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A void on the film firmament

RANDOR GUY

As actor and producer, K. Balajee’s contribution to Tamil cinema was something unique.



With a penchant for remakes: K. Balajee

Krishnamachari Balajee (1934-2009) was a leading figure in Tamil cinema both as an actor and as a successful producer with a penchant for remaking Tamil films from Hindi. His contribution to the growth of Tamil cinema in the past few decades has bee n immense but not properly appreciated or rewarded. Making his debut in Gemini Studios’ ‘Avvaiyar’ (1953) as Lord Muruga when he was still in his teens, Balajee was active in Tamil theatre, and even had his own drama troupe at one time.

Not many are aware of his aristocratic background. He hailed from the illustrious family of Dewan Bahadur T. Rangachariar, one of the legal giants of the Madras High Court, whose palatial residence Ritherdon House, on Ritherdon Road in Purasawalkam, was a landmark building of the city in the decades gone by.

One of the lawyer’s sons was Krishnamachari, whose wife was a Malayali. Balajee was their son. For many reasons the mother and her two children underwent hardship in their early years, but Balajee inherited his share of the father’s property which included a fine bungalow, ‘Canberra’ on Pantheon Road, where he lived till the end of his life.

Why ‘Canberra’? Thereby hangs a tale. The British Government sent Rangachariar to the Commonwealth Conference held at Canberra, the Australian capital, as a member of the Indian delegation. The lawyer named this bungalow in memory of his visit.

After his education Balajee worked for some time and then joined Narasu Studios at Guindy founded by the coffee magnate turned film producer, V.L. Narasu. His dignified bearing, handsomeness and capacity for hard work enabled him to make a mark as production manager. It also helped him to get closer to Hindi film screenwriters, movie stars and others, for during that period Narasu indulged in Hindi film production too.

One of the movies remade in Tamil was ‘Premapaasam’ (1956) with Gemini Ganesh and Savithri. This film was a remake of the Hindi box office bonanza, ‘Kismat,’ in which Ashok Kumar played hero. Balajee, besides working on the production side, also played a role — his first as a young man in his early 20s.

Balajee’s manner of choosing the Hindi movies he wished to remake was interesting. Staying in Bombay for a short while, he would engage a taxi and chat with the driver to know his impressions about the new releases. This interaction with the common man he believed was the best way of getting the low-down on a movie and its remake prospects.

Lead roles

During 1958-59 he acted in as many as 11 films. They included ‘Paanai Pidithaval Bhagyasaali’ (Savithri was his heroine), ‘Manamulla Marudhaaram,’ ‘Sahodari’ and ‘Manaiviyae Manidhanin Manickam.’ However, many of these films were not successful at the box office. In the 1960s he fared better and Sridhar’s ‘Policekaaran Magal’ was a success. Another interesting film written and produced by Kannadasan in which he played the lead role was ‘Karuppu Panam.’ He also played supporting roles in hit movies like ‘Padithal Mattum Podhuma,’ ‘Thillanna Mohanambal’ and ‘Kapalottiya Thamizhan.’

With his organisational skills and wide contacts, he turned producer in the mid-1960s and established his own production company, Sujatha Cine Arts, so named after his daughter. (She is married to the Malayalam superstar Mohanlal.)

The maiden offering was ‘Annaavin Aasai’ (1966) with Gemini Ganesh and Savithri.

Balajee continued to produce a movie every year and release it on his wedding day, January 26. Such films included ‘Thangai’ ‘Thirudan’ and ‘En Thambi,’ directed by the multilingual filmmaker, A.C. Trilokchandar.

String of hits

In 1970, he made a significantly successful film, again by Tirlokchandar, ‘Engirundho Vandhaal,’ in which Jayalalithaa was paired with Sivaji Ganesan. More movies such as ‘Needhi,’ ‘En Magan,’ ‘Unakkaaga Naan,’ ‘Raja,’ ‘Thyaagam,’ ‘Nalladoru Kudumbam,’ ‘Sujatha,’ ‘Savaal’ and ‘Theerppu,’ followed. ‘Vaazhvey Maayam,’ produced by his son Suresh Balajee with Kamal Haasan, Sridevi and Sripriya, was a major hit running for 200 days. ‘Sattam’ with Kamal and Madhavi, was a remake of ‘Dostana.’ Directed by K. Vijayan, it had a 100-day run. ‘Needhipadhi’ directed by R. Krishnamurthy, was a major hit. His biggest hit was Rajinikanth’s ‘Billa,’ a remake of the Hindi film ‘Don.’

With such an outstanding track record it is not surprising that Balajee was one of the top personalities of south Indian cinema.

In later years with his wife predeceasing him his health suffered too. The end came a few days ago.

As a boy he had dreams of becoming a lawyer like his illustrious grandfather but Destiny had other plans for him!

* * *

His films never let him down

Devar and Balajee were alike, in the proud way they occupied a different pedestal. P.R. Viswanathan



Classic: With Vijayakumari in ‘Policekaaran Magal.’

In the list of actors-turned-producers two names will stand out. They are: Sandow Chinnappa Devar and K Balajee. Devar was a stunt actor who took to production and carved a niche for himself. His banner — Devar Films — carried a lot of re spect and goodwill and he went on to become one of the front-line producers in South India.

Though Devar produced a lot of films with MGR as the hero, his other subjects based on bhakti and animals caught the imagination of the filmgoers and seldom did he fail at the box-office. Likewise, Balajee who made more films with Sivaji Ganesan as the hero, made stupendous success with Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth and others also. Hence, like Devar, Balajee too enjoyed a remarkable success rate.

Strong rapport

Meticulous planning, total commitment and, of course, luck featured the professional life of Balajee and Devar. No wonder that they stood with pride on a different pedestal. Interestingly enough, Devar never produced a film with Sivaji Ganesan as the hero and Balajee never booked MGR for his films. The duo used to say, “There is no particular reason for that. Sticking to a winning combination is a strong tendency in our field.” However, MGR was more than a friend to Devar while Balajee developed a strong rapport with Ganesan both on and off the sets. Ganesan once said of Balajee, “At work place he is my Mudalali (boss) and once the work is over he is my best friend.”

When Balajee arrived on the Tamil film scene, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan were at the peak of fame. Can this tall, handsome-looking young man join the race? That was the question. Balajee acted in a series of films in which he looked refreshing with his pleasant body language and manly voice with which he delivered the lines. Even before the film fans could fix a slot for Balajee in their priority list, he turned producer. ‘Annavin Aasai’ was his first film as a producer. The film was not a big success but good enough to boost the morale of Balajee to stick to the new role. Balajee made an effective impact through his film ‘Thangai.’ This Sivaji Ganesan starrer was a tremendous hit and the Balajee-Ganesan combination did not look back.

Having established himself as a frontline producer, Balajee continued to act in films produced by others. Though his roles were brief, he lent charm and dignity to those characters with his breezy style of acting. In ‘Babu,’ he did the role of a Good Samaritan in a manner born. In the scene in which he treats a rickshaw-puller to a feast, Balajee shares acting honours with Sivaji, Sowcar Janaki and Sri Devi (child artist in that film).

With his nonchalant approach, Balajee delighted the audience. If the film ‘Policekaaran Magal’ brought out the histrionic talent of Balajee in full measure, then ‘Bale Pandiya’ brought out the comedian in him. And in the late 1950s he donned the role of a king in Kalki’s ‘Parthiban Kanavu.’ That brief but powerful role earned Balajee rich tributes and awards.

Almost all his films are re-makes. That meant he was taking an enormous risk. But then, these films never let him down. “Re-makes encourage meticulous planning and boost the spirit of teamwork as all of us know what we are doing. Moreover, I always remake films that carry strong aspects that offer absolute entertainment and also carry a valuable message to the society. As long as the theme is new and enjoyable the film-goer will never complain.” That was the motto of Balajee who carried the aroma of success throughout his life. A role-model indeed!

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