His mortal body could no longer sustain the frailties of life. But Balu Mahendra will be remembered for his art. The master cinematographer and film maker passed away on February 13th, 2014 at the age of 74.
Balanathan Benjamin Mahendran was a genius and an artist. Although most of his creations were encapsulated to Kollywood because they were made either in Tamil or in Malayalam, yet artistes and audiences across India will accept that another gem in the field of Indian cinema has been lost.
David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai ignited in him the passion for film making and in the year of 1966 Mahendra joined the Film and Television Institute in Pune . He took up cinematography as he could not gain admission in other courses. Three years later in 1969 he passed out with a gold medal.
His first break came in 1971 when he was hired by Ramu Kariat for the film Nellu after watching Mahendra’s diploma film at the institute. However P.N. Menon’s Panimudakku became his first release.
As Mahendra’s career took off with flying colours, the genius in him got educated and more appealing with each film that he worked in.
As his portfolio as a cinematographer grew, Mahendra moved into direction. He went in line with the popular format of film making but attempted to leave his own signature with his study of character and psyche. His directional debut ‘Kokila’ won him the National Award for best cinematography and the Karnataka state film award for best screen play.
Moonram Piram ran for almost a year at theatres and the film won various Tamil Nadu state film awards and Filmfare Awards too.
His attempt at a remake of Moonram Piram in Hindi, ‘Sadma’, did not prove to be successful but attained cult status later on.
Veeru, Sandhya Raagam, Vanna Vanna Pookkal, Marupadiyum, Sankarabharanam, Sathi Leelavathi are some of his other lauded creations.
Besides making uncompromising and quality cinema Mahendra was also an expert teacher.
He taught at his own school Cinema Pattarai. Besides his school, Bala, Vetrimaaran and Seenu Ramasamy were his assistant directors and they owe a part of their education in the art of direction to him.
Thalaimuraigal , a tale of a grand son’s relationship with his grandfather, was the last feather in his hat. Balu Mahendra proved that along with his already long list of achievements, acting is his forte too. Critics and audience received the movie very well with mostly positive reviews. Mr. Mahendra said, “This film is my contribution to my future generations. One should never forget one’s ancestors.”
Balu Mahendra’s movies were a treat to our eyes and provided us food for thought. The sad part although is the failure to preserve some of his movies in an archive for Tamil cinema. Veedu’, ‘Sandhya Raagam’, ‘Marupadiyum’ and ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ are among the movies whose negative have been destroyed.
Many past and present students of the artist paid homage. He was cremated on Friday keeping in line with Hindu customs.