“I believe that with determination and focus anybody can achieve what I have achieved”
says Balachandra Menon, writer-filmmaker, in conversation with GS Jolly.
Balachandra Menon and KPR NairBalachandra Menon is an iconic Malayali filmmaker who not only made his mark in cinema but also a prolific writer having penned several books. His name is dear and familiar to Malayali population across the world, as a director of films, an actor, singer, writer and much more. Malayalam movies earlier revolved around the stars, but Menon, by putting the focus on the story, encouraged other directors to forge their own cinematic styles, which soon led to the Malayalam industry being noted for its directors.
Balachandra Menon deserves special mention for the real life role of being a ‘God Father’ to many talents in the film field, who later became the pride of Malayalam cinema industry. He made a number of memorable films and was conferred Padamashri, won the National Film Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1998 film Samaantharangal, which was also directed by him (May be coveted award based on his own script and direction). Many of his films explore the theme of uncommon relationships between common people. He was in Delhi recently for special screening of his film Njan Samvidhanam Cheyyum, interestingly produced by KPR Nair, publisher, Konark Publications. Below are excerpts from tête-à-tête with Balachandra Menon (BM) and KPR Nair (KPRN) with GS Jolly (GSJ), Deputy Editor, All About Book Publishing.
GSJ: From full time publishing for the past four decades to producing films – how has been the journey so far?
KPRN: I was always fascinated by books and films from my childhood. Luckily, I got a break in publishing in the year 1970 when I got the opportunity to join a publishing house in New Delhi and have thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in this profession. I am proud to have published some 1000 odd authors on varied topics both nationally and internationally. Some of my well-known authors are Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, TN Seshan, MS Swaminathan, AM Michael and RS Paroda, iconic editors BG Verghese and Vinod Mehta, noted diplomats JN Dixit and Muchkund Dubey, eminent jurist Justice VR Krishna Iyer, leading political and public figures. Some of our prestigious collections are Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 15 Volumes, Ambedkar Series, and Hinduja Foundation Encyclopaedia of Nobel Laureates. One of my books authored by former RAW official, Amar Bhushan, Escape to Nowhere is going to be made into a film soon.
While publishing a well-known filmmaker, Balachandra Menon’s autobiography, “Start . . . Action: Musings of a Movie Maker”, I was moved by his style of film making. We decided to produce the film Njan Samvidhanam Cheyyum in Malayalam since Malayalam is my mother tongue. That is how I entered the film world as a producer. It has been a rewarding experience in this magical world of cinema. If opportunities come way, I shall put my efforts in this area in future too.
GSJ: Tell us something about your journey as an actor and director?
BM: The urge started even when I was a child. At the age of 12, when I was in school, a drama was enacted where I was asked to play the role of Bhishma. My Malayalam tutor was directing the play. I wanted to sit in a particular posture which he did not approve. I was supposed to do the way the director tutor wanted.. I think that was the seeding of director in my mind. I staged whatever performances I could. I cherished the memory of my childhood, which nourished the artist in me. In my later life I have appeared on that stage several times. I kept my focus on this aspect in my growing years and this is how I evolved as an actor and director.
GSJ: You have written several books. Ithiri Neram Othiri Kayam is considered a sort of history of Malayalam cinema’s 36 years seen through Balachandra Menon’s eyes. What message do you strive to give to the youth?
BM: It was hailed as a unique book by critics. This is a sort of chronicle of 36 famous Malayali films. In fact, I wrote articles after each film and emphasized that newcomers and young should not be ridiculed but encouraged. I believe that with determination and focus anybody can achieve what I have achieved. I am all for promoting newcomers.
GSJ: Your book Balachandra Menonte 12 Cherukathakas is a kind of personal memoir revolving around your mother- in-law and your mother. Are you a very emotional person?
BM: My writings expose the philosophical thoughts that everyday life bears. I am a family man. My heaven is my home. I have lived with my parents, shared the same kitchen till they were alive. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were remarkable women who left a great influence on me. They were full of love and compassion.
GSJ: Your book Ammayane Sathyam describes unforgettable moments of your real and reel life. Can you please share the most unforgettable moment of your life?
BM: There are many memorable incidents, difficult to focus on one. But yes, there is one personal moment which is unforgettable which I always remember. One night I heard the screams of my mother. I ran downstairs and saw my father lying on the bed like a crumbled handkerchief, helpless and unconscious after a severe stroke. I lifted him and put his head on my lap. It was a terrible feeling. I cannot get away from that shock till today.
GSJ: You are known for making films on sensitive subjects. You made Kandathum Kettathum, the story of an orphan girl who was about to be sold to the flesh trade in Mumbai by his guardian? What inspired you to choose this subject?
BM: I am very sensitive to things happening around and responsive to them. Kettathum Kandathum uncovers hitherto unnoticed aspects of life – things that we knew existed, but were not bothered about or stories that we did not want to be told as they were too embarrassing or perhaps painful or worse still, shameful, hence brushed under the carpet. I think I am eligible entrant in Guinness Book of Records as I have directed 36 films based on my own scripts.
GSJ: For a parent every child is equal. Do you, as a filmmaker having made more than 40 films, have any favorite, which you place above allwhich is closest to your heart?
BM: I take all films to be same. I watch my films with audience in complete silence. I observe the behavior of the audience. When people laugh or weep with the script as I anticipated I feel the work is done. You have, as film maker delivered what you aimed at.
GSJ: You are an actor, director, music director, screenplay writer, producer etc. You are an institution unto yourself. In your scheme of things, is there any space for others?
BM: I do a lot of things but that doesn’t mean that there is no space for others. I always give space to my partners in the project. I give adequate footage to each character in the film. I respect all the unit members. It is always a teamwork.
GSJ: You have been decorated with Padma Shri, awarded Kerala State Film Award, Film fare Award. Does your latest film Njan Samvidhanam Cheyyum has its genesis in any of your experience of getting an award?
BM: Apart from getting national award for best actor in India I was lucky to have the experience of a member of national films. I was also member of the jury for selecting films for national awards along with Sumitra Bhave and Ramesh Sippy and other important personalities.
I was highly influenced by the experience as a jury member and that has contributed in a big way in working out the scenes in the film Njan Samvidhanam Cheyyum. The functioning of the jury is portrayed in the film. The award becomes meaningful depending on the recipient and the donor.
GSJ: Is social media a blessing or blight?
BM : People express and share on social media and create a perception about a film which is far away from the reality. Social media is sometimes very harsh. They comment sometimes with prejudice without seeing a film. They do not hesitate to give uncharitable comments on the work of a film maker. I would like to add that people will hurl stone only on a fruit tree
GSJ: On literary front, what next can the readers expect from you?
BM: There was a break in my literary activity but sooner than later I will be addressing my readers with a collection of my 20 extempore speeches on variety of topics where I will be speaking the voice of my inner conscience.
GSJ: If you had not been a writer and film maker, what would you have been?
BM: May be a good teacher, lawyer or a tourist guide…. you can name it….