I am so glad that I was born in a Tamilian family and speak the language …. Otherwise I could have never known the genius of K Balachander or the music of Illayaraja or the acting of Nagesh or the poetry of Kannadasan or Vaali. I am even more glad that Krishnan is a Tamilian because he even studied Tamil in school. I need some help understanding the nuances of the poetic verses and I have help ready :):). There is tons that Tamil has contributed to literature and I hope to spend some years studying it, but movies and songs are so easy to see and listen and enjoy.
K Balachander passed away today and am sure there would be many tributes for him, but for me it will always be a few scenes from a few movies of his that are just etched in my mind. My first exposure to K Balachander was his movie “Aburva Ragangal”… The movie in which my favorite superstar Rajinikanth debuted and the actress I consider as the most beautiful, SriVidya acted. I don’t know where I watched this movie but it was before meeting Krishnan and I remember dad commenting “this fellow Balachander makes strange movies”. The story was about a young man falling in love with an older woman and this lady’s daughter falling for the young man’s father. The young man was the awesome Kamal Hassan and the older lady was Sri Vidya. Well I wouldn’t blame any boy falling for SriVidya. I found the movie fascinating, because it was so different from the social mores that were preached at that time. Rajinikanth was seen in the movie for a short two minutes as SriVidya’s wayward drunken husband who dies – but Rajinikanth shone through. He was noticed even in those two minutes. The one scene that fascinated me was when the son-older woman and father-young girl (older woman’s daughter) have to fall at each other’s feet to take the blessings of their respective parents… Which couple is older ?:):):):):)
Much later, I was introduced by Krishnan to my most favorite movie of K. Balachander’s – “Ethir Neechal”. The main protagonist was ofcourse another favorite actor of mine, Nagesh. Now, Nagesh is a comedian and K.B made him a star. Nagesh was so popular at one time, that superstars like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan had to wait for him to reach the sets :). Importantly Nagesh was not great to look at, had a mouth full of teeth and every cell in his body filled with the genius of acting. K.B made him the hero in several movies and these movies are a must see. “Ethir Neechal” is a simple rags to riches story of a boy Maadhu (Nagesh) who lives under the staircase in a multi-tenanted house. The house is like a mini-one-storey colony with several families renting/owning houses or rooms there. Maadhu is an orphan who stays under the staircase and does odd jobs to earn some money to pay his fees. For food, he will go with his plate to every house and say “Maadhu vanduriken” (Maadhu is here) which meant he was hungry and could they give him some food. People would usually give him some leftovers. They also plot to get him married off to one of the tenant’s daughters, who is mentally unstable. He studies hard and manages to land a plum job, returns to the same house and marries the girl who is not really unstable. The movie’s plot seems simple enough – but some scenes where Maadhu knocks on a door asking for food are just so poignant. Maadhus abound to this date. The movie is relevant at all times !!
The characters are still the characters you see in today’s world – the jealous wife, the other lady who tries to extract every ounce of Maadhu’s blood in return for a morsel of food, the good Mr. Nair and Sir who are hugely supportive of Maadhu and give him a lot of moral support … They all are your everyday characters. The Dhobi who comes to take your clothes and iron/wash them is a Maadhu, the shoe shine boy or the restaurant cleaner or the magazine peddler at traffic signals, are all Maadhus who are fighting their own upstream battle. How many of them are you helping by putting a morsel on their plates or paying their fees ? And how many of them, you ignore and go about doing your own thing ?.
Even if K. Balachander had stopped directing after “Ethir Neechal”, he would have been in the Directors hall of fame. They did make the movie in Hindi, but I don’t think you can recreate certain movies and you cannot do a “Nagesh”. I pray that Nagesh is reborn, even if there is no life after death, because he needs to remain in the acting world always.
The title of this blog is inspired by “Ethir Neechal” … I somehow feel, KB would have stood at the gates of heaven and said “Maadhu Vandiruken” and Nagesh would have opened the gates and hugged him :):).
RIP K. Balachander … Your “Ethir Neechal” in this life was super successful and you have inspired a whole generation of stars and movie makers. Thanks for your inspiring movies that made people think and reflect. And special thanks for making Nagesh the hero he truly was. Take a bow !