The director with monumental talent – the one and only KB
The elder daughter of an impoverished Brahmin family fires her mother for having become pregnant again and points at the family planning poster bang opposite the house. This was in 1974. The movie was “Arangetram” directed by K Balachander where KB had the gall to compare the maiden dance performance of a dancer with the first sexual experience of a girl who is raped when she goes out to seek a job. If there was one director who defied all conventional norms in Kollywood and yet managed to carve outa niche for himself it was none other than KB.
The maverickness of KB was more visible only after the 70’s whereas the movies before 70’s were laced with high emotion. May be this was because movies like – EthirNeechal and Neerkumizhi were originally written for stage. But all said and done, in KB’s movies, the story was the hero. KB never brooked interference from his actors. This is the reason why Kamalhaasan could never again act with the ace director who gave him ample opportunities to display his histrionic skills in his earlier movies. As KB once commented, “If I were to cast Rajnikant and Kamal now, I would not be able to afford the budget”. So, viewers have to contend with the last outing of the two superstars – “Ninaithale Inikkum”which was a huge draw at the box office. The nubile Jayapradha added charm to the movie with her beauty.
KB, the director, popularly called as “Iyakkunar Sigaram” (comparing his monumental skills to Mount Everest, the highest peak) could never manage to work with either Sivaji Ganesan or MGR. His experience of working with B Sarojadevi in the 1968 flick – Thamarai Nenjam was nothing to write home about. No wonder, B Sarojadevi and KB never worked again.He encouraged Lakshmi to become a director with “Mazhalai Pattalam”. He introduced innumerable talent in Kollywood and many of his discoveries remember this with gratitude till this day.
Kannada actress Jayanthi became popular in Tamil movies only because of KB. Sowcar Janaki and Kanchana managed to get featured in KB’s movies regularly. No one extracted performances from Nagesh and Major Sundarrajan like the way KB did. Sample ? Look at Nagesh and Sundarrajan’s riveting performances in “Ethir Neechal” and “Major Chandrakant”. In a 20-minute role in the latter movie, Jayalalitha created a lasting impression in the minds of the viewers that none of her movies with MGR could ever hope to create. As a brother who goes berserk when he is unable to digest the sudden suicide of his beloved sister, Nagesh really pushed the envelope. Alas, they don’t make like them anymore.
Readers, just recall the song – “Oru Nal Podhum” in which Nagesh manages to gather all the utensils in the kitchen to create music so that neighbours are led into believing that his sister is singing in the radio. Kollywood often talks about “Pasamalar” as a movie that epitomized the affection between brother and sister but I wonder why “Major Chandrakant” is often missed out.
Even in the remakes that he made KB ensured that his own signature style was left untouched. Innovation and creativity = KB. Who could have ever thought of a complete song in a lift which is composed of all the names of Hindi movies – “ Mere Jeevan Sathi Pyar Kiye Jaa”in KB’s Ek Duje Ke Liye. Recollect the scene where Kamal Hasan and Rati Agnihotri profess their emotions by washing the clothes on the washing stone until the clothes are torn. Shot in Goa with the climax scene having been shot in Dona Paula, Ek Duje Ke Liye continues to be a landmark Hindi film made by KB. Old timers recall how in “Aval Oru Thodarkathai”, KB symbolically showed the interval with the shot of “ It is time to have a coke”.
That KB is temperamental and hot headed is an understatement. He was known to slap his actresses if they could not get the right emotion. He was also sarcastic in his responses to queries from actresses but the actresses took them in their stride because no other film maker could offer them the acting scope that KB offered.
During the shooting of “Ethir Neechal”, Kannada actress Jayanthi was given pages and pages of dialogues to which she quipped, “Are these dialogues for me?” to which KB sardonically replied, “No, these are written for me”.
Srilankan born Malayalee actress Sujata got a new lease of life in “Aval Oru Thodarkathai”. The movie was a super-duper hit when it was released in 1972. The movie introduced a host of newcomers – Jayaganesh, Phatafat Jayalakshmi, Kannada actress Leelavathi, Vijayakumar, Sripriya.
The movie showed how the protagonist Kavita (played brilliantly by Sujata) uses her arrogance as a cover for camouflaging her emotions. She is blunt to the point of no return and her family members hate her for being so abrasive, yet when they come to know of the sacrifices that she has made for them, they are stupefied. Jayaprada enacted the same role in Telugu (Andhuleni Katha) & Rekha essayed the role in Hindi (Jeevan Rekha). But the impact of the Tamil movie was missing in both the remakes.
College professors who watch “Noothuku Nooru” will have butterflies in their stomach. The movie showed the pathetic plight of a college professor – Jayashanker who is alleged to have molested a student Srividya. How the truth unfolds forms the rest of the story. To his credit, KB made this into a suspense drama.
KB’s movies are well known for their climaxes. Look at Kalki, where Kannada actress Shruti, managed to give the performance of a lifetime. In Aval Oru Thodarkathai, the heroine sacrifices her love for her sister when she realizes that her brother is killed and the family would need her support. In Avargal, Kannada actress Leelavathi stunned audiences with her brilliant portrayal as the benevolent mother-in-law who comes to the aid of her divorced daughter-in-law. That a woman can discover love after being deserted by her husband (Avargal, 1975) could be portrayed so well only by a director of the caliber of KB. Most of KB’s themes were unconventional and far ahead of their time.
The tragic ending of “Punnagai Mannan” was of course heart rending. The lilting music in the movie added immense value to the film’s appeal. The tragic ending of “Arangetram” where the protagonist loses her mental sanity was stark.
Even “Puthu Puthu Arthangal” (Rehman, Geeta & Sitara) was a different movie where the director showed that a married singer tormented by a shrewish wife and a married woman tortured by her husband meet on a bus and how they have a platonic relationship.
Even KB’s forays in television have remained unmatched due to the unique appeal that they held. Prakash Rai- Geeta starrer – “Kaiyalavu Manasu” and “Rail Sneham” continue to be classics.
It is impossible to do justice to the work of a director like KB in a short write up. But I am aghast that people like him have not won a National award despite being a powerhouse of talent. KB was a prolific film maker, way ahead of his time. Though widely criticized for his anti-brahmin stance, none can deny that he was a great director who brought in a fresh perspective in Tamil movies. In an era where MGR and Sivaji ruled Kollywood, KB was the only one director who stood out as a face in the crowd.
Bama Vijayam, Agni Sakshi, Azhagan, Kalki, Iru Kodugal, Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, Moonru Mudichu, Vaname Ellai, Sindhu Bhairavi,Apoorva Ragangal, Punnagai Mannan,Noolveli, Nizhal Nijamagrathu…. The list of his master pieces is far too long. I hope that Jayalalita, as CM of Tamil Nadu, manages to press for a national recognition for the director. I am sure a maverick like him would not care for such awards. But still…. KB is to Kollywood what Satyajit Ray is to Tollygunge.