Balu Mahendra was born on 10th May 1946 in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Balu Mahendra fell in love with celluloid images at an young age when his father presented him with a camera. Being a son of a professor, he had to complete a degree from London University after which he pursued a course in Cinematography from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune and passed out with a gold medal.
Mr Balu Mahendra ‘s Early Career
Mahendra’s first break in films began in 1974 when he worked with Remu Kariat on his film Nellu. His work on that film was high appreciated by many people and this made him win Best Cinematographer Award at Kerala State Film Awards. After his debut in the film industry, he was able to work in Malayalam with other known directors during that time like Bharathan. In 1977, he directed Kokila which was a Kannada film. This film made him win the National Best Cinematography Award at the 24th National Film Awards. The success of this film made him a household name in the film industry since it was the first Kannada film to complete 150 days in Madras.
After this exceptional work in Kannada film, he took his career to Tamil in 1978. At this time, he was able to work with J.Mahendra on his debut film Mullum Malarum as a cameraman. After completing this film, Balu Mahendra directed the film Azhiyadha kolangai in 1979 which was a story about three adolescent friends. Later that year, he took his film expertise to Telugu where he worked with several other directors like Bapu and K. Viswanath on films like Tharam Maindi, Ramadasu and Manavoori Pandalavu which won him a Nandi State Award for Best Cinematographer.
Move to Tamil Cinema Industry
In 1980, he made a film Moodu Paani in which he collaborated with composer Ilaiyaraaja who they have worked together in all Balu Mahendra’s films till date. In 1982, he directed his first film in Malayalam language. In the same year, he directed Moondram Pirai in Tamil which won him a Filmfare Award for the Best Director category. At the same time, he also won a Filmfare Award in the Best Director category for the film Olangal.
His Famous Work
In 1983, he won the best cinematography in the National Film Awards for Moondram Pirai film. In the same year, he was nominated for Filmfare Awards South in the Best Story Category for the film Sadma. In 1988, Balu Mahendra won the Best Feature Film in Tamil in the National Music Awards for Veedu. In the same year, the same film won the Best Director in Tamil during the Filmfare Awards South for Veedu.
In 1990, Balu Mahendra won himself the Best Film on Family Welfare for Sandhya Raagam in the National Film Awards. In 1992, he also won the Best Feature Film In Tamil during the National Film Awards for Vanna Vanna Pookkal. Apart from winning the National and Filmfare Awards, he also won numerous other awards like the Nandi Awards in 1978 and 1982 as the Best Cinematographer, the Karala State Film Awards in which he won the Best Cinematographer Awards in 1974 and 1975 consecutively. In 1977, he also won the Karnataka State Film Awards in the Best Screenplay Category for Kokila.
Father of Realism Cinema
He was one of the few directors in South who touched on delicate social subjects. His national award winning “Veedu” (House) dealt with the hardships of a middle class family struggling to build their own house. His contribution to Indian film industry is immense since the directors who trained under him today rule the Tamil Industry – Bala, Veetrimaran, Sasikumar, Ram, Samuthirakani, Seeman to name a few.
Students of Balu Mahendra ‘s school of Film making
Remembering Balu Mahendra
Till his death on 13th February 2013, Balu Mahendra has been an exceptional film director and cinematographer. He was among the first people to pioneer innovative colour in South Indian Cinema. He has been a source of inspiration to many young photographers till the day of his death.