The veteran cameraman turned director Balu Mahendra (74) passed away today (Feb 13) morning at a Chennai hospital following a cardiac arrest. He was the doyen among cameraman and made cinematography as profession in the 70’s and 80’s a craze. A generation of new age cameramen like Santosh sivan, Ravi K Chandran and others were influenced by his school of camerawork.
Balu Mahendra was truly a pathbreaker as he brought natural lighting into focus. See his brilliant camera work in the Malayalam film Ramu Kariat’s Nellu shot in beautiful pristine locations of Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad forest area of Kerala. Nobody has shot Ooty so beautifully as Balu, watch his Kamal-Sridevi classic Moondram Pirai.
Balu Mahendra was born in Sri Lanka, into a Tamil family and came to India to study at the Film Institute in Pune. He studied cinematography as he could not get admission in other courses and completed the course with a gold medal in 1969.
As a director Balu debuted in 1977 through the Kannada film Kokila, he went on to make over 20 films in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi. He created a new wave in Tamil cinema with films like Azhiyadha Kolangal, Moondram Pirai, Veedu Sathi Leelavathi and others. His last release was Thalaimuraigal where he debuted as an actor and the film got critical acclaim.
Balu Mahendra had also a keen eye for spotting talent. Actors like Shoba, Archana and many others were discovered by him. Today’s new generation directors like Bala, Seenu Ramasamy, Ram, Vetri Maaran, and a few others have worked as his assistants.
Balu Mahendra has won five National Film Awards—two for cinematography, three Filmfare Awards South and numerous state awards from the governments of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Strangely over the years he did not receive any awards from Tamil Nadu state government.
AR Rahman tweeted : “ Balu Mahendra Sir thank you for being an inspiring visual poet, for directing such life changing Tamil movies......You have certainly been an inspiring stepping stone of creativity for many others who came later... May God bless your soul!”
Ravi K Chandran said: “RIP Balu Mahendra sir . Remember meeting Balu Mahendra sir when he visited my home just after finishing FTI in 1971 with my brother (famous cameraman Ramachandra Babu) I have grown up watching his films ,learning cinematography , interacting with him .It is a great loss for our cinematography fraternity.”
Santosh Sivan: He was quite interesting. I remember some of the films he shot in the hill station which he was fond off:-) And the films he directed were quite interesting , I met him last when he was preparing to turn actor.
Noted director Selvaraghavan said : “After watching Kaadhal Konden he called me to his office and we had a great time talking about cinema. Since then he's always been a mentor. We'll never see someone like you again”