By Radhika Bhirani
Politics is a field best suited for "great people with extraordinary skills and human qualities", says veteran Malayalam filmmaker Balachandra Menon, even as southern film industry bigwigs Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan take the political plunge.
"Politics is not my cup of tea. I was invited in 1984 by Congress leader and former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran to contest parliament elections. My approach to politics is very serious. It must be handled by great people with extraordinary skills and human qualities. I feel I don't have qualities of that sort," Menon told IANS in an email interview.
However, he said it doesn't mean he is an "escapist running away from realities".
"I am aware of my social obligations and commitments, which I express through my medium -- films. I never maligned the sanctity of cinema in my career. I always selected themes and made films with the fervent hope that they will never demoralise viewers.
"In the last 40 years, I have read and heard personally the impact of my films on the audience and I am quite happy about it," added the multi-faceted talent known for his quirky and hugely successful films.
This year, Menon, known as a "single-man industry", has made it to the Limca Book of Records for the maximum number of films directed, scripted and acted in.
Having helmed his first film at the age of 23, Menon has directed/scripted/acted in 29 films of the 36 films directed by him. He is now working on his 30th movie, Ennalum Sarath, which he feels is also a "record of sorts" considering he has cast nine directors of Malayalam cinema as actors in the movie.
What has been his driving force?
"Competitive spirit is a driving force that keeps life going with a thrill. To be number one is a feeling planted and nursed in one's mind by others. But it is a totally different feeling when you achieve it in the same field which is your main hub of activity," said the 64-year-old Padma Shri awardee.
What is his take on the debate over freedom of expression in Indian cinema today?
Mincing no words, he said: "Let me admit that I've always enjoyed a honeymoon with the censor board. They could not meddle much in my films because almost all them were family-oriented and not controversial. But if you ask me whether I am happily okay with the censor system, my answer is an emphatic no.
"Quite often, they are not able to discharge their duties perfectly -- due to varied reasons. But if someone moots the idea that censors can be abolished and filmmaking is possible without a censor board, my answer is a more emphatic no.
"Today, the censor board is a toothless organ. They must be equipped with more administrative powers to enforce their deliberations. The selection of board members has to be more serious, vigilant and quality-based, free from communal and political interference."
As for his own journey in Malayalam filmdom, Menon said, "I was and I am a loner."
"I started my career back in 1978 as a single-man industry with story, screenplay, dialogue, direction and acting tag. I was forced to carry on endlessly when my films became commercial hits.
"I evolved a different way of narration which the public accepted. Instead of dancing to the tune of the industry, I went ahead with my rhythm. "I experimented with new and innovative themes... I never failed to keep alive the curiosity factor in the minds of film-goers. That 'something special' feeling (helped) me wade through these 40 years, braving all superstar syndromes."
Menon, credited for having introduced actors Shobana, Parvathy, Karthika, Annie and Nandini to the industry, said it is "sheer fate" that he has been a man of many talents.
"Like the industry always does, I was typecast as a 'multi-task' man and there was no escape from that. I pampered my audience too much and they got addicted to that particular 'touch' in my films, which is otherwise known as the 'director's signature'. So, I was compelled to continue as a separate entity.
"Personally, I believe that it is always good to delegate and take a back seat in the long run. But in that respect, I call myself unfortunate because I couldn't find any substitutes to do the job for me in the way the audience expects."
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )