "Thanneer Thanneer", he dealt with the scarcity of water in a Tamil Nadu village, basing the script on a story the late playwright Komal Swaminathan. "Achamillai Achamillai" was a film that narrated the story of a honest and straightforward young man who turns corrupt and ruthless after he becomes a politician. 
 
His Telugu film with Chiranjeevi, "Rudraveena", won the Nargis Dutt Award for the Best Film on National Integration. He remade his Telugu potboiler "Maro Charitra" in Hindi as "Ek Duje Keliye" with Kamal reprising his role in the Telugu film and Rati Agnihotri played the leading lady. The film had an outstanding score by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and the wondrous voices of SP Balsubramaniyam and Lata Mangeshkar ensured that the film had a phenomenal run at the box office. However his remakes in Hindi of a few other films turned out to be damp squibs. 
 
KB lost his Midas touch towards the fag end of his career and with the changing tastes of the audience, there were few takers for his brand of cinema. The veteran of over a hundred films slipped badly with his ventures "Parthale Paravasam"  and "Poi", produced by one of his protégés Prakash Raj, hardly created any ripples at the box office.
 
To Bharathirajaa goes the credit of taking cinema out of the dinghy confines of the studios to the vast outdoors and he created a splash with his very first film "Pathinaru Vayadhinile" shot on lush, pastoral locales around Tamil Nadu. 
 
Bharathirajaa who picked up the nuances of direction from such stalwarts as the Kannada director Puttana Kanagal, Telugu filmmaker Pullayya and the Malayalam auteur Krishnan Nair hailed from rural stock and had in his armoury a number of stories from village folklore which he successfully transposed on screen. In his debut film, for instance, there were three principal characters viz. Mayil, the village beauty (Sridevi), Chappani (Kamal) a village bumpkin with spittle drooling down his cheeks, her chaperone in the film, and the villain Parattai (Rajinikant) who has an eye on Mayil. The characters were well fleshed out and though there was a lot of melodrama, especially towards the climax, the film was a novel experience for the audience and Bharathirajaa was quick to cash in on his popularity with successive releases like "Kizhakke Pogum Rayil" and "Puthiya Vaarpugal" hitting the bull’s eye at the box office. 
 
In a clear departure from his fondness for rural subjects, the director made "Sigappu Rojakkal" a crime thriller with Kamal Haasan playing the role of a psychopathic killer. The film had a phenomenal run and the director remade it in Hindi as "Red Rose" with matinee idol Rajesh Khanna in the lead and this venture too was successful. But Bharathirajaa, who was piqued with the failure of one of his films "Nizhalgal" blotted his copybook with a mediocre film like "Tik Tik Tik" which hardly did justice to his stupendous talent. 
 
Bharathirajaa introduced a number of new faces in the industry and in most cases he rechristened them with names beginning with ‘R’. Radikaa, Rati Agnihotri, Revathi, Radha all benefited from his expertise and their careers took wings after they worked with Bharathirajaa.
 
Like Balachander, he too cast female actors in powerful roles and the characters created a strong impact on audiences with films like “Mann Vasanai" and "Pudumai Penn" (Revathi), "Alaigal Oyvadhillai", "Kadhal Oviyam" and "Mudhal Mariyathai" (Radha), and "Kadalora Kavithaigal" (Rekha)  setting the box office registers ringing merrily. 
 
Two of Bharathirajaa’s outstanding films were undoubtedly the Sivaji Ganesan and Radha starrer "Mudhal Mariyadhai" (1985) and  "Vedam Puthithu" (1987) with Sathyaraj and Amala in the lead in which he took potshots at the caste system and stirred a hornet’s nest in the process. 
 
While the dialogues in "Vedham Puthithu" by Kannan was the piece de resistance of the film, the consummate acting skills of thespian Sivaji Ganesan and Radha, who proved an apt foil to him, turned "Mudhal Mariyadhai" into a visual and aesthetic treat. Bharathirajaa, who had yearned to work with Sivaji Ganesan found in the doyen, a willing pupil who, much to his surprise and shock demanded that the director act out the scenes for him. Sivaji Ganesan is said to have pointed out that the director was always the captain of the ship and that his job, as an actor, was to obey his instructions. Bharathirajaa won national awards for many of his films and his woman oriented film "Karuthamma" won the National Award for the Best Film on Family Welfare.
 
Music was an integral part of the films of both the Kollywood ‘B’s and Ilaiyaraaja’s score in Bharathirajaa’s films, right from his debut "Pathinaru Vayadhinile" to "Mudhal Mariyadhai" and in Balachander’s films like "Sindhu Bhairavi" played a pivotal role in the success of these films. 
 
While both were star makers, they also introduced several new directors to the industry. Balachander’s assistants like Vasant, Cheran and Samutharakani and Bharathirajaa’s protégés like Bhagyaraj, Manivannan, Rangaraj, Manobala all went on to carve their own niche. There can hardly be any doubt that both Balachander and Bharathirajaa have left their indelible imprints on the silver screen. Theirs are big shoes to fill, as the new generation of directors will definitely agree.
 
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