don't just make movies- they are also institutions
from where others learn the craft of film making.
Any director before turning independent would
have apprenticed under some leading director of
their time and this internship has a visible effect
on the new director's style of film making. That's
why we say that someone is from the 'Mani Ratnam
school of film making' or use similar phrases
to describe a new director's ascent to the main
Tamil cinema has had many illustrious directors
and many of them have been able to create lineages
that uphold their styles and beliefs in film making.
We have a line that originated from Bharathiraja
and contains Bhagyaraj, Pandiarajan, Livingston,
Parthiban, Vikraman , K.S. Ravikumar, Cheran and
Jegan; all directors being assistants of the previous
one at one time or the other. This is perhaps
the biggest and most flourishing family of directors
that can be traced in Kollywood at the moment.
Then there is the great man K. Balachander himself
who has been mentor to names like Vasanth, Saran
and Selvaraghavan at different times.
Out of his many assistants, S.A. Chandrashekhar can
proudly point to Shankar as his successor who in turn
has been instrumental in giving names like Balaji Shakthivel
and Vasanthabalan who are however strikingly different
from Shankar when it comes to film making styles. Then
there is the man whom many call the best director in
India at the moment, Mani Ratnam. In many ways he has
been the person who lifted Tamil cinema beyond just
the limited regional appeal. He has introduced names
like Azhagam Perumal (Dum Dum Dum), V.Priya, Susi Ganesan
and the latest debutante Kannan (Jayam Kondaan).
we are yet to discuss the line of directors who have
had the deepest impact on Tamil cinema over the years.
This is the line that has a distinctive style and conviction
in film making that has distinguished them from the
rest in a way that none else has been able to. Director
Mahendran said many years ago that if Tamil cinema was
to rise to any distinguishable level in the echelons
of world cinema then the duet has to be eliminated.
Years later, Tamil cinema still is in the song and dance
routine that many believe is pulling it back. Whether
that is true or not is another question. We all enjoy
songs and dances; the problem is sometimes film makers
are not sure where to draw the line between what is
enjoyable and what is an intrusion in the script. The
only league of directors who seem to have taken it upon
themselves to make films that accede to Mahendran's
vision starts from the days of Balu Mahendra.
cinematographer who later stepped into direction, Balu
Mahendra was a brave trendsetter in Tamil cinema. Yes,
there was Mahendran with his movies that were so close
to life and there was also Bharathiraja who is famously
credited with taking Tamil cinema out of the stifling
and plastic environments of a studio to the vibrant
outdoors. All three men were directors with conviction
and vision and they made a huge difference to Tamil
cinema in their halcyon days. But, it appears that only
Balu Mahendra managed to successfully transfer his conviction
into the conscience of his wards, the most famous of
whom we know by the name Bala. The line continues with
Bala's assistant Ameer and the latest addition Sasi
(Subramaniapuram) who has been an assistant to both
Bala and Ameer.
Now coming to the question, someone once asked me, “who
is a better director, ‘Bala or Mani Ratnam?’,
‘Shankar or Ameer?’” Though it’s
like comparing oranges and apples, if I were to give
a hypothetical answer, it would be Bala and Ameer, from
the film making school of Balu Mahendra. This is because
of the way they handle their song sequences. Both of
them do not encourage dreamy duets in their songs and
follow more of a narrative style of song choreographing.
Bala's handful of films have brought in recognition
and accolades in hordes to Tamil cinema. Starting with
Sethu which failed to bring in the Best Actor National
Award by a whisker, to Nandha which exposed the serious
actor in Surya and Pithamagan which brought the National
Award back to Tamil Nadu after a long time, Bala's films
have always been special. Now we await Naan Kadavul.
It takes courage to swim against the tide. In an industry
where even the best and biggest directors and banners
feel insecure if they do not add enough commercial elements,
only Bala has shown the gumption to tread the offbeat
path. What makes it so special is that he manages to
court success every time he treads down a different
path. Now, he has just completed the most adventurous
journey of his career. Taking three years to make a
movie could be mentally sapping, yet he has pulled it
off looking amazingly sure of himself. And, he has shown
us that music does not mean just the popular enjoyable
kind that we get very often. Even solemn Sanskrit mantras
when used appropriately can make captivating music,
the proof is in the form of audio sales that Naan Kadavul
has been recording since its release. Bala is in a league
of his own.
Ameer did seem to go the normal commercial way with
his debut but the way he showed his class with movies
like Ram and Paruthiveeran have underlined the fact
that he is indeed from the Bala school. Accolades are
not just national, they got bigger and better. Finally,
we know what a debutant going by the name of Sasi did
to Tamil cinema this year, he set a new benchmark. Subramaniapuram
is being celebrated as one long awaited classic and
it is no surprise that it came from a man who learnt
from the Bala and Ameer schools.
A couple of directors who do not belong to this family
have shown true conviction to tread seldom traveled
paths. Radha Mohan and Venkat Prabhu have set great
examples to film makers in Kollywood and in the year
when we had Poo how can we not mention the presence
of director Sasi?
Many of you would have read about the viewfinder that
Balu Mahendra gifted to Bala which then changed hands
to Ameer and may find its way into Sasi's hands in the
future. It is a viewfinder that is tracing a new path
for Tamil cinema.
Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun Gopinath.)
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