I came to know a couple of days back that Bala’s birthday is in a couple of days and it got me thinking about his films. Then and there I got around catching Pithamagan (last night I think) on TV. Almost like a cosmic wake-up call to remind me on all the problems that people see in him, including fanboy regrets. Also, an interview came along, the most social Bala I’ve ever seen. You can catch that,here.
Watch the interview and proceed,because unfortunately what follows has turned out to be based on it.
This compere, I have seen him. His kid studies in my school, meaning previously where I studied. Actually,I have seen him a number of times at the school, nonchalant, bermuda wearing and sometimes weirdly tensed at the expected attention he is supposed to get (cuz you know he is a SUN TV anchor and all) and in the end when rarely if someone does come up to him, he is a nice chap allright. But don’t forget he is the same guy who hosted Venghai song release recently and with this interview in perspective it’s hard to know what he understands by “Bala’s touch”. Was he film-gravity-conscious enough to stop at that and jump to the next question? Or was he in a platonic outlook of what Bala had just replied to his first query? And all that with a hyper-fan Sangeetha by the side (all though she did ask a couple of sensible questions at the right time).
You see, Kumbudren Saami and the need for that sort of name is probably the introductory Bala “touch” (as the compere would call) but these aren’t just names that are in for the “sake of just doing something different each time” is it?. In fact, Bala would later go on and accept that there is that amount of expectations that have rested on him to bring in something “new” – pudhusaa, an innovating forte. But there are definite, constant perpetuating undertones/intentions. He says that these names are “ofcourse” in common use. Of all the “uncanny” names that the compere enquires about, he consciously selects Kumbudren Saami to retort with, (that wondrous humour piece that Arya invokes in his introduction and continues in the govt. servant’s house), “Thazhthappattavangannu naan sollamaaten,… aana kaalangaalamaa merkudimakkala pathuttu kumbudren saami nu sollitrinthaangilya?, Avangulukku…” and he continues to explain some assumed origins. But the point has been sold. He has been doing this in own beautiful phases and paces and all in constructive humour irrespective of his stories that needed to be told.
In that devilish, almost madly smiling Shakthi in Pithamagan who sings the then-popular pan-Indian culture catchphrase Lagaan’s “Chale Chalo” in a ridiculous manner riding a cycle and obviously not to ignore the carefully constructed rip-roaring laugh riot on the train where a “Maami” interrupts his business due to her scatalogical inconveniences and when returned to her seat to be called “Paithiyakkaari” by an angry Laila (not very “Kozhunthey”) who has just been hustled. Outrageous disrespect for both the “respectable” age and and a “respect(ed)able” community. Again with the habit of celebitching once started with Simran, he introduces his meta-film humour. He abducts the performer from the acting stage and brings her to the crowd within the crowd and not one word she is able to converse with them.( This is also done in Avan Ivan, no not the equivalent Surya cameo,but note when the judge says, “Aama, nee enakku oru favour pannanum” and Walter, confused replies, “Ennadhungya?”). As the old song medley continues, in between a short midget Iyer ( that’s funny as long as you find midgets funny) gets up getting the attention of the crowd( a split second subtle satire this man can provoke) and starts reciting devotional “muthai-tharu pathi thiru-Nagai athi-kiRai sathich-saravaNa” to be later ofcourse taken away by Shakthi, gundukkatta. It is both about the religion and the community that holds attention with it. A subtle rebellion stereotype gathered against either பார்ப்பனியம் or sometimes just plain anger against any type of plutocratic domination.
As much in relevance with the former innuendo, religion solely, also takes a hit in there somewhere. That outrage from Kamal on Bala’s views over Prabhu Solomon’s beliefs during Myna launch (#youremember), well for those interested there is an interesting bit he gives on religion, here in an earlier interview. One can question whether all kids that are lost in Kasi end up tackling existential crisis in the Aghori way. I mean it should be one damn lucky kid. Even in the esoteric and the most alienating circumstances in Naan Kadavul, Bala finds humour. It’s pure humour. Unadulterated. Something that most directors avoid in all their responsibilities to cover other money laundering aspects that build a film’s responsibility and end up hiring Vadivelus and Viveks to do their business. Balachander found an insinuating genius in Nagesh. Bala is making a habit of his commercially competing Kollywood stars to do it for him. This is his sense of humour. Probably the most daring I’ve come across. This humour can be seen more clearly in Avan Ivan and when Bala says such kind words “I have kept the audiences in mind when I made this film”, his idea of a commercial film to “his” audiences make you understand him more. Throw away your fanboy regrets and get ready know the funniest badass in town. When Karunaas in Nanda, a small time crook in the “honourable court” is as unruly as the Rudran who later arrives to court in Naan Kadavul, talking about missing “ulpaavaadais” from Vannandurai, is a clear sense of deliberate judicial misconduct.
He is his film and no more than that and he takes immense pride in it for he rarely compromises. When he made Naan Kadavul probably everyone took notice of his achievement of making a film on beggars and want to desperately call for a sympathy card, tagging it as a socially-moving-film. Well, its good for him if you call that too. For he realized a vision in the vile humour of beggars that reside on either sides of the holy stairway, more interested in the God dialogue or more likely, a system that has failed miserably to recognize them. It is quite a picture to find beggars cracking real world humour. Such pride. Bala makes characters to make them speak out from their(his) heart, make(his) jokes (sometimes on their(his) own profession) on societal problems he is aware of . No bright lights and cameras, he refers. This makes him a socially conscious personal director. You can see, how he still childishly wishes to be an actor’s director, most interested in getting these characters out, alive all flesh and spit. It is such an interesting practice to him. In that interview,look at him when he evaluates with that 98 and 96 marks for his actor students Vishal & Arya ,proudly flaunting the torture that Vishal would’ve undergone with all his squint rehearsal problems. Probably not something that professional directors would do. But there is some pride in there. Something deeply honest of his creations, both his characters and stories. While on the other news,this has already been debased as attention mongering/National Award bait therapy for setting up scenes that unnecessarily challenge actors. (like, for ex, one could ask, why that squint eye at all in the first place and why the staged up Navarasam scene for Vishal) One must ponder at a futile argument that rest with the problem in it. Unnecessarily challenging? Heh. Bala probably asks, what is a film that doesn’t have challenging roles to don? You can probably dream and find a grand genius in all those underplayed stoic realism. Ulrich Muhe in The Lives of Others, Michael Caine in Sleuth et al. But Bala doesn’t play that way.
His characters are all loud and crass. They either seem to have a lot of heart or no heart at all. They are happy beyond limits or repressed beyond belief . His film is an archipelago of extreme, individualistic characters that hope to find connection in deep emotional waters to stand out as an island. Within this, he creates an ol’ time emotional reverie of old drunk villagers. It is an humbling plateau of emotions. Down to earth human bonds that don’t depend on materialistic thresholds. It is at the point of no return, where all that remains is hope or where all hope is gone is where Bala decides to begin his emotional sojourn. A more serious and little less vigorous Kusturica, probably. You know, where a beggar misses out on a drunk delinquent or when a playful Kumbudren Saami realizes the place where he belongs and automatically sheds tears or when an angry Chitthan never really understood why he was supposed to be resurrected into life just to love and lose it all in the end. It is really surprising that people who have the turn off for his sad endings never really saw what happened before. So much is happening in such a beautiful array of emotions, however shoddy it is shot (to hell with your aesthetics). Here is a man with a simple story. It has always been simple for Bala. The common thread of human bonding and the climactic upset of the very same and as he puts it, “Sogamaana mudivuthaan vandhu, oru rendu naal thookatha kedukkum”. Just when you would think that his world is too happy for happy endings and probably that he is a “director with problems and an emotional prejudicial backlog”, he says, “Cinema paathu thoongavekkaama irukkardhu oru creatorukku oru peruma thaan” and there is that wry smile.
You can call it audacious allegory, but this may necessarily intend to invoke outrage , opposing the jollygoods of the infamous TamBrahmRage, on Bala and his Anti-Brahminical inuendos that are prevalent in his films. But even so whatisthere? It is about recognition. So if there is considerable fanship for Mani Ratnam and his confident, “contemporary” film-making that adapts his own commercial habits of star casting and stereotyping, why shouldn’t a Bala be pardoned? He brings the most phantasmagoric, lesser known characters into a vibrant mosaic of real world humour that more often than not is dark and someone ends up dying or hopelessly helpless. So what? Life is unfair and people die. But what happens before?
Life, and so much of it.