Wednesday, January 30, 2013
One day while walking towards our Producer Minnal's office at Wallajah Road, Triplicane, a tall lean man approached me. When he came near I recognized him, it was Bala Mahendran with out his French beard. I had known him at the Institute as he was my senior by one year and was also the batch mate of John Abraham and Azad. During the Institute days he had a different look with receding hair and a French beard and had not started wearing his trade mark cap. He was mostly found in the company of foreign students since he was a native of Ceylon. Even though most of the time he spoke in English, since his name was Bala Mahendran I guessed that he must be knowing Tamil and I used to speak to him in Tamil when ever I met him on a few occasions. He was a reclusive person and had only a few friends mostly foreigners and some South Indians at the Institute. His peers at the Institute told me that he was such a romantic person that even when he visited Budhawar Peth Red light area he used to take flowers, kaajal, bras etc as gifts to his regular girls there.
A tired looking Balu was extremely happy to see me at Wallajah Road and narrated his sad condition. D. Gautaman, his senior at the Institute in Direction who was working as assistant to Director Ramu Kariat had recommended Bala Mahendran for his next colour film NELLU. Hoping that the film will start soon, Bala arrived in Madras and was staying with some distant relatives. The start of the film got delayed and with no income, his relatives were about to show him the door. He was on the look out for alternate accommodation and had no money as Ramu Kariat had gone to Kerala for the shooting of another film. He also didn't have much friends at Madras and was roaming around. It was then he happened to see me on Wallajah road. On learning about his pathetic condition, I offered to take him up with me for staying in our producer's flat at Mahalingapuram. At that time there was a break in our shooting schedule and all others like John, Azad etc had left for their native places and I was living there alone and it was easy to accommodate him there.
My producer Minnal on his way to his office used to come there and give me money for the day's food expenses and I used that amount to feed both of us. After a few days I had to go home for Deepavali and Bala could not be left there as he was not in a position to meet his daily expenses in my absence. So I decided to take him along with me to my home at Maduranthakam which was 50 miles away from Madras. There he stayed for a few days with my family and then we returned to Madras together. Soon Ramu Kariat returned from his Kerala location shooting and Bala managed to get some money and found alternate accommodation, but he still remained unemployed.
In the mean time myself and Kasturi Kurthy had to go Poona for my Viva Voce examinations. But a few days of the busy actress Jaya Bharathi was available and all of a sudden the shooting of a song sequence was planned on the same dates. So I had to find an alternate cameraman to do the work in my absence. Since Bala was from the Institute and batch mate of John and Azad, I suggested to let Bala do the work. John preferred some one from the Institute and he accepted Bala. Thus Bala started his career in feature films by cranking the camera under the direction of John Abraham for a song picturisation sequence in the film VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE.
The film Nellu took still longer to materialize and Bala used to visit us often as we were all from the Poona Film Institute. K.G.George who had joined Ramu Kariat also was part of our group. In the meantime Director P.N.Menon was on the lookout for a cameraman for his B&W Malayalam film " PANIMUDAKKU " ( Strike). Bala got the break to work as an independent cameraman for a feature film.The film was to be shot in a place called Puthukkad near Trichur, Kerala. At that time Bala didn't have an exposure meter the essential tool for any cameraman. He didn't have the money to buy one either and even if he had, he need to place an order with the Xaca company at Mount road and it will take weeks to arrive from Bombay.
Since I wasn't shooting at that time, I lent him my own exposure meter and also sent my friend Kasturi Murthy who was working with me to be his assistant for the film. After the shooting started, from the money I obtained from the producers of that film I purchased a new Sekonic exposure meter and sent it over to Bala's location. Kasturi Murthy later kept on associated with him for many of Bala's films.
The film NELLU still needed more time to materialize, but soon Ramu Kariat started a B&W film MAYA and gave Bala the opportunity to work with him. Ramu Kariat was the main reason behind Bala coming to India from Ceylon. Meanwhile he had changed his name into Balu Mahendra and is now known only by that name.
In spite of having done this much for him he had never shown the courtesy of inviting me inside his home on the two or three occasions that I visited his residence at Madras. He always met me at the gate and saw me off, never letting me in. Strange!
May be he was too much protective or possessive about his family !